Kudzu (Pueraria Lobata) is a Traditional Chinese Medicine that is primarily taken to help treat menopausal symptoms and the effects of a hangover.
Research is underway to evaluate this plant’s ability to treat these conditions as well as others.
Kudzu may help treat some adverse health consequences of menopause. Kudzu has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an herbal remedy for menopausal symptoms. To test its efficacy in a clinical setting, researchers set out to examine the effects of kudzu in comparison with hormone replacement therapy on lipid profile, sex hormone levels, bone markers and cognitive function.
For the study, 127 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 65 years were randomized to receive hormone replacement therapy, kudzu or no treatment for 3 months.
At the end of the study, researchers noted that supplementation of kudzu (as well as hormone replacement therapy) showed an improvement in Mini-Mental State Examination score and attention span compared with the participants receiving no treatment; flexible thinking in particular seemed to improve in the kudzu group.
No significant changes in lipid profile or follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone were observed in the kudzu group compared with the controls.
The effect of kudzu on cognitive function warrants further study (1).
Kudzu may help reduce alcohol intake in heavy drinkers. In a pilot study, naturally occurring isoflavone compounds in the root of the kudzu plant was shown to be a useful adjunct in the treatment of excessive alcohol intake.
One primary isoflavone — puerarin — has been identified as having the ability to modify alcohol intake in humans.
The study involved 10 healthy adult volunteers who were administered puerarin (1200 mg daily) in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design experiment for one week prior to an afternoon drinking session lasting 1.5 hours.
Researchers noted that participants treated with placebo consumed on average 3.5 beers compared to 2.4 beers in those treated with puerarin. In addition, when treated with puerarin, participants decreased sip size, took more sips to finish a beer and took longer to consume each beer. After finishing a beer, latency to opening the next beer was increased (2).
The results were published in a 2012 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
In another study, the safety and efficacy of 4 weeks of kudzu extract in an outpatient setting was evaluated. Seventeen men (21-33 years) who reported drinking 27.6 (± 6.5 drinks/week) with a diagnosis of alcohol abuse/dependence took either kudzu extract (250 mg isoflavones, 3 times a day) or placebo.
While there was no effect on alcohol craving, kudzu extract significantly reduced the number of drinks consumed each week by 34-57 percent, reduced the number of heavy drinking days and significantly increased the percent of days without drinking and the number of consecutive days of not drinking.
While additional studies are needed, these early results show promise in this herbal preparation’s potential for reducing alcohol use (3).
In addition, there were no adverse events and changes in vital signs, blood chemistry, and renal or liver function.
Kudzu may help alleviate some of the symptoms of a hangover. While there is no conclusive evidence pointing to this plant’s ability to treat hangovers, early studies show its potential.
In one study, the effects of extract from the dried flower of Pueraria thomsonii (a related species) were assessed in human participants consuming alcoholic beverages. Researchers found that the extract promotes the elimination of blood acetaldehyde in humans and may passively lessen acetaldehyde toxicity, such as flushing, palpitation, headache, etc., associated with excessive alcohol intake (4).
Kudzu may be a beneficial adjuvant for treating metabolic disease. Diabetes is a common type of a metabolic disease. As the number of people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease rapidly increases, scientists are placing their focus on finding effective therapies for prevention and treatment.
The results of one study, published in Phytomedicine, showed that chronic administration of kudzu root extract (8 months) decreased baseline fasting plasma glucose and improved glucose and insulin tolerance in obese mice. The same treatment, however, did not have an effect in lean mice (5).
Kudzu may prevent bone loss. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis and low bone mass affect nearly 44 million U.S. women and men aged 50 and older.
The root of kudzu contains a high amount of isoflavonoids such as daidzein and genistein, which researchers have found prevent bone loss induced by estrogen deficiency.
To examine the possible role of kudzu in bone metabolism, the ovaries of tested female mice were removed (ovary removal stimulates the accelerated loss of bone that occurs in women following menopause), and some of the mice were fed a diet containing 5 percent, 10 percent and 20 percent of kudzu for 4 weeks.
The decrease in femoral bone mineral density caused by ovary removal was significantly inhibited by the intake of 5 percent kudzu and was completely prevented in the 10 percent group.
Intake of the diet with the highest dose (20 percent) effectively increased trabecular bone volume and trabecular thickness and decreased trabecular separation in the mice. Trabecular bone makes up the inner layer of the bone and has a spongy, honeycomb-like structure.
According to published results of some studies, kudzu appears to be safe when taken short-term. In a study of 10 adult volunteers taking 1200 mg daily for one week, there were no reports of adverse reactions.
There have been some instances of itchy skin, stomach upset and dizziness reported.
Further in-depth studies are needed to learn of any side effects, especially with long-term use.
There are limited human studies available to recommend the optimal dosage. Studies are underway to learn the effective dose.
Kudzu (Pueraria Lobata) is a Traditional Chinese Medicine that is primarily taken to help alleviate symptoms of menopause (bone loss and cognitive function) and hangovers. Studies also show its potential to help reduce alcohol consumption in heavy drinkers and treat type 2 diabetes.
While early studies do not report troublesome side effects or toxicity when taken short term, more studies are needed to learn if and what side effects are associated with long-term use.