Harnessing the healing powers of kava

Naomi FujiokaWhen it comes to stopping the harm caused by cancer, researchers are finding answers in a plant from the South Pacific called kava, which is known for its relaxing properties and has traditionally been consumed as a beverage by South Pacific Islanders.

Naomi Fujioka, M.D., a past Masonic Scholar and recent recipient of a Masonic Cancer Center Translational Working Group Research Grant, has been especially interested in the positive impact that kava could make in both cancer prevention and survivorship. 

Stopping the damage caused by tobacco carcinogens

In an early-stage clinical trial, Fujioka and her team investigated the potential role that kava could play in preventing lung cancer. 

Specifically, they explored whether kava is effective in decreasing the damaging effects of a tobacco-specific carcinogen called NNK by giving a kava supplement to healthy smokers for a week and measuring their NNK metabolite levels before and after they took the supplement. The team found that kava appeared to enhance NNK detoxification. 

Reducing anxiety and stress in cancer survivors

Fujioka is also interested in learning more about the potential of kava to increase quality of life for cancer survivors. 

In their prior study, her team also discovered that kava seemed to lead to reduced levels of a hormone called cortisol, decreased perceived stress, and improved sleep. They are now preparing to lead an early-stage clinical trial in cancer survivors that will study the effects of a two-week course of kava on anxiety and biomarkers of stress. If all goes well, they hope to use data from this trial to secure an NIH grant that could greatly expand the scope of this research and, ultimately, show that kava could be an effective and safe treatment to decrease the burden of cancer and its treatments on people.

"The support from Minnesota Masonic Charities has been critical to the success of these studies. I’m ever grateful for their unwavering support to help myself and other researchers at the Masonic Cancer Center continue the arduous work of discovering more about cancer, its treatments, and its devastating effects on people. We will continue pushing forward toward a day when we understand how to prevent cancer from having such a devastating toll."

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