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Need help cutting back on alcohol? Try kudzu

By Alison McCook Mon May 16, 2005

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Heavy drinkers who tried the herbal extract kudzu for one week downed fewer drinks than people who received an inactive placebo treatment, according to new study findings released Monday.

Study author Dr. Scott E. Lukas of McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical Center in Massachusetts explained that during the experiment, people drank their first beer right away, but were less likely to want more beer if they had taken kudzu the previous week.

"This means that the first beer must have satisfied their initial desire for alcohol," Lukas suggested.

He said that kudzu may also help deliver blood to the brain, making people more satisfied with less alcohol. "We can see this in the data because people took more sips in order to finish each beer, but the sips were much smaller," Lukas said.

"The net result was that a binge drinker - someone who drinks 4-5 drinks at one sitting - was reduced to just a few beers," he told Reuters Health.

Kudzu is one of the ingredients of the Chinese herbal medicine XJL, otherwise known as NPI-028, used for hundreds of years in China to treat inebriation.

Kudzu contains isoflavones, antioxidants believed to confer a variety of health benefits. Previous research has shown that kudzu extracts help discourage drinking in rats and hamsters.

However, a 2000 study of veterans struggling with alcoholism found that kudzu had no effect on drinking patterns or cravings for alcohol.

In the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Lukas and colleagues note that kudzu naturally contains only 1 percent isoflavones. To investigate further if kudzu might affect humans' desire to drink, the team developed a more concentrated extract of kudzu that contained 25 percent isoflavones.

During their study, the researchers asked 14 men and women who averaged 25 drinks per week to try either the concentrated kudzu for one week or a placebo drug. Then each participant visited a small studio apartment, complete with an entertainment center, where they had free access to alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for 90 minutes.

Participants had to place their drinks on a specially designed end table that measured how quickly they were downing the drink.

After 7 days on either kudzu or the placebo, each participant switched to the other for another 7 days, and returned to the studio apartment.

The investigators found that when people received kudzu, they drank 1.5 fewer beers during their time in the apartment, and took more, smaller sips to finish each drink. However, people said they felt no change in their desire to drink alcohol after trying kudzu for 7 days.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2005.

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