October 6, 2014 — The herbal supplement kava kava has been linked to a severe skin rash on a 55 year-old man who took the herb for only 3 weeks, according to a case report was published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology this month.
LiveScience reports that the man was a resident of California who visited a dermatologist after developing an itchy rash all over his face, torso, abdomen, and scalp.
He was using kava kava to quit smoking, mixing it with water and also placing tablets under his tongue. He was also taking an anti-anxiety medication, Celexa (citalopram). The same enzyme that breaks down Celexa also breaks down kava kava, which may explain his adverse reaction.
After he stopped taking kava kava, the rash went away within nine days. When he re-started the supplement, his face became flushed and itchy, although no rash appeared. He decided to stop using the supplement and the rash did not return.
The researchers determined that the reaction was linked to sebacious glands, which are oil-producing glands of the skin that are concentrated in areas where the man developed a rash. Other case reports have also linked kava kava with skin inflammation and rash.
Life-threatening liver damage and kidney dysfunction have also been reported with high doses of the herb. Kava kava is banned in the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, France and Canada, but surprisingly not in the United States.
Kava kava is derived from Piper methysticum (“intoxicating pepper”), a plant that has been used ceremonially in the South Pacific islands for centuries. It is considered to have a calming, anti-anxiety effect. Traditional preparation involves water extract of powdered roots. In Western countries, kava is usually extracted with ethanol or acetone, dried, and sold in tablets or capsules.
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