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Kudzu shows promise as an alcoholism treatment

Kudzu is a plant that grows on a vine native to Southeast Asia, which, by its scientific name, is called “Pueraria lobata.” Kudzu grows very rapidly, about one foot a day in the summer, and has broad, green leaves and sweet-smelling purple flowers. The leaves, vine tips, flowers and roots are even edible and delicious. In Japan, it is often used as a starch for cooking.

Kudzu was brought to the United States in the late 1800s, and farmers in the South were encouraged to plant it for forage and to reduce soil erosion. Because it grows so quickly and was planted by so many, kudzu gained a bad reputation in the Southeastern part of the U.S. for being an invasive species. But recently it has received some positive publicity for helping people to recover from alcoholism.

Kudzu as a medication

Kudzu has been used for millennia in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and is said to have many therapeutic properties, such as reducing inflammation, fighting cancer and improving blood flow. It is used in TCM to treat many conditions, such as fever, diarrhea, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Scientific studies in the West have even supported kudzu use in the treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, presumably because of the isoflavonoids it contains.

Current medications for alcoholism

There is a need for more effective treatment for alcoholism, which continues to be a major health problem in the United States. Currently, several medications are commonly prescribed to prolong abstinence, though evidence supporting their safety and effectiveness is mixed. For example, naltrexone or acamprosate is prescribed to reduce cravings but can be toxic to the liver. Disulfiram causes severe illness when alcohol is consumed but also is toxic to the liver, and people who want to drink simply don’t take it. Baclofen (a muscle relaxant) and topiramate (an anti-seizure medication) have both been used “off label” (meaning approved for another use) to treat alcoholism with some reported success.

Kudzu as a tool for sobriety

In an effort to find a safe and effective aid for alcoholics to abstain from drinking, some have turned to kudzu. Because Kudzu has been commonly used for millennia in TCM, it is apparently safe when the proper formulation is taken as directed by a knowledgeable practitioner. It has been long known by Asian cultures to ease hangovers and reduce cravings for alcohol. Preliminary scientific evidence also shows that it may, in fact, reduce alcohol consumption and prolong abstinence in some heavy drinkers.

The two studies referenced above all come from the same McLean Hospital team of researchers, who have been studying the effects of kudzu as a treatment for alcoholism for over a decade. When kudzu was proven to reduce alcohol consumption in heavy drinkers, the researchers applied to study it further in a population of treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent persons, but oddly, this work was not supported.

In any case, recovery chat rooms are full of people who swear that kudzu has helped them stay sober, and others who say it has not. These differences may be because preparations vary, and not all contain enough of the necessary isoflavonoids thought to be effective. While some promote the use of kudzu root, others report that it is the flower that contains the properties effective against alcohol. While reputable TCM practitioners and pharmacists might know the appropriate source and dosage of kudzu, most Americans do not yet. Researchers need the funding and support to further study kudzu as an effective treatment for alcoholism.

About us

The Sovereign Health Group treats individuals with substance abuse, mental health problems and dual diagnosis using state-of-the-art methods and holistic complementary therapies. Ongoing treatment and aftercare provide the support patients need to recover from trauma and/or addiction, and all of the associated consequences. We also provide our graduates with online access to educational resources, health information and other opportunities. To find out more about our specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at news@sovhealth.com.

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