In The News: Kudzu Plant May Help Curb Binge Drinking

Reader Contribution by Justine Patton
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Researchers at Harvard may have found a way to prevent binge drinking with the kudzu plant, a climbing and coiling vine native to southeast China and southern Japan.

Kudzu was initially brought to the United States in the late 1800s to control soil erosion. At first, it seemed this member of the pea family was going to be an excellent tool for farmers and gardeners alike. However, it soon turned into an invasive pest, consuming a half million acres in the Southeast, climbing over trees and shrubs and growing so rapidly that it killed much of the greenery with the heavy shade it created. In 1953, it was declared a pest weed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The invasive kudzu plant may actually hold some medicinal benefits.
Photo by dmott9/Courtesy

Overseas, kudzu isn’t viewed as such a nuisance. In fact, it is a popular ingredient in eastern Asian cuisine. Also, in China and India, kudzu is used as an aphrodisiac, contraceptive and diuretic. It is also used to treat angina pectoris and high blood pressure.

In 1997, researchers in India administered a root extract of the herb to rats exposed to carbon tetrachloride, a chemical reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is known to cause liver toxicity. The root extract worked wonders. After taking the extract, the rats enjoyed stabilized activity of liver enzymes, stimulated regeneration of liver tissue, and a greater resistance to liver damage.

This isn’t the first time kudzu has been used to treat alcohol-related issues, either. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, kudzu flower and root preparations have been used to help sober up.

Binge drinking is typically enjoyed by one in six Americans four times a month.
Photo by i be GINZ/Courtesy

In the most recent study, researchers observed 10 men and women who drank about 18 alcoholic drinks per week. When participants took tablets containing puerarin, an extract from kudzu, before drinking, they drank about a beer less when compared with when they took a placebo instead. Also, after taking the herb, the participants took smaller gulps and took longer to finish their favorite beverages. No serious side effects were reported as a result of the puerarin tablets.

The CDC considers binge drinking to be a nationwide problem that needs to be stopped. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as the act of drinking that brings someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. For women, this typically occurs after drinking four or more alcoholic beverages in about two hours. For men, it usually takes five drinks. Binge drinking is a common practice in the United States, with one in six adults binge drinking about four times a month. It is estimated that binge drinking costs each person in the country, binge drinker or not, $746 per year as a result of health care expenses, crime and lost productivity.  

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