Kudzu is a climbing vine native to Eastern Asia, which has gotten attention as a natural remedy for reducing alcohol use. Studies are ongoing, but the results look promising so far.
Kudzu is best for:
- Limiting binge drinking
- Reducing cravings
- Lowering your interest in alcohol
Is it right for you? Skip to pros and cons
How Does Kudzu Work?
Kudzu appears to affect how fast you drink, and how much. There is little evidence yet that it can help you quit alcohol completely. However, researchers at Harvard Medical School are looking further into kudzu extract, and there is a chance it will be marketed as a mainstream medication in the future.
So far, it’s unclear why kudzu helps reduce drinking, but there are at least 2 possible explanations:
- Isoflavones: Compounds found in kudzu, which could make alcohol affect your brain more quickly.
- Acetaldehyde: A body chemical that is a major part of hangover pain, possibly increased by kudzu.
Either of these could reduce your interest in continuing to drink, either by making you feel finished earlier, or by making you feel worse when you drink. More research is still needed, but so far kudzu looks like an effective treatment, especially for binge drinking.
As studies continue, expect more updates here.
The History of Kudzu
Although more recently introduced in the west, kudzu has been used in Eastern medicine for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Records going back to at least 200 B.C. show its use in China to treat symptoms of alcohol abuse, along with other issues such as flu, hypertension, and angina. In traditional Chinese medicine, kudzu is viewed as a cooling agent for excessive heat in the body, and is seen as restorative to digestion and body fluids. Essentially, kudzu helps to rebalance your system, which can be disturbed by too much alcohol.
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 on kudzu, and popular interest in natural remedies, its reputation as a medicine is starting to grow.
Research on Kudzu
Studies on kudzu in western medicine began at Harvard Medical School in 1993. Researchers gave kudzu to Syrian golden hamsters (a species that particularly loves alcohol) and found that they drank 50 percent less after treatment. Next, scientists moved on to testing kudzu on humans:
- In 2005, a group of heavy drinkers was found to drink more slowly, and to drink less beer overall, after 7 days of kudzu treatment.
- In 2012, scientists isolated a component called puerarin from the rest of the kudzu plant, and got similar results from testing it: people drank less, and more slowly.
- In 2013, kudzu was tested in a longer-term experiment with male drinkers. Drinking was again reduced, and there were no negative health consequences.
- Finally, in 2015 researchers tried giving people a single kudzu pill before a drinking session, and also found that they drank significantly less alcohol.
The results of these studies are strong evidence that kudzu can work, and word has begun to spread. However, there is still a need for more data before kudzu extract can be approved as a medication for alcoholism.
Kudzu Supplements and Hangovers
Kudzu is currently sold as a plant-based dietary supplement, and has gained some popularity as a cure for hangovers. While it is true that kudzu can serve this function in traditional Chinese medicine, the irony is that the flower of the kudzu plant is normally the source of this remedy. Kudzu root, which is usually the ingredient in supplements, does the exact opposite. In fact, as mentioned above, this may be part of how kudzu helps reduce drinking. It has even been proposed that kudzu works as a kind of “aversion therapy,” like a lighter version of antabuse.
This is a classic example of hearsay, or incomplete information possibly getting people into trouble. This doesn’t mean that herbal remedies or supplements are inherently dangerous, but you might want to consult a doctor before taking kudzu.
Overall, kudzu seems to be non-toxic and have few adverse impacts, but this is still under investigation. So far, possible side effects include:
The effect of kudzu on the liver is still being researched, but you should probably avoid it if you have liver disease. It may be useful in reducing blood clotting, lowering blood sugar, and decreasing blood pressure. However, this also means you should be careful with kudzu if you are taking medication for any of these issues, or have the opposite problem. The isoflavones in kudzu may imitate estrogen in some ways, which can also impact the body, including interfering with birth control medication.
Finally, it is important to know that plant-based remedies taken from traditional Chinese medicine are traditionally combined with other herbs that balance out their side effects. These combinations are generally customized to the individual, following an examination. The bottom line: talk to a doctor before taking kudzu for alcohol use disorder.
Should You Take Kudzu?
Kudzu May Help If:
- You have a tendency to binge drink
- You want to drink less alcohol overall
- You prefer natural remedies to pharmaceutical ones
Kudzu May Not Be Best If:
- You have diabetes
- You have liver disease
- You are taking hormone therapy
- You have low blood pressure or hemophilia
Kudzu shows promise as a remedy for excessive alcohol use, especially binge drinking, but it is not yet approved as a medication. More testing is needed, and until then we cannot recommend that you take it. However, we will update this article as research continues. There may be a time soon when you can get a prescription for kudzu, and it may turn out to be an excellent way to reduce your drinking.
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