Help Fight Alcohol Addiction with a Plant
To fight alcohol addiction and alcohol cravings, some of the options include medication, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, checking into a rehab facility, or a combination of these efforts. However, one approach that is routinely overlooked is the use of a plant called kudzu.
Perhaps you are already aware of kudzu because it is growing rampant along the roadside or on your property. In fact, kudzu is typically considered to be an obnoxious weed. But there are two sides to this plant.
Kudzu to fight alcohol addiction
In China, kudzu has a history of use as a natural way to reduce but not eliminate one’s cravings for alcohol. Given the high rate of alcohol abuse (an estimated 17% in the United States, which includes alcoholism and harmful drinking not yet at a dependence stage) and the fact that alcohol use is the leading risk factor for premature death and disability among people ages 15 to 49 around the world, it seems we need more effective ways to overcome this health challenge.
Kudzu may have a role in this fight. Currently, only about one third of alcoholics are receiving any type of treatment. In addition, only 10 percent of alcoholics are being treated with medication, according to a new report in JAMA. Kudzu could have a role in this fight, and there is some scientific evidence to support it.
For example, the authors of a pilot study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence reported that a plant nutrient (isoflavone) in kudzu called puerarin helped reduce alcohol intake among heavy drinkers. To arrive at that conclusion, 10 healthy adults participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover experiment for one week. The adults were given 1,200 mg daily of puerarin or a placebo.
At the end of the week they took part in an afternoon beer drinking session that lasted 90 minutes. Each participant was offered six beers. Here’s what the researchers observed:
- Participants drank an average of 3.5 beers when they were given placebo and 2.4 beers when they had been taking puerarin
- When they took placebo, 3 participants consumed five beers and 1 drank all six. However, when they had been taking puerarin, none of the subjects drank more than four beers
- Use of puerarin was associated with a reduction in sip size, taking more sips to finish a beer, and taking longer to drink each beer
- When the participants took puerarin, they also tended to wait longer before starting another beer than they did when they took placebo
For the first time, it was shown that a single isoflavone present in kudzu root can have an impact on how much alcohol people drink. The authors concluded that kudzu may be beneficial in treating alcohol abuse.
A subsequent (March 2013) double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated the use of kudzu extract in 17 male heavy drinkers in an eight-week study that included two weeks of baseline, four weeks of treatment with kudzu or placebo, and two weeks of follow-up. Treatment consisted of 250 mg isoflavones three times a day.
The men reported their alcohol consumption and cravings using a wrist actigraphy instrument and also visited a lab twice a week for monitoring purposes. Overall, use of kudzu extract was associated with a significant reduction (34-57%) per week in alcohol consumption and in the number of days they drank heavily. Kudzu use also resulted in a significant increase in the number of days the men drank alcohol, but it did not have an impact on their craving for alcohol.
A history of use for alcohol abuse as well as evidence from recent scientific studies suggest kudzu root extract may have a role in reducing alcohol abuse. It may be possible to fight alcohol addiction with a plant, but more research is needed to strengthen these findings and to find ways to make this approach part of a treatment program.
Jonas DE et al. Pharmacotherapy for adults with alcohol use disorders in outpatient settings. A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 2014; 311(118): 1889-1900
Lukas SE et al. A standardized kudzu extract (NPI-031) reduces alcohol consumption in nontreatment-seeking male heavy drinkers. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2013 Mar; 226(1): 65-73
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Penetar DM et al. The isoflavone puerarin reduces alcohol intake in heavy drinkers: a pilot study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2012 Nov 1; 126(1-2): 251-56