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Natural Substance Helps Fight Addiction
Natural Substance Helps Fight Addiction
The U.S. population is increasingly becoming dependent on substances ranging from drugs to sugar. These addictions have extremely damaging effects on society. For instance, America’s love affair with simple sugars contributes to the obesity epidemic and many new cases of type 2 diabetes. And alcohol and drug dependence are so common that they may pass unrecognized in society: Research shows that about 45 percent of all men between the ages of 18 and 45 have a history of problem drinking. This can create its own set of sociobehavioral problems, including job loss and divorce.
While conventional medicine has triumphed in some areas of addiction management, it has failed miserably in others. Pharmaceuticals, for example, are unimpressive at controlling addictions. However, recent research shows that kudzu, a vine reviled for its invasive tendencies, may play an important role in reducing addictions.
The power of kudzu
Kudzu was brought from Japan into the United States in 1876, at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It was initially used for early 20th century soil-erosion control, but these good intentions resulted in a massive spread of the vine in the southeastern United States. Kudzu grows like wildfire, and it can take as long as 10 years to kill it with herbicides.
But while the vine is considered a scourge in America, it has a different role in Asia. For centuries, people in northern China have used herbal teas containing kudzu to relieve hangovers and restore sobriety. Studies at Shinn-Yang University in China in the early 1990s demonstrated that drunken rats consumed less alcohol and had reduced signs of intoxication after taking several Chinese herbs, including kudzu.
Recently, American researchers decided to conduct some kudzu studies of their own. Results show that the vine can help people substantially reduce their alcohol consumption. In fact, it’s so effective that some researchers now refer to kudzu as “the weed that whacks binge drinking.”
Harvard studies on kudzu
Groundbreaking studies by members of the department of psychiatry at McLean Hospital (an affiliate of Harvard Medical School) reported that extracts of kudzu can reduce total alcohol intake, slow down the speed of drinking and result in fewer hangovers—all without any side effects.
A study featured in the May 2012 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence conducted by the McLean researchers featured 10 healthy men and women who were placed in an apartment for a week and allowed to drink up to six bottles of beer during an afternoon drinking session. Before the drinking session, half the volunteers were given a capsule containing 1,200 mg of kudzu daily and half were given a placebo. Researchers found that the kudzu group drank more slowly and was less likely to request a second or third bottle of beer. Meanwhile, the placebo group drank three or four bottles of beer, which was on average twice as much as the kudzu group.
The researchers also noted that the people who took kudzu needed more swallows to finish a bottle of beer. This led them to suggest that kudzu may be acting directly on the brain by “telling” the body not to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
The researchers continued the study by giving participants low dosages of kudzu for a week. No side effects were noted. It was suggested that regular use of kudzu may cut down on the number and severity of hangovers, but no controlled studies have demonstrated that the vine will eliminate established hangovers.
How does kudzu work?
There has been much speculation on how kudzu may assist in helping people drink less.
One theory has to do with components in kudzu called isoflavones. Soy isoflavones have been shown to reduce alcohol intake in rats, although their exact mechanism is unknown. Some research suggests that isoflavones inhibit an enzyme in the stomach wall called gastric alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme increases blood alcohol levels after drinking. It may be that isoflavones in kudzu, or other kudzu ingredients that have effects on alcohol metabolism, have direct effects on the central nervous system.
The Harvard researchers suggested that puerarin, the active isoflavone in kudzu, may increase blood flow to the brain and heart, which would in turn deliver more alcohol to the brain and make people satisfied with smaller amounts of alcohol.
Other natural options
The solution to any addiction, such as excessive drinking, cigarette smoking or drug abuse, is intensive sociobehavioral intervention combined with lifestyle changes. However, natural substances that are safe and assist in the nutritional support of antiaddictive behavior may also be effective.
Kudzu, for instance, can be combined with soothing chamomile flowers to take the “jitters” away for people who are trying to quit drinking or smoking.
Many addicts also have a substandard diet, and people who drink alcohol excessively invariably have nutrient depletion. They can benefit from multivitamins or mineral supplements. In addition, alcohol and cigarette smoke generate free radicals in the body and cause oxidative stress to tissues, which can result in serious health issues such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease and premature aging. Consequently, antioxidants can offer important nutritional support for many people who are dependent on these substances.
By: Stephen Holt, MD
Dr. Holt is a Distinguished Professor of Medicine (Emerite) and a medical practitioner in New York State. He has published many peer-review papers in medicine and he is a best-selling author with more than twenty books in national and international distribution. He has received many awards for teaching and research. Dr. Holt is a frequent lecturer at scientific meetings and healthcare facilities throughout the world. He is the founder of the Holt Institute of Medicine. For more information visit www.hiom.org or www.stephenholtmd.com.
May 28th, 2012