Exciting New Kava Study on Lung Cancer Prevention

By Steven Foster

Kava, Piper methysticum
Kava, Piper methysticum

According to an 8 January 2014 member advisory  release by the American Botanical Council (ABC), in Austin, Texas, researchers from the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy and Masonic Cancer Center reported findings of a study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research yesterday which found daily consumption of a kava-derived dietary supplement prevented the formation of 99 percent of tumors in a mouse lung tumor model used to predict lung cancer  in humans. Positive animal studies usually suggest further research leads, but this study shows such a significant benefit that further development will be accelerated. The levels of success is reported with a patent-pending extract of Kava components, not currently available off-the-shelf Kava dietary supplement products.

A traditional ceremonial beverage of South Pacific societies, Kava (Piper methysticum) is widely consumed in Vanuata, Fiji and Western Somoa, whose populations have lung cancer rates just 5-10 percent of U.S. lung cancer rates despite similar levels of tobacco consumption. Here are links to our photo galleries of the Kava plant, the root of Kava, and a Kava ceremony.

According to Stefan Gafner, Chief Science Officer of ABC, “The fact that the researchers were able to find evidence of the ability of a kava fraction to prevent the formation of tumors in mice, in support of epidemiological data showing a lower incidence of lung cancer in people living on the South Pacific Islands where kava is traditionally used, makes this study very compelling. If confirmed in human clinical studies, the results could have a big impact on human health and may lead to a greater emphasis on prevention rather than cure.”

Traditional kava ceremony, Kava, kava-kava, Piper methysticumIn the January 8th member advisory  release, the Austin, Texas-based American Botanical Council, quotes Prof. Bill Gurley PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the College of Pharmacy of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock and a leading expert on herb toxicology. Prof Gurley reviewed the study and commented to ABC, “…the findings are both compelling and certainly merit further research in order to translate them into the clinic. The findings are a breath of fresh air for kava, in particular, and botanical supplements, in general. Recently supplements have suffered quite a bit of negative publicity — some of it deserved, some not — but the kava study from the University of Minnesota emphasizes what good science coupled with quality botanicals can produce.”

“This is highly interesting research and suggests a potential new use for certain preparations made from kava root and rhizome,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC).

Rick Kingston, PharmD, a clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of Kava root, kava-kava root, Piper methysticum rootMinnesota and president of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs at SafetyCall International in Minneapolis, commented “This research is truly unprecedented in its potential impact. A 99% cancer prevention efficacy is unheard of with this very sensitive research model and paves the way for future clinical trials to assess human applications. Another fascinating aspect relates to identifying kava components likely responsible for rare cases of liver toxicity associated with kava dietary supplements. Fortunately, the risk of kava liver complications is low, but this will allow development of supplement preparations devoid of [compounds that may cause] adverse liver effects that can be used for both anti-anxiety and wellness applications in the supplement arena.”

Traditional kava ceremony, Kava, kava-kava, Piper methysticumScientists collaborating in this research include lead authors Pablo Leitzman and Sreekanth Narayanapillai in the U of M College of Pharmacy (Chengguo Xing Group), and their peers in the U of M Masonic Cancer Center (Stephen Hecht Group), U of M College of Veterinary Medicine (M. Gerry O’Sullivan) and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (Junxuan Lu). Funding for this research was provided by National Institutes of Health grant no. R01 CA142649.

Those interested in keeping up-to-date on timely,  important developments in herbal medicine research, authoritative information on herbs, and who wish to  receive the award-winning, graphically-compelling journal, HerbalGram, are encouraged to join the American Botanical Council.

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Steven Foster

Describing her first visit with Steven Foster in 1977, Harvard University botanist, Dr. Shiu Ying Hu (1908-2012), wrote, “Our conversation reminded me of something that Confucius said two thousand years ago. ‘In any company of three persons, there must be one who can be my teacher’. . . I found in Steven Foster a teacher who could share a profound knowledge of economic botany, particularly in the cultivation and uses of herbs.” In 1974, at age 17, Steven Foster, began his career at the Sabbathday Lake, Maine, Shaker Community Herb Department —America's oldest herb business, dating to 1799. There he established three acres of production gardens and managed 1700 acres for the commercial harvest of botanicals. For forty-three years, Steven has photographed and researched herbs from the Amazon rainforest to the highlands of Vietnam. Foster has over 900 photo-illustrated articles published in a wide range of media. Steven also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Botanical Council, and a Contributing Editor to the organization's journal, HerbalGram. Steven is the author, co-author and photographer of eighteen books, including the NEW 2014 Third Edition of A Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America (with James A. Duke), along with National Geographic’s Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs (2010), and A Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine (2006, with Rebecca Johnson), awarded a 2007 New York Public Library “Best of Reference.” He is senior author of three other Peterson Field Guides, including A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs (with Dr. James A. Duke), 1st & 2nd editions, 1990, 2000; A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs with Dr. Christopher Hobbs, (2002); and A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants of North America (with Roger Caras, 1995). Other titles include Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West (with Prof. Yue Chongxi, 1992); Herbal Renaissance (1994); among others. Foster makes his home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.