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Addiction Recovery With Chinese Herbs Like Kudzu
Kudzu is Chinese herb that has been identified for the treatment of alcoholism. Anybody who has even had an addiction will tell you that addiction recovery is one of the most difficult of the tasks that life throws at us. Whether it is an addiction to tobacco or to heroin or anything in between is not easy, and those that join the ‘self-afflicted’ lobby do not help, but for the Grace of God...
Alcohol addiction is now potentially the most prevalent addiction in the world. There are now more that drink alcohol than smoke, and alcohol related problems are more than just a social problem, but cause the deaths of over 100,000 annually in the USA. One shudders at the thought of the world-wide death toll. It has been suggested that chemical addictions, as opposed to physical habits, can have chemical cures. Although the jury is still out on this one, there have been some positive results achieved in the treatment of addicts with natural remedies.
One of these natural remedies is the Chinese herb, kudzu. Kudzu is a climbing vine that can grow just about anywhere: in fields, lightly forested land and mountains. It is found throughout China, and also in the south eastern states of the USA. The reason for this strange distribution is that the plant was introduced to the USA by Japan at the 1876 Centennial Expo in Philadelphia.
The large blooms attracted gardeners who propagated them, and when it was discovered that the plant made good forage for animals, Florida nurserymen grew it as animal feed. Its effect in preventing ground erosion rendered it popular during the 1930s and 40s when farmers were paid up to $8 an acre for growing kudzu. Fodder and groundcover were the original uses of this vine in the USA irrespective of its medicinal uses on the other side of the Pacific.
Prior to it being recognized as a useful treatment for alcoholism, the vine had been used in China for generations for the treatment of such conditions as headaches, flu, high blood pressure symptoms, dysentery, muscular aches and pains and the common cold. It is still used to treat digestive complaints and allergies, and find use in modern medicine in the treatment of angina.
It is the root that is mainly used, which at up to six feet tall provides a plentiful supply of its active ingredients. These include isoflavones including daidzein and isoflavone glycosides, mainly puerarin and also daidzin. However, it is in its application in the treatment of alcohol addiction that the root is currently creating interest.
Studies in the 1960s on animals bred with an alcohol craving indicated that daidzein and daidzin reduced their consumption of alcohol when offered it, and further studies have indicated that the mechanism of this was by inhibition of enzymes necessary for metabolizing alcohols. This has not yet been successfully repeated in humans, but the effects on animals cannot be just coincidental. Or can it? That question can only be answered by those for whom kudzu has been found effective, although many laboratory studies have shown that it certainly reduces the alcohol consumption of those with a habitual heavy intake of the substance.
Of all the other substances that have been used in an attempt to reduce the extent of alcoholism in the Western world, none have been found truly effective. The three recognized treatments of Campral (Acamprosate Calcium), approved by the FDA in July, 2004, Naltrexone (Revia) and Antabuse work in three different ways. Campral is useful only once you have stopped drinking and have detoxed, Naltrexone interferes with the pathway in the brain that ‘rewards’ the drinker and Antabuse gives unpleasant side effects that are meant to put the drinker off drinking.
Although all have side effects of one type or another, they have been approved by the FDA, and must therefore be assumed safe if used as recommended. However, none are natural, and kudzu has been found to have no known side effects. It is a type of pea, and did you know that it grows about one foot a day? Luckily it only grows to about 20 feet!
It is kudzu’s lack of side effects that renders it so attractive as a treatment for alcoholism, although more tests are needed before the evidence for its effectiveness can be declared cast iron. Most of the tests to date have been carried out on heavy drinkers rather than true alcoholics, but they have all found the plant effective in reducing the amount that each member of the study drank, even though no limitations were placed on them.
Future studies should probably be designed to determine if the treatment is safe for such groups as pregnant women, young people and those with specific medical complaints such as liver problems. Naltrexone should not be used by anybody with serious liver problems, and even campral is only suitable if you have no more than a moderate liver problem. Since alcoholics can reasonable be expected to also suffer from liver disease, then a treatment that is safe for such people would be very welcome.
A 2002 meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism in San Francisco named kudzu and St. John’s Wort as being the two most promising treatments for alcoholism. The mention of St. John’s Wort raises an interesting point, and one that must be discussed. That is the question of standardized doses, and what can happen if doses of natural products are not standardized with respect to the identified active constituent.
The reason for the importance of this is that not all sources of a particular herb are equally well endowed with active constituents. Although, for example, a dose of 2.5 grams daily of kudzu root might be recommended, how does the percent content of isoflavones in different roots vary. That variation will mean that the amount of active ingredient taken in one 2.5g dose will differ from that in another, unless there is standardization.
The reason St. John’s Wort brought this to mind is that with this herb, used for some psychological problems such as depression, the active ingredient content was standardized. It was standardized to 0.3% hypericin, a napthodianthrone that causes an increase in dopamine levels. However, standard doses of St. John’s Wort gave inconsistent results and the reason for this could not be identified. It now has been. The active ingredient is now known to be not hypericin, but hypeforin, what is known as a prenylated phloroglucinol. The herb is now standardized on this substance.
This is a demonstration of the importance of identifying the active ingredients in a herbal treatment accurately, and also of standardizing doses. Kudzu doses must be standardized if their effect is to be consistent. There is now little doubt that addiction recovery is possible with Chinese herbs like kudzu, and who knows what else the ancient civilizations such as the Chinese have to offer us.
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