For millions of people in the South Pacific and around the globe, drinking kava is an indispensable part of their daily routine. Whether they drink just to relax or use kava to control anxiety, being able to squeeze a batch of their favorite variety means a great deal to those whose lives have changed for the better by consuming kava. However, as often the case with the things we love, it’s easy to be blindsided from the dangers that untested kava presents to our long-term health.
In kava forums around the web and even in our own blog here at the American Kava Association, a lot of recent attention has focused on the controversy surrounding Tudei Kava and the potential long-term health effects drinking Tudei may cause. While the AKA fully supports the need to test chemotype and FKB levels of every kava variety, we believe microbial and heavy metal contamination rank as far more pressing and immediate concerns for the health of both consumers and for the kava industry as a whole.
While it’s currently unknown whether years of drinking Tudei Kava may prove to cause liver toxicity, we fully understand that just a single exposure to kava that is contaminated with heavy metals or microbes can have immediate, serious, lifelong consequences.
Heavy metal poisoning- especially from lead – can cause severe symptoms that include high blood pressure, decline in mental function, memory loss, abdominal pain, and organ failure. Failure to properly test any variety of kava leaves open the possibility of exposure to harmful materials. The FDA allows up to 10ppm Recently we tested a variety of kava that contained 80 parts per million of lead! While this was likely due to contaminated soil or a failure to adequately clean the kava root prior to grinding, this product presented a very serious and hidden health risk for every consumer.
Every year in the U.S., news breaks regarding deaths linked to microbial contamination. A 2011 listeriosis outbreak linked to contaminated cantaloupe caused the deaths of nearly three dozen Americans. The contamination of Foster Farms chicken in 2013 led to the hospitalization of 280 people with an infection of a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella. Later that same year, 162 people contracted hepatitis A from organic frozen berries. The list of examples we could provide is endless, but the point remains the same – without testing every batch of kava before it goes on sale, consumers face a significant risk to their long-term health from disease.
The Need for Testing
The need for universal testing of every kava product not only benefits the kava drinking community as a whole, it’s also mandated by the Food and Drug Administration.
From a community perspective, a lack of standardized quality control was one of the reasons kava was once pulled from the U.S. market by the FDA and remains illegal in other countries. Without the use of analytical testing, kava merchants cannot verify the quality or safety of their product. Without knowing the product’s quality or verifying its safety, it’s impossible for kava merchants to ensure safe distribution. Once the safe distribution of a product comes into question, it won’t be long before the FDA once again pulls kava from the market, thereby depriving everyone of what they love.
From a practical standpoint, the FDA requires by law that all kava marketed for sale as a food or dietary supplement undergo analytical testing and issued a certificate of analysis by an accredited lab prior to hitting the open market. Failure to comply with FDA regulations can mean severe penalties for kava sellers and potential health risks for consumers.
At the AKA, we sincerely believe most kava merchants only want to sell safe, high quality products to their customers. Unfortunately, from the farmer growing the product to the distributor importing it to the shelf of your local kava bar, without certification and testing, breakdowns can occur that leave consumers drinking potentially unsafe products.
Without standards for quality control in place, kava will continue to suffer from a poor national reputation, which will inevitably lead to stricter regulations or future bans. The AKA remains dedicated to making sure farmers and distributors have the tools available to meet FDA regulations and provide a safe product to kava lovers everywhere.
Protocols for Testing
The FDA requires every kava product on sale to the public marketed as a food or dietary supplement to have received a Certificate of Analysis, or COA. Products with a COA have undergone specific quality control testing and have met all standards and specifications set by the FDA for safety. While the components can vary, COAs typically test kava for its potency, identity, and whether it contains any heavy metals, pesticides, or microbials.
Most reputable kava supplier will provide buyers with a COA for their products. However, suppliers that don’t offer COAs or claim them unavailable could be operating outside the scope of the FDA. Any merchant who elects to purchase kava from a supplier that cannot produce a COA has the responsibility to test and certify the product before offering it for sale.
At the AKA, we advocate for and provide full COA testing. Our extensive analysis details the results of our testing that examines the kava for microbiological agents such as salmonella, staph, mold, and yeast; heavy metal contamination; identification of the kava variety; and testing for pesticides. While the FDA has failed to set a standard for the production of COAs, the AKA believes the format and testing procedures listed on a COA for specific industries as acceptable.
For the Greater Good
As a community, we understand the benefits drinking kava has to offer but often fail to see the hidden risks. We can become consumed with debating the chemical properties of certain varieties of kava while missing the underlying danger that lurks from contamination.
The AKA views vendors that fail to follow FDA guidelines for scientific testing as the biggest threat to the kava industry today. That’s why our testing uses FDA accepted analytical methods as part of issuing COAs to members who have their kava tested by us. This ensures that all consumers have access to kava free of dangerous contaminants so they can feel secure knowing that the product they love is safe.
Let’s help protect kava and our health by advocating for universal testing and certification.