Risky remedy

UK prohibits sale of herbal medicine with harmful side-effects

Published: Friday 31 January 2003

-- medicines containing herbal remedy kava will be banned in the uk from January 13. The clampdown stems from research which shows that kava (Piper methysticum) can cause liver failure in rare cases. The herb is a member of the pepper family, which grows across the South Pacific. The root extract was being marketed as a herbal stress-buster.

According to Alasdair Breckenridge, "Given the expert advice it is clear that this ban is necessary." Breckenridge is the chairperson of the Committee on Safety of Medicines, a government drug advisory body. Official health chiefs have said that they had learned of 70 worldwide reports of adverse liver reactions, four of which were fatal.

Other countries including Australia, Canada, France and Germany have also taken damage control steps. These range from taking kava products off shelves to issuing warnings. In fact, the United States' Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to consumers in March 2002. "No measures to reduce the risk or the severity of liver reactions are available at present," stated Liz Williamson of the London School of Pharmacy.

In several countries, alternative health shops market kava as a herbal supplement to promote sleep, relieve stress and ease pain. Herbal remedy shops in the uk agreed to a voluntary ban on the drug called kava-kava a year ago to allow time for more research into its possible harmful effects.

The ban is bad news for South Pacific nations that planted us $200 million worth of kava for export.

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