Kudzu has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since at least the year 100 for the treatment of a headache and stiff neck with pain due to high blood pressure. Kudzu has also been used for allergic rhinitis, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, migraines, psoriasis, trauma, and osteoporosis.
It is used in modern Chinese medicine as a treatment for angina pectoris. It is also TCM’s leading herb for the treatment of alcoholism, diabetes, neck pain, and the common cold. Kudzu has application in the treatment of cancer and is helpful in treating the early stages of deafness and various neurological conditions.
Japanese arrowroot, Ge gen, geh gen (Chinese), Ko Fen, Ko Pu, Kung Pu, Kuzu
The plant is named after the European botanist, N. Pueraria (1765-1845). Kudzu’s introduction into the US dates back to 1876 and the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. In the Japanese Pavilion at this exposition was a “wonder” plant, kudzu. In Japan, the plant never became a pest, mainly because of the intensive land-use practices there. Widely grown in the southeastern US for fodder, to control erosion and sometimes as an ornament. It is also cultivated in China and Japan for the textile fibres and for its roots. First mentioned in Chinese medicine in the Shen Nong Canon of Herbs (206BC and AD23). From this time onward, Chinese herbalists have considered it to be a remedy for muscular pain and treatment for measles.
Considered a noxious weed in the Southeastern US. Prefers well-drained soil in the sun. Propagate by seed in spring or by division in spring or by layering during the growing season. Seeds germinate more quickly if soaked before sowing. Prune regularly to control growth. Roots are lifted from autumn to spring and used fresh as juice, or dried for use in decoctions and powders. Flowers are picked before fully open and dried for use in decoction. A good grazing goat will do wonders for kudzu control in a short time.
antipyretic; refrigerant; diuretic; nervine; antidote to drug and alcohol poisoning; improves flesh tone; clears internal heat
Alcoholism, fevers, headache, and pains in neck and shoulders; dysentery; skin rashes; convulsions; alcohol and drug poisoning
Chinese physicians have used kudzu as a cure for alcoholism for over 2,000 years. The tea that is used is called xing-jiu-ling, which is literally translated as “sober up.” A biochemist at Harvard Medical School, Wing Ming Keung, compiled studies of over 300 cases in Hong Kong. In all of the cases, he reviewed, kudzu tonics were considered useful for controlling and suppressing the appetite for alcohol, without side effects. In clinical studies, kudzu has been shown to significantly reduce the amount that heavy drinkers drink, increase the number of sips and the time taken to consume each drink, with a decrease in volume of each sip. Participants showed no urge to drink more. No side effects were reported. Kudzu appeared to suppress alcohol intake and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Researchers at Indiana University have discovered two compounds in kudzu that alter the enzymes that break down alcohol in the liver. As a result, an alcohol by-product called acetaldehyde builds up. When this happens, nausea, facial redness, and general discomfort usually ensue. These compounds work in the same way as the prescription drug disulfiram (Antabuse). Kudzu compounds, however, do not induce nausea to as great an extent as disulfiram, although both treatments increase the discomfort of intoxication.
However, a one-month double-blind study of thirty-eight individuals with alcoholism found no improvement in the participants given kudzu as compared with those given a placebo. One reason for the discrepancy in the results among studies may be that the compound daidzin in kudzu becomes less efficient when purified during processing. Kudzu may be more effective if used in its natural state, such as in kudzu tea. It is possible that persons of East Asian ancestry have the greatest response to kudzu as a treatment for alcohol abuse. In East Asia, especially in Korea, as much as 80 percent of the population lacks the enzyme that processes acetaldehyde. Since alcohol tolerance is genetically lower among such persons, kudzu may have a more dramatic effect on them.
Kudzu has purported effects on cancer treatment because it prevents the cancer cells from multiplying and has anti-inflammatory properties. Tectorigenin is an isoflavone from kudzu, and it has been shown to have antiproliferative activity against human cancer cells.
Many types of cancer, including breast cancer and some forms of melanoma, are stimulated by the hormone oestrogen. Kudzu contains several chemicals that are very similar to oestrogen. One of these chemicals, formononetin, has no effect on the body by itself but is changed by the friendly bacteria in the digestive tract into an estrogen-like compound called daidzein. Daidzein binds to cells that ordinarily would be activated by oestrogen locking out oestrogen from activator sites on breast cancer cells, but without stimulating the cancer cells to reproduce. Studies in Japan, the United States, and Finland have shown that the isoflavones, the chemical family that includes formononetin, are clearly associated with reduced rates of breast and uterine cancer. However, because kudzu has been shown to have estrogenic effects, it should not be used by individuals with hormone-sensitive cancers and those taking tamoxifen should avoid it.
Flavonoid-like substances in kudzu help improve microcirculation and blood flow through the coronary arteries. Kudzu reduces the heart’s need for oxygen and improves coronary circulation. Substances in the herb relax the muscles lining the left coronary vessel and lower the heart rate. One kudzu compound is a beta-blocker, which reduces a racing pulse induced by stress. In addition to being used to lower blood pressure, beta-blockers help to reduce swelling within the eye in people with glaucoma. Puerarin, the beta-blocker in kudzu, can perform the same function. In one study, patients with coronary heart disease who received an intravenous form of kudzu (500 milligrams of puerarin) experienced improvements in insulin resistance, blood lipids, and blood clotting. All of these changes are desirable for such patients.
The isoflavones in kudzu may be involved with alleviating symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats in perimenopausal women. In one study, postmenopausal women who used the equivalent of 100 milligrams of isoflavones from kudzu a day for three months experienced better cognitive function compared to a group of women who received hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Other parameters such as blood lipids or hormone levels did not change with kudzu but did in the HRT group. However, many women are advised against using HRT, and kudzu may offer benefit regarding cognition for these women.
Dosage (Divided Daily)
• Dried Root: 3,000 – 12,000mg
• Ratio Extract: 500 – 2,000mg (40% Puerarins)
Kudzu should not be used by those who are hypersensitive to it and patients with oestrogen receptor–positive types of breast cancer.
Too much kudzu can impair liver function.
May cause gastric upset in a small percentage of cases.
Interactions with other drugs
Interactions can occur with certain drugs such as tamoxifen, antidiabetic drugs, and those that work via the cytochrome P450, 2D6, and 1A2 pathways.
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- Tierra, M., & Frawley, D. (1988). Planetary herbology: an integration of Western herbs into the traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic systems (1st ed.). Twin Lakes, Wis.: Lotus Press.
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