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A Good Use for a Bad Vine

A Good Use for a Bad Vine

Healthnotes Newswire (June 2, 2005)—An extract of the invasive kudzu plant (Pueraria lobata) may help “heavy” drinkers consume less alcohol, reports a study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (2005;29:756–62).

Alcohol abuse leads to more than 100,000 alcohol-related deaths each year. Treatment for alcohol dependence may involve counseling, participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, detoxification, and drug therapy. There are relatively few medications available for alcoholism treatment, and their usefulness may be overshadowed by their potential to cause unwanted side effects. One of the most widely prescribed alcohol deterrents is called disulfiram (Antabuse™). Disulfiram discourages drinking by causing severely unpleasant effects (nausea, vomiting, facial flushing, headache, anxiety) upon ingestion of even small amounts of alcohol. There have been several reports of disulfiram-induced liver failure, some of which have been fatal.

Kudzu, a member of the bean family, was introduced in the southern US over 100 years ago to help control soil erosion. Since its appearance, it has taken over entire landscapes, often pushing out indigenous plant species. A native of Asia, kudzu has been incorporated into Chinese herbal medicine formulas to help lessen the intoxicating effects of alcohol. Numerous studies have shown that the active constituents of the plant, the isoflavones, can help suppress alcohol intake in animals. Puerarin, daidzein, and daidzin are the three major isoflavones in kudzu.

A previous clinical trial did not support a sobriety-promoting effect of kudzu; however, the amount of isoflavones in the kudzu product used in that study was not clear. The new study evaluated the effect of short-term supplementation with a concentrated form of kudzu on alcohol consumption in 14 people (average age 25 years) who were regular “heavy” drinkers (consuming about 25 alcoholic beverages per week). The study consisted of four 90-minute sessions during which the participants were permitted to drink up to six bottles of their favorite beer in a living room–like setting.

After the first session, the participants received either 1,000 mg of a kudzu supplement (containing 19% puerarin, 4% daidzin, and 2% daidzein) three times per day for one week, or placebo. At the end of the week, they revisited the lab for a second session. After this session, there was a two- to three-week no-treatment period, followed by a third session. The treatment groups were switched after the third session so that those participants who had taken the kudzu were now taking placebo, and vice versa. After another week of treatment, the participants returned for a final session in the lab.

The participants completed an Alcohol Urge Questionnaire at the beginning of each session. The amount of beer consumed, number of sips to drink each beer, volume of each sip, and time elapsed between drinks were also recorded for each participant. Kudzu was assessed for safety by monitoring indices of liver function, blood cell health, and blood chemistry.

The participants reported a slight reduction in the overall urge to drink alcohol after treatment with kudzu. They also drank significantly less beer after taking kudzu than after receiving placebo. The number of sips taken to finish each beer was significantly greater, and the volume of each sip was smaller with kudzu treatment than with placebo, suggesting that kudzu may help satisfy the desire for alcohol with a fewer number of drinks.

No side effects were associated with kudzu treatment, nor did kudzu alter any of the measured laboratory values.

The results of this study are encouraging for people who wish to decrease their alcohol consumption. Kudzu appears to be a safe alternative to prescription medications for reducing alcohol intake.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.

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