Kudzu to the rescue

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We may be on the trail of a new treatment for alcoholism, say researchers at Harvard Medical School.

Okay, it's not exactly "new." The kudzu plant was first described as having an "anti-drunkenness" effect in a Chinese pharmacopoeia written oh, say about 1,400 years ago.

Harvard's Wing-Ming Keung visited medical colleges, hospitals, and research institutes in China to ask about an extract of the kudzu root called Radixpuerariae (RP). Most alcohol abusers lose their craving for booze after about two to four weeks on RP and have no apparent side effects, the researcher was told.

Then Keung headed back to the laboratory and injected an RP extract into Syrian Golden hamsters. The hamsters prefer drinking alcohol over water--a rarity among animals. As long as the hamsters were getting the extract --or a more purified component called daidzin--their alcohol intake fell by 30 to 80 percent.

"I wouldn't discourage patients with an alcohol problem from using herbs or going to an herbalist," says Keung. But he cautions that the daidzin content of kudzu's root, leaves, and flowers varies widely.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 90:10008, 1993.

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By BL

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