Herb Helps Drinkers: Kudzu reduces alcohol consumption among heavy drinkers

An extract of the kudzu vine may help heavy drinkers drink less, according to a new study. In a unique laboratory designed to look like a relaxing studio apartment, complete with satellite television and a beer-stocked refrigerator, 14 men and women drank fewer beers after a week’s treatment with kudzu than they drank after a week’s worth of placebo pills.

On average, the participants drank 1 1/2 beers while on kudzu treatment during the 1 1/2-hour sessions, compared with 2 1/2 beers during the placebo treatment. They also took more but smaller sips of each beer while taking the kudzu extract, the researchers found.

Kudzu was used as early as AD 600 in China as an intoxication treatment. Recent research suggests that chemical compounds called isoflavones in the plant are the active ingredients in treating intoxication.

While the drinking pattern changed in kudzu users, the drinkers reported no change in their desire to drink when they began each session. Participants who took the extract in earlier studies said they felt more “tired,” “floating” and “intoxicated” after one drink, suggesting that kudzu “may be prolonging or enhancing the acute effects of the first drink,” said Dr. Scott Lukas of McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical Center.

“Apparently, this effect is sufficient to delay or eliminate the desire to drink subsequent beers,” he adds.

The researchers note that kudzu’s effects, in this sense, might be useful for reducing binge drinking or helping some people stay sober by minimizing the chance that a “slip” of having one drink will result in a full alcoholic relapse.

Health Behaviour News Service, May 10, 2005