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Kava leaf
© Steven Foster

Common Names: kava, kava kava, ava pepper, ava root, kawa

Latin Names: Piper methysticum


  • Kava is native to the islands of the South Pacific and is a member of the pepper family.
  • Pacific islanders have used kava in ceremonies to bring about a state of relaxation.
  • Today, people use kava as a dietary supplement for anxiety.
  • The root and underground stem (fresh or dried) are used to prepare drinks; they are also made into extracts, capsules, and tablets.

How Much Do We Know?

  • There is a fair amount of clinical research on kava.

What Have We Learned?

  • Kava supplements may have a small effect on reducing anxiety, but they have been linked to a risk of severe liver disease.
  • Differences in dosages used, preparation methods, and study designs have resulted in mixed conclusions about kava’s usefulness.

What Do We Know About Safety?

  • In March 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned health care providers and the public about the risk of liver damage associated with kava.
  • Combining kava with alcohol may increase the risk of liver damage.
  • Long-term use of high doses of kava has been associated with dry, scaly skin or yellowing of the skin.
  • Heavy consumption of kava has been associated with heart problems and eye irritation.

Keep in Mind

  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

For More Information

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

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A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.


Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), National Institutes of Health (NIH)

ODS seeks to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, supporting research, sharing research results, and educating the public. Its resources include publications (such as Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know), fact sheets on a variety of specific supplement ingredients and products (such as vitamin D and multivitamin/mineral supplements), and the PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset.


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Key References

  • Chiappedi M, de Vincenzi S, Bejor M. Nutraceuticals in psychiatric practice. Recent Patents on CNS Drug Discovery. 2012;7(2):163-172.
  • Feucht C, Patel DR. Herbal medicines in pediatric neuropsychiatry. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2011;58(1):33-54.
  • Kava. Natural Medicines Database Web site. Accessed at on April 8, 2015. [Database subscription].
  • Pittler MH, Ernst E. Kava extract versus placebo for treating anxiety. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2003;(1):CD003383 [edited 2010]. Accessed at on April 30, 2015.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Consumer Advisory: Kava-Containing Dietary Supplements May Be Associated With Severe Liver Injury. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site. Accessed at on April 30, 2015.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: September 2016