One of the questions I’m getting asked more and more these days is whether “lab certified Kava” means anything. After all, Kava is a natural plant product that grows in places like Hawaii, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and a few other places. That means it’s mostly untouched by the perils of the modern world right? Well, after just a bit of investigation, the answer is a resounding; “Yes, Lab Certified Kava is critically important to your health.” Whether or not the Kava you are purchasing has been tested in a lab and manufactured in an FDA-compliant facility, it can mean the difference between a pleasant experience and an upset stomach, or worse; a trip to the hospital.
Before anyone sounds alarms of me being alarmist, let me present the facts.
First, I went to Amazon.com and purchased 6 random samples of Kava. I wasn’t too particular, I just wanted to get a wide range of Kava products. I purchased ones that appeared to be very “official” and also had claims of “GMP Kava.” I also purchased ones that said “Lab Certified Kava”, as well as ones that didn’t appear to have any Supplement Facts on them whatsoever. (Supplement Facts are required by the FDA for any consumable product.) I got what I felt was a “representative” selection of Kava products.
Let’s first take a brief class on what the different terminologies mean:
“Lab Certified Kava” – This means any Kava was sent to a lab that can test for things that the FDA requires of all dietary supplements. The typical tests are biological (testing for mold, yeast, Salmonella, E. coli, and a few other pathogens). Kava is a root, and because of that, it spends most of its life underground. Dirt, at least these days, isn’t as harmless as it used to be. Chemicals leech into the water table, and contaminants that get released into the air and get into rain. The Earth itself builds up contaminants over repeated cycles of growing and harvesting. So, getting Kava tested in a lab, and subsequently lab certified Kava is an absolute must for anyone who manufactures, distributes, or sells Kava at a retail level.
And although not every retailer understands, even if the Kava from a supplier was actually lab certified Kava, that’s not actually acceptable to the FDA. Every person who holds Kava for distribution is required to get their Kava tested in a lab to verify the and confirm the results that they were provided with by their supplier. And this is a requirement for every single batch that’s made. With smaller companies and smaller batches, costs just for testing and getting their lab certified Kava into the marketplace can be an astronomically costly undertaking.
Another integral part of the lab certified Kava picture, is testing for heavy metals in Kava. Again, dirt itself may contain trace amounts of a number of contaminants that occur naturally, or were introduced into the ground from various means. Typically, heavy metals testing for Kava consists of Arsenic Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury. The FDA has set up very specific limits of what is acceptable for both food and dietary supplements. In the Kava we’ve tested. In the Kava that Wonderland-Labs tested (a lab that specializes in Kava testing), it appeared to be extremely rare for Kava roots to contain heavy metals.
Biological contamination is another story, though.
“GMP Manufactured Kava” – This is another term that seems to be getting abused recently. Food and dietary supplements need to be manufactured under very strict conditions, to be legally sold in the marketplace. This set of extremely rigorous rules only continues to get stricter. The FDA is making it increasingly difficult for small businesses to survive as a result. For a Kava product to be truly “GMP manufactured”, any facility must follow a very strict set of procedures. They must also maintain a specific level of cleanliness and sterility in their manufacturing facility. This includes ensuring that every product offered in the marketplace has been “lab certified”. And this isn’t just for the initial product supplied from the manufacturer; every individual type of product must have a “Certificate of Analysis” accompanying it.
With costs for complete safety testing and identification of Kava, each product can cost up to $500.00 per product. For a company that has, say 24 different Kava products, you can see how the testing alone can get very costly. From our interviews, this is causing smaller companies to cut corners, and subsequently, to allow less safe Kava into the marketplace.
Now that we know the main terminology, let’s take a look at some actual testing results. All of our examples come from a lab that specializes in testing Kava. I trust their expertise. And, with literally thousands of test results from virtually every brand of Kava, they seem to be an authority on lab certified Kava. I also know them personally.
O.K., let’s get back to those 6 Kava samples chosen at random.
And then, the additional biological testing:
Nearly all of the samples came up as safe, or at least safe enough, which was quite a relief. But, out of the 6 Kava samples, one had dangerous levels of a biological contaminant. This could mean at least an upset stomach, or worse; a trip to the emergency room:
I want to stress that I’m not here to be alarmist; these are real results from a random sampling of real Kava on Amazon.com. Also, despite repeated requests, I’m not going to reveal the sources of our samples. Each Kava company has been alerted to the testing results, and we have asked for a follow-up regarding their remedy to this situation.
There are difficulties with Kava safety. Kavalactones start to break down after just 20 minutes in heat above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Traditional means of pasteurization of irradiation can’t happen for Kava as a result. This makes it even more imperative that any Kava be handled with the utmost care, from farm to your stomach.
The new American Kava Association hoping to make a difference in Kava testing. They require testing of every Kava product by every member. this forces companies to adhere to the strict manufacturing standards that the FDA requires of every dietary supplement manufacturer. They also offer a number of benefits for their members. This includes Kava testing at reduced prices for any member, trusted Kava suppliers, and knowledge that they are part of an organization devoted to Kava safety.
Lab Certified Kava Conclusions
Even our cursory study has shown how critically important it is for Kava to be lab certified. Look for the American Kava Association logo on any retailer offering Kava. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when making your Kava purchases. Don’t be afraid to ask if the Kava is manufactured in a GMP facility. Ask for a bit of a description of the process they employ to ensure the safety of their Kava products. Anyone who truly does manufacture their Kava in a GMP manufacturing facility, will be able to share enough details of their process to assure you that their Kava is what they say it is.
Also, Wonderland-Labs offers free Kava testing for anyone who has become sick from any Kava they have purchased. This is simply a courtesy to the consumer. Hopefully you’ll never have to take them up on their offer. But it’s comforting to know that there’s someone out there looking out for the Kava consumer.