30 Sep 2003

New concerns over links between Kava use and heart attacks

6:26 am on 30 September 2003

A researcher says kava use in Australia's Arnhem Land may be a contributing factor in the sudden deaths of young Aboriginal sportsmen.

Alan Clough, a senior research officer at Darwin's Menzies School of Health Research, says kava use combined with exercise and hidden heart disease among Aborigines may be a deadly mix.

The Australia Associated Press quotes Mr Clough as saying that although his research had found no evidence long-term kava use caused heart disease, its properties as a strong muscle relaxant could trigger problems for people with pre-existing cardiac conditions when they exerted themselves, such as playing sport.

He says because kava is such a strong muscle relaxant, anybody who already has a heart problem ... and takes this strong muscle relaxant might actually put themselves at risk if they suddenly try to do heavy exercise.

Kava was introduced into Arnhem land, with the sanction of the Uniting Church, about two decades ago as an alternative to alcohol.

Mr Clough also says medical experts in Arnhem Land had found evidence of kava causing serious liver damage, despite European reports of deaths from liver damage from people using manufactured herbal products containing kava.