Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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January 12, 2004

Kava Court Challenge Unsuccessful - London High Court rejects review

As reported in The Times on 10 January, the case brought by the the UK National Association of Health Stores and actress Jenny Seagrove to force government re-consideration of a ban on Kava Kava was rejected by High Court Justice Crane. A traditional South Sea calming drink is made by fermentation from Kava Kava root and has been used for centuries on several of the South Sea Islands. It is sold in Western countries as Kava root powder or as an extract put into capsules for convenience.

Sales of this natural sedative have been cutting into pharmaceutical profits on such drugs as Prozac and Valium, liberally prescribed for even mild depression. Consequently, clouds started to gather over Kava's fortunes, but what sealed its fate what the discovery that Kava could - like the competing pharmaceutical drug Zyban - help people stop smoking. Sales of Kava went soaring as people preferred the natural alternative.

According to German and Swiss Health Authorities, some cases of liver damage have been linked to consumption of Kava products, but Kava advocates have charged that conclusive causal connection between the damage and the herb has not been shown in the vast majority of these cases. Nevertheless, Kava was 'voluntarily withdrawn' by the German drug manufacturer Merck, and was subsequently banned in a number of countries, both as a medicine and as a supplement.

Why Kava had to go off the market and not Zyban, which in the UK alone had killed more than 60 people, is everyone's guess. Certainly the official explanation of "consumer protection" does not make sense when a safer and less costly alternative to a pharmaceutical drug is banned while the pharmaceutical product continues to be sold and its killing of patients is overlooked in a cavalier way.

Here is an interview with Jenny Seagrove, who was surprised at the judge's decision in the case.

Article appeared in The Times

January 10 2004

Health alternatives

Complementary crusaders

Kava calm hits a storm

Joanna Bale finds Jenny Seagrove battling the ban on a Polynesian sedative

Bloodied but unbowed, Jenny Seagrove is still in fighting mode despite last month’s humiliating defeat at the High Court as she attempted to overturn a ban on kava, an ancient herbal remedy for anxiety.

“The battle has been lost but the war continues,” the actress declares angrily. “It’s absolutely unjustified to ban it and just symptomatic of the nanny state that we now live in.”

The ban was imposed a year ago after reports that 70 users around the world suffered liver damage, including three in the UK. Seven cases required liver transplants and four died, including two of those who received new livers. So great is the concern that Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada and, most recently, the United States have taken action to limit its use or prohibit its sale.

Convinced that an outright ban was a gross overreaction in a world where all medicines carry risks, Seagrove joined forces with the National Association for Health Stores (NAHS) in challenging the Government, arguing that the dangers of kava have been greatly exaggerated.

“Kava is a 2,000-year-old remedy. Millions of people have taken it without any harm,” she says. “The problem is that there is a risk if it is used with alcohol. The people who died were very old and some already had cirrhosis of the liver, but that wasn’t taken into consideration. I’m not somebody who wants something on the market that’s going to be dangerous to people. All it needs is better labelling.”

The case became a cause célèbre for the herbal industry, which has lost a market worth √ā¬£7.5 million. It boasted the support of several academics, including Professor Edzard Ernst of Exeter University, Britain’s only professor of complementary medicine, who argued that the risk of liver damage was no worse than that of Valium.

Seagrove, 46, became a celebrity figurehead for the campaign, insisting that she depended on the herb to help her sleep during stressful times in her career. Currently appearing in The Secret Rapture at the Lyric Theatre, in London, she says: “I have used kava for about five years. I even give it to my dog, Kizzy, on bonfire night. It’s very gentle, but it helps me sleep when I’m stressed, especially leading up to an opening night.”

Unlike some herbal remedies, kava has proven medical benefits: placebo-controlled trials have shown that it is useful for relieving anxiety. The Polynesian shrub, whose Latin name means “intoxicating pepper”, is the basis of the national drink of Fiji and Tonga. In its traditional form, it is prepared by grating or pounding the fresh root and mixing it with cold water or coconut milk.

Seagrove, who lives in Little Venice, northwest London, with the theatre impresario Bill Kenwright, and who once lived with the film director Michael Winner, adds: “Peanuts, tobacco and alcohol kill large numbers of people yet they are not banned. HRT has been linked to cancer, but it isn’t banned. The whole thing is out of proportion. The principle that I’m fighting for is to be allowed to choose, as long as I am aware of the possible risks.

“People are disillusioned with the medical profession which is why they are turning to herbal remedies. Problems sometimes arise when there are a small minority of herbal products which lack quality. If there was better labelling and spot checks, rather like the doping tests on footballers, it would help.”

She criticises new EU directives requiring licensing, registration and uniform manufacturing standards for herbal medicines which, many would argue, would achieve precisely the controls she deems necessary. “The EU directives are a catastrophe. We are going to lose so many products,” she insists, echoing the views of much of the complementary health lobby which is anxious to protect a market worth √ā¬£130 million.

Estimates of the impact of this new legislation vary, but it will undoubtedly cause problems for small British supplement companies as they are forced to reformulate entire ranges and invest massively in applying for new product licences.

At the High Court last month, Mr Justice Crane agreed that the consultation process in deciding to ban kava had been “procedurally flawed” but this did not justify ordering fresh consultations.

Ralph Pike, director of the NAHS which represents 420 independent health stores, is anxiously awaiting a further hearing in March to decide whether his organisation will have to pay an estimated √ā¬£200,000 in legal costs for both parties in the case. He says: “All we wanted was a rerun of the consultation process to explore the evidence more thoroughly. The judge agreed that the process had been done wrongly, but said the decision to ban still stands. We hope this will be grounds for an appeal.”

As she waits her next day in court, Seagrove — who also takes echinacea and gingko biloba but would never touch an aspirin — says that she has not found an effective replacement for kava. “Valerian never worked for me,” she sighs.

“I have had lots of wonderful letters of support from people. Some of them have even sent me their last capsules of kava — although I suspect that a lot of it, sadly, is well past its sell-by date.”

*    Kava is not the only herbal medicine considered potentially harmful. St John’s wort, taken as an antidepressant, can adversely affect Aids drugs, birth-control pills and chemotherapy, says the New England Journal of Medicine

Update 24.02.05

Government lawyers given hard time in Kava appeal

The natural products industry awaits the outcome of another landmark  hearing following the Kava Kava appeal, heard earlier this month.  A full report appears in the March issue of Health Food Business.

This time Government lawyers were given a tougher time on the key  issue put by the National Association of Health Stores that the consultation  process that led to the ban was flawed.

A year ago, the High Court judge dismissed the NAHS claim, despite  agreeing that the consultation process was faulty. The NAHS Appeal  argued that if the consultation process was flawed, then the decision to prohibit Kava Kava from sale was also faulty.

A further issue is whether a prohibition could be valid if a Minister  signs the order in the absence of basic knowledge of the salient  facts. If the three Appeal Court judges decide that the opinion of  the UK's leading herbal expert, Prof. Edzard Ernst, was improperly  represented to the Ministers, the industry may well get its favourite  mood herb back. The outcome of this point could change case law,  and be relied upon into the future to ensure that consultations are  fairly carried out.

The court's decision is expected some time before Easter.

Co-incidentally, the MHRA has just begun a re-consultation on the  prohibition. Information and reply forms can be obtained from Alison  Daykin, MHRA senior herbal policy manager

See also related:

Wales Reverses Kava Ban

WHO to Investigate Ban on Kava Herb

Cropwatch: Kava-kava: Bans to be Reconsidered


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Monday January 12 2004
updated on Thursday December 9 2010

URL of this article:


Related Articles

WHO to Investigate Ban on Kava Herb
Recently, the National Assembly of Wales voted to reverse a ban on the sale of a herb (Kava Kava), a root with relaxing, anti-depressive properties, which had been banned in serveral European and some non-European countries after adverse reaction reports linked the herb to some cases of liver damage. Apparently, the evidence proving the links was never fully made available and has been challenged by the sellers of the herb.... [read more]
December 05, 2003 - Sepp Hasslberger

Kava regains shelf space in Wales
Kava regains shelf space in Wales 28/11/2003 The kava industry is hoping to see other UK regions follow the move by the Wales National Assembly, which came into effect from the end of October, and will allow kava to go back on sale to consumers. Kava was banned in the UK in December last year because it had been linked to cases of liver damage. It is also banned in... [read more]
December 01, 2003 - Chris Gupta

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The National Assembly of Wales as a result of a case brought by the UK's National Association of Health Stores, has reversed a two-year ban on the sale of herbal products containing Kava Kava. The decision came into effect at the end of October 2003. Kava Kava, a root traditionally used to prepare a relaxing drink in South Sea island cultures, had become a widely used alternative to pharmaceutical anti-depressants... [read more]
December 01, 2003 - Sepp Hasslberger

Kava Kava - Germany, UK To Review Ban
Kava protest - Victory Column (Siegessäule) in Berlin Kava Kava, a calming and relaxing herbal preparation traditionally used in several South Sea islands, made from the roots of piper methysticum, was taken off the market in several countries on the strength of "safety concerns". Canada banned the herb in 2000, Germany in 2001 and several other European countries followed suit, although the evidence of actual harm to people's health... [read more]
April 07, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger

New year brings new herbal regulations
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European Directive on Medicinal Herbs Discriminates Against China, India, Other Cultures
On 31 March 2004, the European Union put the finishing touches on its directive for herbal medicinal products, which was published in the official journal and can be downloaded as a pdf here. The directive will have to be transformed into national law by the 25 EU member countries. It introduces a simplified registration for herbal medicinal products that have been on the market in Europe for at least 30... [read more]
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Readers' Comments

Update 27th August 2004:

Government agencies back in court

The National Associations of Health Stores (NAHS) and actress Jenny Seagrove have been granted leave to pursue their appeal against the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to overturn the ban on the popular herb kava-kava.

A previous legal action against the ban had not been successful. However, after careful consideration, Lord Justice Pill in London now said "The points raised in the application for appeal are of sufficient importance to merit the attention of the Court."

NAHS had gathered evidence from around the world and demonstrated that the level of risk to public health over use of Kava-kava is lower than that posed by the consumption of commonly available items such as alcohol, tobacco and peanuts therefore it should remain on free-sale.

NAHS insist the Medicines and Food agencies acted unlawfully and withheld vital evidence in their sham consultation exercises with regard to two separate bans on Kava-kava, and failed to take account of many relevant factors, including the medical "gold-standard" Cochrane review indicating that kava-kava is not just effective, but also safe.

Ralph Pike, Director of the NAHS expressed his satisfaction at Lord Justice Pill's decision and reiterated his comments that "the ban is unlawful, irrational, scientifically and morally bankrupt." Pike remains convinced that if MRHA had acted in a proportionate manner and asked for improved label information, such action would have been more than adequate to ensure protection for consumers from a herbal remedy that has been safely used for thousands of years".

For further information contact: Ralph Pike, Director NAHS, on 07866 317760

Posted by: Sepp on August 28, 2004 09:04 PM


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These articles are brought to you strictly for educational and informational purposes. Be sure to consult your health practitioner of choice before utilizing any of the information to cure or mitigate disease. Any copyrighted material cited is used strictly in a non commercial way and in accordance with the "fair use" doctrine.



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