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Mini research on kava allergies


New Zealand
Kava Vendor
I've spend the last couple of weeks doing a bit of literature review and talking to vendors, scientists and kava clubs around Auckland and Waikato. I wanted to learn how common it is for people to become allergic to kava. I am not talking about dermo. I am talking about a proper allergic reaction characterised by at least one of the following symptoms:

-skin rash
-very itchy skin
-puffy/swollen face
-(in more extreme, very rare cases usually when one chooses to ignore the above symptoms and continues drinking the same amounts of kava despite getting all the skin problems, puffy face etc) fever and problems with breathing

Some people can develop an allergy to kava fairly rapidly (just one or two sessions), others might suddenly develop an allergy after months or even years of regular kava use (this is fucking scary, actually!). In general, every single kava vendor I have spoken with and every single kava club I have communicated with have confirmed that they are aware of this possibility, but they all agree that it's very, very rare. I would say that on average each kava club or vendor with many years of experience with serving or selling kava to hundreds or thousands of people is aware of apx 2-10 cases. I imagine that there is a degree of under-reporting (not everyone who tries kava once or twice and gets a bit of a rash will report it back to the vendor or kava circle). It seems that women of European ancestry are more likely to develop it than anyone else, but I have met a Tongan man who became allergic to kava in his mid 30s (after 15 years of regular drinking). Apparently those who are generally allergic to several things are much more likely to develop an allergy to kava than others.

One of the most common patterns is: Someone drinks kava with no problems for a while (could be weeks, months). One day he/she gets a bit of a rash (from the same kava or from a different kava). He/she ignores it (doesn't link it with kava) until it gets more serious (swollen face and other symptoms) at which point the drinker gets in touch with a doctor (in two cases I am aware of people had to go to a hospital at night) and is advised to stop drinking kava. The symptoms disappear within 1-2 weeks of abstinence. In some cases after a few months or a year or two with no kava previously allergic users were able to drink it again (the same kava) with no problems. In other cases any amount of any kava would always trigger a reaction so those who become allergic and experience serious symptoms are advised to avoid kava or any products with kava.

Please note that the above info doesn't mean that kava itself is toxic or dangerous. Virtually any type of food can trigger allergic reactions with some people. Some foods are a bit more likely to trigger these reactions than others, but the fact that a small % of people develop an allergy to peanuts, milk, caffeine, gluten or kava doesn't make these products "unsafe" for the general public. However, it is extremely wise to observe your body's reactions and if you do develop an allergy to kava, you should stop drinking it.


New Zealand
Kava Vendor
Some more research:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019096229870547X Describes two cases of patients who developed an allergic reaction to kava after several weeks of taking kava-containing supplements. I believe this is different to pure dermo.
"Because in our patients the lesions were located in areas with the highest density of sebaceous glands, we expect that lipophilic kavapyrones become concentrated in the sebaceous lipids, provoking a lymphocytic attack and resulting clinically in an acute drug eruption. Thus the observed kava-induced sebotropic eruption may represent a new entity of an allergic drug reaction reflecting the lipophilic profile of kavapyrones."

And another paper: Delayed hypersensivity to kava-kava (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10871112)


@violet have you seen these reports?
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Do all things with love
Just from reading the abstract it seems like a simple observation. In short, kava and not individual lactones activates mast cell activity.

A huge amount of mast cells are found in the skin. Mast cell activation is histamine release, which can be seen in the form of hives or full on flushing. Other symptoms of mast cell activity could be congestion, headache, abdominal pain, anxiety, inability to focus, and many more.

There are some people who have reported that kava exacerbates or even causes issues like this. I think for mast cells to be that noticeably affected by kava there already has to be an underlying issue with histamine buildup or something already stressing mast cells (whether directly by infection or presence of constant allergen, or indirectly by something like improper methylation).

Many things can cause what appears to be allergic reactions but test as completely negative allergens on testing because they are causing histamine release directly through mast cell activation rather than IgE reaction.

Through my own experience with both dermo and mast cell issues, the two don't seem much related. The only correlation with true dermo I've noticed would be if it was bad enough to get red and swollen, there would be some mast cell activity from the skin working to repair itself just as there would be if you were to badly scald yourself.

For anyone getting a type of histamine rash like hives or a flush (which is not the dry skin dermopathy that is induced by regular consumption over time), it is pretty important to stop or reduce consumption of the cause. Dampening the reaction with antihistamines like benadryl might reduce the the effect of histamine on the body, but it doesn't change the physiology or why excess histamine is getting released in the first place. Keep pushing the histamine response whether you feel it or not and there could be much worse issues with mast cell reactions later on.


New Zealand
Kava Vendor
@violet thanks for your comments. Ok, so this paper seems to be more related to these allergic reactions. I've merged it with my mini kava allergy thread, I hope you don't mind.


Kava Curious
I got the red puffy face reaction after a over a year of consuming Kava. I reduced the amount I drink since then and haven't had the same reaction. I'm also monitoring if it was a reaction from other supplements. One curious thing is the red and puffiness occurred mostly in areas that had been recently exposed to a lot of sun. Is it possible kava causes photosensitivity? Here's a link I found about it: https://www.medicinenet.com/sun-sen....htm#what_is_photosensitivity_sun_sensitivity