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There is a recent scientific mystery connected to a plant that was once used in dietary supplements.
Kava, a plant used in the U.S. in the 90s as an herbal supplement to treat anxiety, was found to sometimes cause liver damage in Westerners who consumed it. Pacific Islanders, however, have been consuming the plant in different forms for years with no side effects, and scientists continue to struggle to determine why.
The U.S., U.K. and Canada ban or regulate products that contain kava, while those living in the Pacific Islands consider it a normal part of an everyday diet. Researchers reviewed 85 different studies on kava toxicity and were unable to determine why the plant is sometimes toxic to Westerners and not to Pacific Islanders, where the plant is still used for holistic purposes.
"To date, there remains no indisputable reason for the increased prevalence of kava-induced hepatotoxicity in Western countries," researchers say.
The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine states that kava is used primarily for anxiety, insomnia and menopausal symptoms, but warns consumers of the potential risk to Westerners.
The FDA warns that people with liver problems should consult their healthcare practitioners before using kava.