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Chinese Herb Kudzu May Reduce Binge Drinking, Alcoholism

Kudzu may help reduce binge drinking

Kudzu is an annoying weed to some people, while others use it as animal feed, an ingredient in a variety of recipes, and to make fabric and soap. But researchers at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School are partial to another use for this Chinese herb—as a way to fight binge drinking and alcoholism.

One man’s weed is another’s binge drinking buster

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is a climbing vine that is native to China and Japan, but which was reportedly introduced to the United States in 1876. Today kudzu is largely considered to be a nuisance, especially in the southeastern states, because it spreads quickly and overtakes other plants, cutting off their access to sunlight.

But kudzu may also prove helpful in cutting something else—alcohol consumption. Studies of the impact of kudzu on drinking alcohol have been conducted in the past, and this new study focused on puerarin, a specific component of the Chinese herb, to determine if it could reduce the amount of alcohol individuals consumed.

Ten twenty-something men and women participated in the study, which consisted of four 90-minute sessions. The sessions took place in simulated “apartments” which were equipped with a TV, DVD player, and a refrigerator stocked with the participant’s favorite beer and non-alcoholic beverages.

The participants were allowed to consume as many beers as they wanted (up to six) during the first session. After the session, they were each given either placebo or a pill containing puerarin and told to take it daily. They then returned for a second session.

Two weeks later, the subjects completed a third session, but after this occurrence they were given the pill they did not get the first time. After they took their assigned pills for one week, they returned for the fourth and final session.

When the subjects took puerarin, they drank significantly fewer beers (decline from 3.5 to 2.4). In addition, “we noted that their rate of consumption decreased, meaning they drank slower and took more sips to finish a beer,” explained lead author David Penetar, PhD, of the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at McLean Hospital, which indicated an impact on binge drinking.

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Previous studies of kudzu and alcohol
In a study published in the November 2009 issue of Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, investigators reported on the ability of three isoflavones in kudzu—puerarin, daidzin, and daidzein—to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed by animals. In this study, the focus was on daidzin, which is the most potent of the isoflavones.

The investigators synthesized a drug based on daidzin and made a kuzu-like compound called CVT-10216 and tested is on rats bed to drink lots of alcohol. The CVT-10216 increases levels of acetaldehyde, which causes an ill feeling and in turn makes people much less likely to want to drink. This is the basis of the drug Antabuse™ (disulfiram), which is a treatment option for alcoholism.

Another study of kudzu and alcohol was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and reported on the impact of the Chinese herb on the sleep/wake cycle of moderate drinkers. The double-blind, placebo-controlled study revealed that moderate drinkers who took kudzu did not experience any problems with sleep, and so kudzu root as a treatment option for alcoholism appears free of sleep side effects.

Alcoholism and binge drinking
Alcoholism is a significant problem in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 17.6 million Americans abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. The majority of those who try to quit are not successful, as 80% of alcoholics relapse within one year of becoming abstinent.

Binge drinking also is a significant concern. A January 2012 report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) noted that more than 38 million adults in the United States binge drink about four times a month, and that the largest number of drinks per binge is an average of eight.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not just young people who are binge drinkers. The CDC report shows that the age group 18 to 34 years has the most binge drinkers, but that the age group that binge drinks the most often includes people age 65 and older.

Although the researchers noted their findings do not indicate the kudzu ingredient will make people stop drinking altogether, the study “is further evidence that components found in kudzu root can reduce alcohol consumption and do so without adverse side effects,” noted Penetar. Kudzu could be an effective way to manage binge drinking and alcoholism.

Arolfo MP et al. Suppression of heavy drinking and alcohol seeking by a selective ALDH-2 inhibitor. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2009 Nov; 33(11): 1935-44
Bracken BK et al. Kudzu root extract does not perturb the sleep/wake cycle of moderate drinkers. J Altern Complement Med 2011 Oct; 17(10): 961-66
McLean Hospital

Image: Wikimedia Commons