Last Updated on March 30, 2021
In recent years, several plant-based remedies have emerged as potential treatments for alcohol addiction. Among these is the vine kudzu, a plant native to Eastern Asia. While a number of western medications and treatments exist to help people stop drinking, there is always a need for more choices. Kudzu for alcohol use disorder could be an intriguing new option. But is it actually effective? And if it helps, how does it work?
What is Kudzu?
Kudzu has been used in Eastern medicine for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Records going back to at least the 2nd century A.D.1 show its use in China to treat symptoms of alcohol abuse. It has been prescribed for other issues such as flu, hypertension, and angina ever since.
In America, kudzu is mostly known as an invasive vine that covers much of the southeastern United States. However, with the expansion of scientific research and growing popular interest in natural remedies, kudzu’s reputation is beginning to expand.
The Science on Kudzu and Alcohol
The medicinal properties of kudzu have been studied in the West for more than 25 years. The first studies, conducted at Harvard Medical School in 1993, concentrated on testing Syrian golden hamsters (a species that particularly loves alcohol). The study found that after treatment, the hamsters would drink 50 percent less2.
Since then, scientists have moved on to testing the effect of kudzu on humans. In 2005, researchers at Harvard tested heavy drinkers to see how kudzu affected their behavior. The study3 found that after taking kudzu, participants took smaller sips, took longer to consume each beverage, and drank substantially fewer drinks. Participants reported no side effects.
Further studies4 have confirmed that taking kudzu can reduce how much a person drinks, and that the isoflavones it contains5 likely contribute to this. Although more studies are still needed, kudzu looks promising as a medicine for reducing alcohol intake.
How Does Kudzu Work?
While there is evidence to show it can be effective, scientists aren’t yet certain why kudzu reduces drinking. One theory is related to the high concentrations of isoflavones6 found in kudzu. These compounds are believed to increase blood flow to the brain, which can cause alcohol to affect the nervous system more quickly. This in turn can increase the speed with which the brain decides you’ve had too much, causing you to slow down and drink less.
Interestingly, kudzu seems to have this effect without causing people to become intoxicated faster7. This is important for its use as a medicine—getting drunk more quickly is not an effective way of managing excessive alcohol use. But this also suggests the need for further research.
Another theory is that kudzu makes hangover symptoms worse by increasing your body’s level of acetaldehyde8. Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance that your body produces when it breaks down alcohol, and is a major culprit in making you feel bad the morning after.
While this theory may sound strange—considering that kudzu is often sold as a hangover cure—it turns out that different parts of the plant have different effects. While kudzu flowers can reduce acetaldehyde, the root (which is the most common ingredient in supplements) does the opposite. The result may be that people who drink after taking kudzu have worse hangovers, or feel hangover symptoms earlier. This might motivate them to drink less.
Should You Take Kudzu for Alcohol Dependence?
Although studies appear promising so far, the FDA hasn’t approved kudzu as a treatment for alcohol use disorder. There is a lot that is still unknown about how kudzu works, or its long term effects. So while kudzu may become an endorsed medication for alcohol dependence one day, expect it to take a while. In the meantime, we do not recommend you take this medicine—or any other treatment—without first consulting a physician.
If you are looking for safe alternatives to treat alcohol addiction, Ria Health’s innovative telemedicine program may be able to help you find the right medication. Members can consult with our medical and coaching teams over video chat, and create a treatment plan that is customized to their needs. You don’t even have to stop drinking completely. Learn more about how to safely reduce your alcohol consumption today.