12 Dec 2016

Kava could help in cancer fight

10:31 am on 12 December 2016

New research has found that traditionally prepared kava could help treat or prevent cancer.

Scientists used ground kava combined with other elements including sap from different sources in Micronesia.

Prepared this way, in a form used by people in the Pacific, rather than filtered, kava was more active in inhibiting breast and colon cancer cells.

One of the principal scientists behind the study, Linda Saxe Einbond from the New York Botanical Garden and the City University of New York, said the results were encouraging.

"We prepare kava the way it's prepared traditionally, as a water extract high in particular content and we did it squeezed or strained through hibiscus bark, in traditional preparation.

"I find it very interesting that what people were actually drinking turned out to be more active."

A tanoa (kava bowls) with a bilo (kava cup). Normally the lowliest person would serve kava to the circle.

A tanoa (kava bowl) with a bilo (kava cup) Photo: RNZ Daniela Maoate-Cox

Dr Einbond said the study arose because epidemiological data showed cancer incidence was inversely associated with kava in countries like Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu.

"And we found that the less we did to it, the unfiltered preparation was more active than the filtered, that what people actually drink has particles in it is more active than the next step of filtering it or purifying it."

Dr Einbond said the extracts used in the study were from Fiji and Hawaii, with those from Fiji most active against cancer cells.

Dr Einbond said it would be worthwhile to develop and further assess traditional kava to prevent and treat colon and other cancers.

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Kava for sale in a market in Fiji Photo: RNZ