Kudzu is a coarse, high-climbing, twining, trailing, perennial vine. The huge root, which can grow to the size of a human, is the source of medicinal preparations used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and modern herbal products. Kudzu grows in most shaded areas in mountains, fields, along roadsides, thickets, and thin forests throughout most of China and the southeastern United States. The root of another Asian species of kudzu, Pueraria thomsonii, is also used for herbal products.
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Traditional Chinese medicine, animal research, and some preliminary studies have found extracts of this herb may help reduce alcohol cravings, though some studies have not shown benefit.
Kudzu is most famous as a quick-growing weed in the southern United States. Alcoholic hamsters (one of the few animals to become so besides humans) were found to have decreased interest in drinking when fed kudzu extract.2 Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners generally recommend 3 to 5 grams of root three times per day; some herbal practitioners also suggest that 3 to 4 ml of tincture taken three times per day may also be helpful to reduce alcohol cravings. Nonetheless, a double-blind trial using 1.2 grams of powdered kudzu root twice per day failed to show any benefit in helping alcoholics remain abstinent from alcohol.3 On the other hand, supplementing with a kudzu extract (1,000 mg three times a day for seven days) significantly reduced the amount of beer consumed by heavy alcohol drinkers in a short-term experiment.4
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Kudzu is used in modern Chinese medicine as a treatment for angina. Standardized root tablets are sometimes used for angina pectoris.
Kudzu is used in modern Chinese medicine as a treatment for angina. Standardized root tablets (10 mg tablet is equivalent to 1.5 grams of the crude root) are sometimes used for angina pectoris in the amount of 30 to 120 mg per day.
Kudzu root has been known for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine as ge-gen. The first written mention of the plant as a medicine is in the ancient herbal text of Shen Nong (circa A.D. 100). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, kudzu root is used in prescriptions for the treatment of wei, or “superficial,” syndrome (a disease that manifests just under the surface—mild, but with fever), thirst, headache, and stiff neck with pain due to high blood pressure.1 It is also recommended for allergies, migraine headaches, and diarrhea. The historical application for drunkenness has become a major focal point of modern research on kudzu. It is also used in modern Chinese medicine as a treatment for angina pectoris.
Kudzu root is high in isoflavones, such as daidzein, as well as isoflavone glycosides, such as daidzin and puerarin. Depending on its growing conditions, the total isoflavone content varies from 1.77–12.0%, with puerarin in the highest concentration, followed by daidzin and daidzein.5
A 1993 animal study showed that both daidzin and daidzein inhibit the desire for alcohol.6 The authors concluded the root extract may be useful for reducing the urge for alcohol and as treatment for alcoholism. However, a small controlled clinical trial with alcoholic adults taking 1.2 grams of kudzu two times per day failed to show any effect on decreasing alcohol consumption or cravings.7 On the other hand, supplementing with a kudzu extract (1,000 mg three times a day for seven days) significantly reduced the amount of beer consumed by heavy alcohol drinkers in a short-term experiment.8
The 1985 Chinese Pharmacopoeia suggests 9–15 grams of kudzu root per day.9 In China, standardized root extracts (10 mg tablet is equivalent to 1.5 grams of the crude root) are used to treat angina pectoris. Some sources recommend 30–120 mg of the extract two to three times per day.
1. Foster S. Kudzu root monograph. Quart Rev Nat Med 1994;Winter:303–8.
2. Keung W, Vallee B. Daidzin and daidzein suppress free-choice ethanol intake by Syrian golden hamsters. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1993;90:10,008–12.
3. Shebek J, Rindone JP. A pilot study exploring the effect of kudzu root on the drinking habits of patients with chronic alcoholism. J Alt Compl Med 2000;6:45–8.
4. Lukas SE, Penetar D, Berko J, et al. An extract of the Chinese herbal root kudzu reduces alcohol drinking by heavy drinkers in a naturalistic setting. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2005;29:756–62.
5. Zhao SP, Zhang YZ. Quantitative TLC-densitometry of isoflavones in Pueraria lobata (Willd.) Ohwi. Yaoxue Xuebao 1985;20:203–8.
6. Keung WM, Vallee BL. Daidzin and daidzein suppress free-choice ethanol intake by Syrian Golden hamsters. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1993;90:10008–12.
7. Shebek J, Rindone JP. A pilot study exploring the effect of kudzu root on the drinking habits of patients with chronic alcoholism. J Altern Compl Med 2000;6:45–8.
8. Lukas SE, Penetar D, Berko J, et al. An extract of the Chinese herbal root kudzu reduces alcohol drinking by heavy drinkers in a naturalistic setting. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2005;29:756–62.
9. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 333–6.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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