Kava for Peace!!

root-of-happiness_BIG

So, this is fun! An article was posted online today titled “Pacific Angels: Building Military Relationships in Paradise” and at first I clicked on this because I thought to myself – “oh dear! What is the military up to in the South Pacific!?” I was immediately worried that there might be some sort of chaos happening, but it turns out it’s quite the opposite!

There is a project underway in the South Pacific islands, currently based in Tonga, which is part of a series of humanitarian missions collectively called “Operation Pacific Angel”. It’s a periodic humanitarian mission that is a joint effort sponsored by the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) [3].   The nations involved have 175 military personnel from New Zealand, Australia, France, the Philippines, Indonesia, Tonga, and of course the United States of America [2], actively involved in various aspects of building and enhancing relationships with neighboring and partner nations [3]. Other aspects of these missions include creating a medical and civil assistance capability in Pacific nations, and  increasing the availability of assistance in times of need [3].

Currently 83 of the US personnel involved in Pacific Angel are fortunate to have been dispatched to Tonga – “The Friendly Island”.  The article in Stars and Stripes describes it like this:

“…a place where gentle waves lap at white-sand beaches, Polynesian princesses dance for guests and giant, tattooed warriors drink kava long into the night [2]”.

And this brings us to the point that I’ve been excited about – kava! As you can see above even this heavily North Americanized news source identifies Tonga with kava drinking and tranquil activities, as the article goes on to say: “the mission isn’t all hard work. During down time they’ve been relaxing at the beach, snorkeling and learning about the effects of kava [2]”.

Actually it seems as though the troops of Pacific Angel that are currently in Tonga are very much enjoying themselves thanks to the open hospitality of the Tongan people and their interest in sharing kava and the knowledge of kava’s benefits and rituals. One of the key features that were highlighted about the enjoyment of kava was how it freed the body of tension and allowed for physical relaxation while leaving the mind clear – allowing ample room for friendly conversation long into the nights [2].

Currently the personnel are in Tonga to help officials – and of course the greater Tongan community – prepare for typhoons and other natural disasters. However they are also providing medical assistance – already serving over 1,200 patients in two days – and aiding in the construction of schools.

For one of the commanders on duty, dropping down and helping out in Tonga while drinking and sharing kava with the locals brought a sense of home – as he mentioned he’s from Hawaii. As we all know and as he stated, kava (“awa”) is quite popular there! It seems as though many of the soldiers had the opportunity to enjoy kava, given that their down time consisted of “snorkeling and learning the effects of kava” [2].

Apparently other nations are keen on building relationships with Tonga as well. Tonga has sent its own personnel out to help in aiding nations in need and other nations – such as China – are actively engaging in programs to build relations with the Tongans [2].

While it can’t be said for certain – I can’t help but think that Tongan kava drinking might have something to do with their world popularity. Tonga is a very peaceful nation, full of joy and cultural tranquility and one of their main activities is drinking kava – which the “Medicine Hunter” has deemed the “The Peace Elixir” [1]. This title is very fitting of kava and the properties it bestows of sedative and mental clarifying quality, making it a very likely factor in the happiness and peace that Tonga exemplifies in the global eye.

While I am so grateful for the aid that Tonga is receiving, I can’t help but pray to the kava spirits and hope that this recent military involvement doesn’t unknowingly attract the wrong kind of attention to Tonga. I dream and believe that it can remain the peaceful, kava-sharing kingdom that it is now for endless centuries to come.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. The Medicine Hunter. “Kava, The Elixir of Peace”. Online: http://www.medicinehunter.com/kava

2. Stars and Stripes. “Pacific Angel, Building Military Relationships in Paradise”. Online:http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific-angel-building-military-relationships-in-paradise-1.295178

3.Wikipedia. “Operation Pacific Angel”. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pacific_Angel

What is a chemotype & what are kava chemotypes?

Dear Kava Guru,

What is a chemotype and what are kava chemotypes?

Time and time again on my guru database here at Kava.Guru, I have used the word “chemotype” with reference to the Piper methysticum plant. But, I feel terrible because I don’t think I’ve once really explained what a chemotype is or more specifically what kava chemotypes are. So, it’s now time for me to break down this more scientifically based term so that you – my lovingly dedicated audience – can have a better understanding of kava right down to its scientific makeup.

A chemotype is used to distinguish varieties of plants within the same species – meaning that the members of a species can share the same basic genome and often the same phenotype (physical appearance) and yet have significant differences in their chemical composition. Another word that you might see tossed around in reference to the chemical composition of a plant is “chemovar”, which is just a way of denoting the chemically different variety of the plant [7].   We can break the word down into its etymological bits to get an even better understanding. Chemo is quite simply a prefix that turns the word in to something relating to chemicals, so when it is added to the front of “type” to become “chemotype” it essentially just means chemical type. Likewise, with chemovar, -var is just a suffix added to words to mean “variety” – so, “chemovar” just means chemical variety [2].

You will notice the word “cultivar” used frequently here on Kava.Guru and also, as an extended example of the etymological significance of –var, I’ll just point out that culti- is a prefix referencing cultivation – so, cultivar just means the cultivated variety of a particular plant species. All varieties of the Piper methysticum plant are cultivars because Piper methysticum is itself the cultivar of Piper wichmannii – the wild sister of Piper methysticum. In fact Piper methysticum is unable to self propagate, therefore making it dependent upon cultivation by humans [5].

The fun thing about the chemical composition of a plant is that you could have two plants that are botanically identical – two kava plants for example that cannot be told apart – and yet each could have a very different chemical composition. You could have two plants that have the same leaf structure and root anatomy and yet hold entirely different properties with regard to their chemical makeup. As a result these plants might look the same but actually have completely different effects with regard to chemical interactions in the human system. So you may have one cultivar of Piper methysticum that is essentially useless in terms of its sedative effect because it has a very low kavalactone index, whereas another variety that looks botanically identical might have a very pleasurable and noticeable effect.  This is why it’s always extremely important to know the variety of kava a vendor is offering – you certainly don’t want to endanger your system, but of course you do want to have kava that instills the benefits you desire.

So how is it possible for two plants of the same species that look botanically identical to have such varied chemical compositions?

Well, there are many upon many things that affect the chemical constituents of a plant and their interactions. The major variables are soil conditions and the climate, which is why the South Pacific Islands and Hawaii are so well-suited to the cultivation of excellent kava.   But, something as seemingly benign as the direction of the wind could have an impact on the chemical composition as well – for example, by carrying in particles from neighbouring regions that might change the soil composition, which could then change the chemical make up of the plant itself.  So, weather and the time of year of course have a lot to do with it as well [4]. Think of it like wine varietals. Vineyards are known for their wines because they have mastered a particular growing situation that yields a very desirable and specific type of wine. Two grapes of the same varietal could yield almost entirely different wines – just because of something as seemingly simple as one having been grown in the mountains and the other having been grown near the sea.

So, if the chemical composition of a plant is so flexible how on earth can one know what exactly they are growing and whether or not it will be the chemotype they desire?

Fortunately, the primary factor in the chemical composition of kava is its genetics. A particular variety of a plant can be cultivated over and over again because botanical geneticists have become skilled in producing a particular genetic structure – or plant cultivar. Furthermore, it’s actually possible to determine the chemical composition with respect to kavalactone quantities using near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) [4]. Spectroscopy is a field of study that looks at the interactions between matter and radiated energy and NIRS is a technique specific to the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum [10]. Breaking it down further, NIRS is a technique that measures the molecular overtones and the vibrations that happen through different molecular combinations and their interactions that create measurable radiant energy [8, 10].  While it’s difficult to determine which chemical components are responsible for certain features or results [10], two studies have nonetheless proven that it is possible to determine the kavalactone makeup of dried kava by using NIRS technologies [4]. This sort of technique is necessary for kava regulation because certain aspects of the chemical composition of kava – specifically the kavalactone quantity – can be affected by growing conditions, such as the climate or the use of particular agricultural techniques [4].

Kavalactones are the active component within kava cultivars and are the factor used for chemotyping different kava varieties. While the early pioneers have identified and classified eighteen different kavalactones, only the six most major or active kavalactones are used to determine or classify a particular kava chemotype: kavain (K), dihydrokavain (DHK), methysticin (M), dihydromethysticin (DHM), yangonin (Y), and desmethoxyyangonin (DMY) [6].

Different kava cultivars have more desirable chemotypes than others and some cultivars are actually potentially dangerous. In Vanuatu only strains of noble kava are legally sold and imported – “The Kava Act” prohibits the sale of all other varieties of Kava. The Kava Act was enacted by the Vanuatu parliament back in 2002 after misinformed accusations about kava causing hepatotoxicity – it is an act that regulates the sales and cultivation of kava [4]. It is now known that certain cultivars were likely responsible for the inconclusive hepatotoxicity studies and furthermore that it was likely prepared in a way that goes against traditional preparation norms. For example, Tudei Kava has been implicated as a possible cultivar that had been used during these studies and this particular cultivar carries a high quantity of flavokavain B, a chemical known to compromise liver functioning [3].

Well my friends – there you have it: a very thorough exposition of “chemotype” with relation to kava kava, or more specifically, the Piper methysticum plant. As you may have picked up from reading this – kava gurus like myself would only ever recommend drinking kava made from regulated strains and cultivars of noble kava and would warn against using the ignoble (Tudei) cultivars as these are likely the source of the hepatotoxicity scares of 2002. So, now you can kick back and enjoy your noble kava, knowing that it has been named appropriately!

To make things a little bit easier for you I’ve thrown together a small list of the most common and desirable noble kava cultivars [1, 9]:

  • Borogu
  • Fu’u
  • Mahakea
  • Boronggoru
  • Melomelo or “sese”
  • Palarasui

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. “Buy Kava Online”. Kava Dot Com. Accessed July 7th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=512.

2. Douglas Harper. “Online Etymology Dictionary”: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=chemo-

3. INSIDER T.V. “New Science May Boost Kava Market”. Online: http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/videos/2014/05/insider-tv-new-science-may-boost-kava-market.aspxI

4. Lebot and Patricia Simeoni. “Identification of factors determining kavalactone content and chemotype in Kava (Piper methysticum)”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56: 2008, p. 4976-4981

5. Lynch, John. “Potent Roots and the Origin of Kava”. Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 41 (2): December, 2002, p. 493-518

6. Teschke, Rolf. March 2011. “Special Report: Kava and the Risk of Liver Toxicity: Past, Current, and Future”. American Herbal Products Association Report 26 (3): 9-17.

7. Wikipedia. “Chemotype”. Last Modified on June 17, 2013: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemotype

8. Wikipedia. “Infrared”. Last Modified on July 6, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrared

9. Wikipedia. “Kava”. Last modified on July 1, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava

10. Wikipedia. “Near-Infrared Spectroscopy”. Last Modified on May 18, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near-infrared_spectroscopy

Vanuatu Ambassador Encourages EU Nations to Lift Kava Bans

Buy Kava

While my kava-loving soul has been lifted of late, with the recent removal of a kava ban in Germany – it still hurts to see that there are places still rejecting the import of kava and its use.   South Pacific islands thrive when their top exports, including kava, are loved and bought around the world. These islands don’t do very well when these exports aren’t accepted – and what’s worse is when they’re accepted and then suddenly rejected on a mass level.

This is what happened with kava out of Vanuatu. When kava was subject to a series of bans back in 2002 throughout several kava-consuming nations, the South Pacific islands were greatly and negatively affected. According to Roy Mickey Joy – the Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union – Vanuatu and other kava producing nations have lost earnings of 3 Billion US dollars on an annual basis due to the decline in kava exports as a result of the bans [3]. This 3 billion-dollar figure is an estimate that was announced by the Pacific members of the ACP – the African, Caribbean, and Pacific states – at a recent Meeting of the Ministers of the ACP held in Nairobi [1].

Mr. Joy is a member of the International Kava Executive Council (IKEC) and clearly someone who believes in the benefit of kava for his nation’s economical wellness and prosperity. The following definition of the IKEC and its practice was taken from the homepage of www.ikec.org – the official home of the IKEC [1].

“The IKEC is an international organization consisting of delegates from the Pacific and the EU, focusing on re-establishing the kava trade between the kava-producing South Pacific Island States and the countries of the European Union.” [1]

They are an organization that is non-governmental and non-profit, rather solely constituted of volunteers who are adamant about progressing the kava trade out of the Pacific to Europe and worldwide. Most of their current focus has been on ban repeal [1] and it is on these grounds that Mr. Joy has made his recent declaration to members of the EU – insisting that they lift their bans on kava. Specifically, Mr. Joy has called upon Australia and New Zealand to consider the lifting of their kava export bans, in hopes that Vanuatu can resurface from the economic downfall caused by the kava bans [3].

According to Radio New Zealand International, Mr. Joy has stated that Australia and New Zealand followed in step with the EU’s ban on kava twelve years ago, back in early 2002, banning the import of kava from Vanuatu and other South Pacific kava-growing regions.   Accordingly, he went on to explain that the German ban repeal of last month had shown that “there is no legal nor scientific basis to justify it” [3].

Unfortunately today there are still countries that ban kava, if not entirely then at least in part. For example, Canada still disallows the sale of kava. However, bans restricting import from vendors outside of Canada – for personal use – are no longer standing. In many nations still, like in Canada, kava is partially banned – whether it be the banning of direct commercial sales or otherwise. Currently there are only two larger nations that have strict laws about kava regulating its use and import – that is Britain and France; their laws are much more widespread and restricting than anti-sale laws like that of Canada’s. In actuality though, it appears as though Poland is the only European country that has full anti-kava laws – ie. it is illegal to sell or cultivate kava and is also illegal to possess it at all [2].

Other countries’ laws regarding kava are so nondescript and elusive that determining the legality of any activity involving kava is incredibly difficult – just by a sheer lack of knowledge surrounding kava’s exact legal status. For example, while Australian officials state that kava isn’t actually illegal – the import of kava into Australia is incredibly difficult. However, when it comes to individual use of kava, the border regulations are a bit loose, allowing individuals to bring up to around 4 pounds of kava into the country for personal use [2].

My kava guru intuition is telling me that a loosening of bans on a global scale is going to continue as nations and individuals become more educated and understand the benefits that this Earth provides – including a better understanding of how to use the Piper methysticum plant, or kava kava, as it was intended to be used. I have faith that officials will come to learn of the many benefits and wonders of the kava plant and will become so entranced by its qualities that they will join in the battle to have kava universally accepted as the natural health contributor that it is.

Mr. Joy’s efforts are part of what is turning into a global movement toward a health-conscious world and the acceptance of kava worldwide. I’m truly so excited to see what nations are next and cannot wait to share the next bit of progress with you – my fellow kava lovers!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. International Kava Executive Council. “News”: http://www.ikec.org/?q=node/10.

2. Kona Kava Farm. “Kava Banned Countries”: http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-banned-countries.html.

3. Radio New Zealand International. “Vanuatu Wants Kava Bans Lifted”:http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/249183/vanuatu-wants-kava-bans-lifted.

 

What Is A Noble Strain of Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

What is a noble strain of kava?

Matthew,

Raleigh, NC

If you haven’t yet read the Kava Guru’s article, “The Emerging Controversy Around Tudei Kava”, that article provides a more in-depth exploration of the Tudei varieties’ chemistry compared to other kava strains, as well as the emerging controversy about the safety of Tudei kava. Suffice to say the Kava Guru is a little skeptical as to whether all the bad press for Tudei kava in its traditional aqueous form is justified; however, the research for that article made me realize there is another important aspect of kava I haven’t addressed yet. Many of those experienced in the world of kava may know that kava strains are separated into two broad classes, noble and ignoble strains. Only noble kava strains are considered suitable for export in Vanuatu and many other South Pacific regions.

What Makes a Noble Strain of Kava?

In the South Pacific, kava farming was a refined art long before European explorers made it to the region; farmers identified and named different types of kava based on the plants’ physical appearance and that of the brew produced by their roots. Just as importantly, people learned to distinguish different strains of kava by the physical and psychological effects they produced upon consumption. Although indigenous peoples didn’t yet know what kavalactones were, we know they had a well-honed understanding of the physiological effects of different kava strains. This helped them differentiate kava strains into “noble” and “ignoble” types based on these strains’ different ratios of kavalactones, which produced different physiological effects.

Noble Vs. Ignoble or Tudei Kava Strains

Another collective name for ignoble kava strains is Tudei kava, although the category includes some varieties that aren’t explicitly Tudei, such as wild kava, or Piper wichmannii [1]. Other ignoble strains include Isa from Vanuatu, and Palisi from Papua New Guinea. Common to all ignoble kava strains is that their use is culturally restricted to ceremonies and medicinal use in the South Pacific, and none of the ignoble strains is legal to export internationally [2]. Noble kava strains are legal to export either as whole root or processed into herbal kava supplements, and include famous cultivars such as Borogu, Fu’u, and Mahakea [1].

After thousands of years under cultivation by humans, kava has become a very diverse plant; but unlike other commercial crops like apples or tomatoes, kava’s diversity exists not so much in its physical appearance as in the chemistry of its kavalactones and other constituents. To really understand the difference between a noble and ignoble strain of kava, we must look at a little something called chemotype: a chemotype (sometimes also called a chemovar) is “a chemically distinct entity in a plant or microorganism, with differences in the composition of the secondary metabolites. Minor genetic and epigenetic changes with little to no effect on morphology or anatomy may produce large changes in the chemical phenotype. Chemotypes are often defined by the most abundant chemical produced by that individual, and the concept has been useful in work done by chemical ecologists and natural products chemists.” [3]

In the case of kava kava, different kava chemotypes are defined by the concentrations of the six major kavalactones in the kava root [2]. Kava chemists have assigned each kavalactone a number, which you can see below:

1= desmethoxyyangonin
2= dihydrokavain
3= yangonin
4= kavain
5= dihydromethysticin
6= methysticin

A kava chemotype is “typed” based on the descending concentration of these six kavalactones within its roots [2]. This means that a cultivar such as Vanuatu Melo Melo, with a chemotype of 245361, contains primarily dihydrokavain, followed in descending order of concentration by kavain, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, methysticin, and desmethoxyyangonin [2]. To be classified as a noble kava, a strain must have a chemotype that begins with either 2-4 or 4-2, meaning its roots contain primarily either kavain or dihydrokavain [2].

Legal Status of the Noble and Ignoble Kava Cultivars

As set out in the Republic of Vanuatu Kava Act of November 7th, 2002, only noble kava cultivars are legal to export from the archipelago, and those exporters also have to meet strict quality control standards for storing, harvesting and processing their kava, such as ensuring their kava raw material is free of aerial parts of the plant such as stems and leaves [2]. Ignoble kava strains and Piper wichmannii (wild kava) are banned from export, though unfortunately some less-than-scrupulous vendors still try to get around these laws to sell Tudei kava to customers.

Why make this legal distinction between kava cultivars of different chemotypes? Well, it actually has to do with the effects produced in the human body by those different ratios of kavalactones. “Noble” cultivars such as Borogu are higher in smaller kavalactone molecules, such as kavain, that metabolize faster, resulting in a shorter onset and duration of their physiological effects [4]. Because of this, kavain and other smaller kavalactones are thought to have fewer accompanying side effects; kavain in particular is considered a “happy” kavalactone with primarily mental, mood-lifting effects [5].

In contrast, the larger double-bonded kavalactones such as methysticin and dihydromethysticin, found in profusion in Tudei kava as well as wild Piper wichmannii, take longer to metabolize [4]. In fact, the name Tudei kava comes from the fact that these compounds can remain active in the body for up to two days! While many people still seek Tudei kava to take advantage of its long-lasting effects, this increased potency can often come with the pricetag of more undesirable side effects—often nausea or stomach upset, dizziness, headache, prolonged sleep, and drowsiness that can last into the next day [4]. There is also the possibility that Tudei strains may contain notable levels of flavokavain B, a non-kavalactone compound that has the kava community atwitter with studies that it may not be safe for the liver. That controversy is still evolving, and you can read “The Emerging Controversy Around Tudei Kava?” for my full take on it.

In Vanuatu and other South Pacific countries, it is understood that Tudei kavas are not everyday drinking kavas, and only noble kava strains are suitable for everyday use. That said, this doesn’t mean that ignoble kava cultivars have no use in the South Pacific. Actually, some ignoble cultivars such as Isa have specific medicinal uses for conditions such as urinary tract infections and cystitis, and are also used as analgesics [6]. Even more interesting, research has suggested that the very presence of large double-bonded kavalactones that make ignoble varieties unsuitable for casual use may be at the root of these varieties’ medicinal effects, especially analgesia [7]. So it seems even ignoble kavas have some pretty noble uses after all!

REFERENCES

1. “Buy Kava Online”. Kava Dot Com. Accessed July 7th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=512.

2. Teschke, Rolf. March 2011. “Special Report: Kava and the Risk of Liver Toxicity: Past, Current, and Future”. American Herbal Products Association Report 26 (3): 9-17.

3. “Chemotype”. Wikipedia. Last modified June 17th, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemotype.

4. “Kava Definitions: Kava (Piper methysticum) and Types”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Last modified May 30th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/wiki/kava-definitions/.

5. “Mahakea Kava: The Happy Kava”. Kona Kava Farm. Last modfied June 1st, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/kava-news/mahakea-kava-the-happy-kava/.

6. “Kava | Strains and Origins”. Wikipedia. Last modified July 1st, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Strains_and_origins.

7. Bruggemann VF and HJ Meyer. 1963. “Studies on the analagesic efficacy of the kava constituents dihydrokavain (DHK) and dihydromethysticin (DHM)” [in German with English abstract]. Arzneimittelforschung 13: 407-409.

Free Bula Kava House Kava

Bula Kava House KavaBula Kava House is the second Kava vendor we’re featuring, as part of our Facebook Kava Promotion.  Bula Kava House has provided me with some of my favorite Kava over the past few years, and is really tied for my favorite Kava supplier.  They consistently offer several cultivars of Kava. What we offered on our Facebook Kava Promotion were their 4 current Powdered Kava Root cultivars; Borogu, Fu’u, Koniak, and Melo Melo. Continue Reading

Yet Another Kava Endorsement!

Rugby Teams and KavaThe conversation about Kava as an alternative to alcohol has been an ongoing one with stable positive feedback. As far as I know there isn’t really any prominent source declaring that alcohol is better than Kava – and everyone knows how terrible drinking alcohol can be on your system! Well, today as I was sipping my Kava I came across a lovely bit of news: Eric Smith – an independent life insurance agent and founder of yourlifesolution.com – has publically endorsed Kava as a safe and worthy alternative to alcohol consumption [4].

As many people know alcohol can damage your liver over time or even in just one heavy drinking session. The liver filters alcohol and breaks it down and if you overpower its ability to do this then – like with anything that is overpowered – it will break down and function incorrectly. But, what many people don’t know is that excessive alcohol consumption can actually lead to a bleeding from the esophagus – the tube that trails from your throat to your belly. Evidently this can make eating pretty painful and daily life tasks a little more than uncomfortable. Swelling and damage of the pancreas can also occur as well as the development of cancer in various parts of the body that alcohol is in contact with [2].

One thing that is a little bit obscure with relation to the negative side effects of drinking alcohol is how it leads to poor nutrition. As many sources indicate drinking a lot of alcohol over a long period of time leads to poor nutrition and just generally poor health, but what often is overlooked is just exactly how that happens. Well, I’ll help you out by clearing up that obscurity! Basically, alcohol inhibits the enzymes in your pancreas that are secreted to aid with digestion and it also inhibits the liver from proper nutrient absorption. So, even if you’re eating all the right foods – but drinking alcohol excessively – you may still encounter nutritional deficiencies [3].

According to the Street Insiders article on Eric Smith and his endorsement of Kava, The Lancet – a medical journal – states that “…alcohol is in the top ten most dangerous common drugs in existence”. Smith believes that Kava can help many people tame their alcohol consumption and even provide an alternative altogether [4].

What a lot of people also don’t realize is that the consumption of alcohol can greatly affect life insurance rates – due to the health problems and complications it can cause. Although alcohol consumption is fairly subjective, insurance companies actually have ways of determining whether or not the consumption is excessive; some things they might look at to make this determination is, medical examination results, driving records or simply asking you some questions [1].

So, insurance companies can actually increase your insurance rates based on your alcohol-drinking habits and this makes it all the more impressive that Smith endorses Kava so greatly! He’s not out there just to brand insurance companies and promote various insurance products – rather, he is also concerned with helping clients promote their own healthy living. The Street Insider also quotes The Lancet medical journal, with regard to alcohol, as suggesting that people should “…look to less harmful sedatives to unwind”. I’m just so happy that people like Eric Smith are starting to realize that Kava is the perfect alternative to make use of in taking The Lancet medical journal’s advice!

Sources:

1. Inweb.  http://www.insweb.com/life-insurance/alcohol-affects-life-insurance.html.

2. Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000494.htm.

3. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa22.htm.

4. Street Insider. http://www.streetinsider.com

Emerging Controversy Around Tudei Kava

PrintAh, Tudei kava. Perhaps no varietal of kava is getting more attention or press at the moment. Unfortunately a lot of it is currently bad press, as some distinguished kava researchers such as Vincent Lebot have come forward with recommendations against drinking kava made from Tudei varieties. I was frankly shocked at how quickly Tudei kava rose in notoriety as being somehow harmful, even though the science on why it might be so is still in its initial stages. I don’t think I was alone, either: many growers, retailers and connoisseurs in the kava community were blindsided by the emerging controversy surrounding Tudei kava strains. Over the past year I’ve seen two rough camps develop, divided between those who have sworn off Tudei kava and those who are still skeptical of the supposed evidence against Tudei kava. But before I can get into the controversy, I should probably break down a few things for our readers. Like what is Tudei kava?

What is Tudei Kava?

First of all, the term Tudei or Tuday kava doesn’t refer to just one strain, but actually a group of kava strains that are classified as “ignoble” according to Vanuatu’s kava export laws [1]. Tudei kava strains tend to have dark green stems and leaves, often with lighter green spots on the leaves. They also usually grow and mature quickly compared to other kava strains. Some people prize Tudei kava varieties for their perceived long-lasting effects—the effects can reportedly last as long as two days, hence the name—which are probably due to higher levels of large, slow-to-metabolize kavalactones such as dihydromethysticin in the kava root [2]. However, the longer-lasting effects can sometimes also be accompanied by undesirable side effects such as nausea and drowsiness [1], so the kava community is really split on whether the enjoyable parts of the Tudei experience outweigh the less pleasant aspects!

In Vanuatu, Tudei kava cultivars such as Isa and Palisi are actually banned from export by law (although one can still find them, or kava vendors claiming to sell them, online). This is because only “noble” kava cultivars with a specific chemotype are legal to export or process into kava supplement products. The explanation indigenous ni-Vanuatu people give for this is that Tudei or ignoble strains like Isa are reserved for ritual and medicinal use, and are considered too potent to be everyday drinking kavas [1]. There has even been a persistent rumor in some kava circles that Tudei kava is actually Piper wichmannii, the wild form of kava, and some vendors have exploited this hearsay to add an air of potency and exoticism to the the kava they sell. However, no genetic or morphological evidence has ever substantiated the claim that Tudei kava is P. wichmannii [2]. The Tudei strains may be chemically close to P. wichmannii in their ratios of kavalactones though, which could be where this claim originated.

The Emerging Tudei Kava Controversy:

I first became aware of the doubts surrounding Tudei kava from a post made on Kava Lounge by Andrew Procyk, owner of Vanuatu Kava Bar in Asheville, North Carolina and the recently opened Noble Kava Bar in Boone, North Carolina. He linked to a video featuring semi-famous kava luminary Vincent Lebot, in which Lebot recommends against drinking Tudei kava strains such as Isa and Palisi on the basis that they contain significant amounts of flavokavain B. His recommendation was based on data that suggest flavokavain B can be cytotoxic to human liver cells in lab tests [3].

Sigh. I thought the kava liver safety scares were over after the World Health Organization determined kava to be safe back in 2007 [4], but apparently not. The good news, though, is that Lebot and other kava researchers agree there is no detectable flavokavain B in the roots of noble kava cultivars [3]—those traditionally consumed nightly in the South Pacific as part of kastom—so even if flavokavain B turns out to be something to avoid, you don’t have to swear off noble kavas bought from scrupulous vendors. So, what’s the big deal with flavokavain B?

Flavokavains A, B, and C (also spelled flavokavins or flavokawains) are not kavalactones but are actually chalconoid compounds; precursors to the flavonoids found in many pigmented food plants like dark berries and dark orange or green vegetables [5]. Flavonoids have become darlings in the nutrition science world because research has shown that many of them provide significant health benefits like lowering inflammation in tissues and acting as antioxidants. Similarly, there is evidence the flavokavains in Tudei kava might be antifungal, antibacterial, and antioxidant [5]; Dr. Xiaolin Zhi at University of California Irvine has even discovered a tumor-preventive potential of flavokavain A in lab tests on mice [6]!

Seems good so far, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the research also suggests there are two big problems specifically with flavokavain B. First, Dr. Chris Xing of the University of Minnesota has stated that flavokavain B may deplete glutathione, an antioxidant, liver-protective enzyme [7]. In a recent video interview featured on Natural Products Insider, Xing said, “[T]hat compromises liver function for detoxification… which may contribute to the observed hepatotoxicity among kava users”. As an antioxidant, glutathione plays a crucial role in scavenging free radicals produced by mitochondria (the organelles responsible for cellular respiration), and a severe enough deficit of glutathione can be fatal for cells [8].

Even more troubling, this 2010 paper [9] found that flavokavain B also has direct toxic effects on two human liver cell lines: I’ll try not to get too technical, but the researchers found that adding flavokavain B to cultured liver cells inhibits a protein signaling pathway regulated by nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κ B) that is involved in preventing cell death caused by tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). Under healthy conditions, these two signaling pathways balance each other, but when flavokavain B is added it knocks out the NF-κ B pathway, leading to apoptosis (death) of the treated liver cells.

Two things about this study stood out to me. One was that the researchers experimented with altering different parts of this process and discovered that adding exogenous glutathione rescued the liver cells from flavokavain B-induced cell death, even when the process had already been set in motion in the treated cells [9]. I couldn’t help but be reminded of studies of kava I’ve come across stating that brews prepared using traditional cold water steeping were found to extract glutathione into the water along with the kavalactones [10]. The Kava Guru finds it hard to believe that these two pieces of data are a coincidence!

Final Verdict—Should You Avoid Tudei Kava?

Well… it’s complicated. The paper described above reports the mechanism of toxicity for flavokavain B extracted from kava kava root using an organic solvent. It’s important to remember that the amount of flavokavain B present in the extract used does not necessarily match the amount that would be found in a traditionally prepared aqueous kava brew, or a kava extract prepared using a modern solvent such as supercritical cold CO2. It’s well known that ethanol and acetone, two once-common solvents used to extract kava, extract everything in the root, not just the kavalactones, and that could include much higher levels of potentially harmful flavokavain B [8].

In fact, on page 5, table 1 of the paper, the researchers compare concentrations of flavokavain B in aqueous kava brews versus acetone- and ethanol-extracted kava extracts: kava extracts made with a 60% acetone extract contained 26 mg of flavokavain B per 1 gram of kava used, while a pure acetone extract contained 33.7 mg/g, and a 95% ethanol extract contained 32.3 mg/g [9]. How much flavokavain B did a traditional water-based Tudei kava brew contain? 0.2 mg/g [9]! What surprises me most about this outcome is that it suggests solvent-extracted kava extracts may actually have had a role in some of the liver toxicity cases of the early 2000s, a theory I thought had been debunked until now.

The very small amount of flavokavain B in an aqueous Tudei kava brew should, I think, at least give one pause before totally condemning Tudei kava as unsafe. Furthermore, in a co-op paper with Samuel X. Qiu and Rolf Teschke, Vincent Lebot explored three possible explanations for the idiosyncratic liver toxicity found in some kava users in the early 2000s [11]. One of those possible mechanisms was the presence of flavokavain B from Tudei kava, and the other two were the presence of pipermethystine from the aerial parts of kava, and possible contamination of kava roots with mold toxins (aflatoxins). In their results, the researchers noted that although both flavokavain B and pipermethystine have been shown to kill liver cells in lab tests, neither compound was detected in the commercial kava extracts tested at levels that would be of concern to human health [11]. They couldn’t detect pipermethystine at all in the extracts they tested. As for flavokavain B, even in the kava extracts where it was present, Lebot et al report that the concentration was much too low to cause harm in their experimental tests on liver cells. The conclusion of the paper states that contamination with mold aflatoxins due to poor storage conditions of the kava tested is actually the most likely explanation for the liver toxicity seen in 2002 and earlier cases [11].

Of course, no one should ignore that flavokavain B has been shown to have a detrimental effect on liver cells. But rather than state unequivocally that Tudei kavas are dangerous to consume, we have to look at all the factors in their preparation in order to make an informed choice about consuming them. A Tudei kava that has been solvent extracted and probably contains significant levels of flavokavain B might be wise to avoid. While Tudei kavas are consumed in the South Pacific, these cultures have traditionally only steeped the roots in water, and restricted them to occasional ceremonial and medicinal use rather than everyday drinking. It seems now that there is sound science behind the tradition.

REFERENCES

1. “Kava Definitions”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Last modified May 30th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/wiki/kava-definitions/.

2. “Tudei Kava”. Kona Kava Farm. Accessed July 2nd, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-tudei.html.

3. Procyk, Andrew. “Drinking Tudei? Someone thinks you should probably stop.” The Kava Lounge: Science of Kava. Posted August 25th, 2013. http://kavalounge.yuku.com/topic/1576/Drinking-tudei-Someone-thinks-you-should-probably-stop#.U6iUeBZBm1A.

4. “WHO says Kava is Safe!” Kona Kava Farm Blog. Accessed July 2nd, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/kava-news/who-says-kava-is-safe/.

5. “Simple Test for Checking if your Kava is Tudei”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Last modified May 26th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/threads/simple-test-for-checking-if-your-kava-is-tudei-please-read-if-youre-new-to-kava.2451/.

6. Vasich, Tom. “Can Kava Kava Cure Cancer?” UC Irvine News. Accessed June 29th, 2014. http://news.uci.edu/features/can-kava-cure-cancer/.

7. “New Science May Boost Kava Market” Insider TV: Natural Products Insider. Accessed July 2nd,2014. http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/videos/2014/05/insider-tv-new-science-may-boost-kava-market.aspx.

8. “Dr. Xing: ‘Hepatotoxic Risk due to wrong cultivar […] and that Cultivar is Tudei Kava”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Last modified May 28th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/threads/dr-xing-hepatotoxic-risk-due-to-wrong-cultivar-and-that-cultivar-is-tudei-kava.2557/.

9. Ping Zhou, Shimon Gross, Ji-Hua Liu, Bo-Yang Yu, Ling-Ling Feng, Jan Nolta, Vijay Sharma, David Piwnica-Worms, and Samuel X. Qiu. December 2010. “Flavokawain B, the hepatotoxic constituent from kava root, induces GSH-sensitive oxidative stress through modulation of IKK/NF-kB and MAPK signaling pathways”. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal 24 (12): 4722-4732.

10. Whitton, PA, A Lau, A Salisbury, J Whitehouse, and CS Evans. October 2003. “Kavalactones and the kava kava controversy”. Phytochemistry 64 (3): 673-9.

11. Teschke, Rolf, Samuel X. Qiu, and Vincent Lebot. September 2011. “Herbal hepatotoxicity by kava: update on pipermethystine, flavokavain B, and mould hepatotoxins as primarily assumed culprits”. Digestive and Liver Disease 43 (9): 676-81.