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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 21 December, 2002, 00:17 GMT
Herbal stress remedy banned
Complementary medicine shop
Kava-kava is a complementary therapy
Remedies containing the herb Kava-kava have been banned after it was linked to four deaths.

The herb is used as a natural tranquiliser and as an alternative to Valium.

It was voluntarily removed from the shelves a year ago after almost 70 cases of suspected liver damage associated with the herbal medicine were reported, four in the UK. Seven patients needed liver transplants.

The UK's Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) and the Medicines Commission have now recommended a ban.

There is no evidence to suggest that kava is toxic if used in its traditional formulation

Trudy Norris, National Institute of Medical Herbalists
The Medicines Control Agency, (MCA) which monitors the safety of all herbal medicines, including unlicensed ones, is now acting on that advice.

An order prohibiting the sale of Kava-kava will come into force on 13 January next year.

But the ban will be reconsidered in two years time.

The MCA said investigations had been unable to say what might put people at risk of adverse reactions to Kava-kava.

How the remedy damages the liver is also unknown.

Professor Alasdair Breckenridge, chairman of the CSM, said: "Given the expert advice from the CSM and Medicines Commission following the recent public consultation it is clear that this ban is necessary.

"The issues surrounding today's decision have been very carefully considered.

"A prohibition on safety grounds can be reviewed at any time if new evidence emerges and the MCA will be undertaking a specific review in two years time to assess whether this ban remains justified."

'Idiosyncratic'

Dr Liz Williamson, a herbal expert from the London School of Pharmacy, said: "The liver toxicity associated with Kava-kava, although rare, is idiosyncratic.

"No specific risk factors have been identified and it is not possible to predict who is at risk before they use Kava-kava.

"In addition, no measures to reduce the risk, or the severity of liver reactions, are available. It is therefore in the best interests of patients that the herb be withdrawn at present."

She added: "There are other useful herbal products which can be used for stress and related disorders."

Trudy Norris, president of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, said: "The government has made the wrong decision here and many people will suffer if the ban on Kava kava goes ahead.

"Like many other qualified medical herbalists, I am extremely disappointed that the government has decided to ignore the evidence submitted by us.

"There is no evidence to suggest that kava is toxic if used in its traditional formulation.

"This news will disillusion many medical herbalists at a time when we are looking towards statutory self regulation."

See also:

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