Kudzu and Alcohol Consumption
by David J. Hanson, Ph. D.
Kudzu is an invasive vine (Pueraria lobata) that flourishes in many southern states. It was introduced into the US from Asia decades ago to reduce soil erosion.
The plant has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,500 years. During a trip to China, chemist Dr. David Lee noticed that many people use an herbal tea containing kudzu. Its name in Chinese, loosely translated, means "drunkenness dispeller." The tea is often used to sober up after drinking alcohol and to relieve hangovers.
In 1991, Dr. Lee and scientists at a university in China began testing a compound derived from this tea with lab rats that had been given alcohol. They found that it improved the rats' motor coordination, or made them act less intoxicated. 1
The next year Dr. Lee suggested to researchers at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies that they test kudzu to see if it would reduce alcohol consumption among strains of rats that had been selectively bread to crave alcohol.
As a result, the researchers administered compounds from kudzu root (daidzin and daidzein) to the special lab rats. The investigators found that the compounds significantly reduced the rats’ alcohol intake. 2
These very promising results have led to research involving humans. Administering a kudzu root extract twice daily failed to produce any significant differences in craving and sobriety scores between veterans taking the extract and those taking a placebo. 3
However, a small clinical study of 14 men and women who were heavy drinkers found that kudzu reduced the quantity of alcohol they consumed. The investigator speculated that the puerarin in kudzu increases blood alcohol concentration so that people need less alcohol to feel its effects. 4
The evidence regarding kudzu’s effectiveness is mixed and much more research needs to be conducted.
In the meantime it’s a case of buyer beware. Researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts purchased a variety of kudzu extracts from stores and Internet sites, tested them, and found that none of them worked to reduce craving for alcohol. Analyses revealed that all of the products contained less than one percent of active kudzu. To have any effect a product would need to be at least 30-40% kudzu and be taken at least twice a day. 5
There are no studies to demonstrate that kudzu can serve as a morning-after potion for eliminating hangovers as used in traditional Chinese practice. The best way to prevent hangovers is to drink in moderation or abstain. There is some evidence that drinking clear distilled spirits beverages such as vodka or gin reduces the severity of hangovers, other things being equal.
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