New Zealand scientists find kawakawa has dozens of positive health effects

New Zealand scientists are proving the kawakawa plant has dozens of positive health effects.

Research from Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, in partnership with hapū-owned Wakatū Incorporation from Te Tauihu at the north of Te Wai Pounamu has found kawakawa had more than 60 biologically active compounds in its leaves.

"The most abundant compound, of more than 60 that we found, was pellitorine, which has numbing effects on the body and could explain its use for pain relief in rongoā Māori, Liggins Institute research fellow Dr Chris Pook said in a statement on Friday.

Dr Pook said kawakawa is used in rongoā Māori in many ways including as a balm to soothe eczema, grazes and bites. It can also be used to relieve toothaches and gastrointestinal problems.

Dr Pook said researchers applied liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify the active compounds in the endemic plant's leaves. 

"Our findings show that kawakawa contains a great diversity and abundance of pharmacologically active metabolites."

Researchers at Liggins Institute are running trials testing the possibility of kawakawa to reduce inflammation and improve the health of those who have things like heart disease and diabetes.

He said the neurotransmitter dopamine is present and is known to have a positive health effect on people's digestive systems.

"It provides a mechanism by which the consumption of kawakawa tea soothes upset stomachs and other gastrointestinal complaints in rongoā Māori."

Dr Pook said dopamine found in the plant could be used to regulate a person's insulin response.

"Dopamine could be the mechanism behind the reduction in insulin levels we observed in previous clinical trials exploring human physiological responses to consumption of kawakawa tea."