Kudzu Root May Curb Alcoholism

Heavily Drinking Mice Curb Intake After Injection of Chinese Herb

A traditional Chinese herbal remedy significantly reduces alcohol consumption in hamsters and may help human alcoholics curb their drinking, two Medical School researchers reported in yesterday's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers, Wing-Ming Keung and Bert L. Vallee, write that the Syrian Golden hamster ordinarily "prefers and consumes large quantities of ethanol" to supplement its diet of Purina Rodent Laboratory Chow.

But an injection of the extract of the kudzu root, a Chinese herb, led the hamsters to "significantly suppress the free-choice ethanol intake" without any negative side effects.

"These results suggest this ethanol-drinking animal model has high 'predictive validity' and can be used effectively in the search for and identification of new agents for the treatment of alcohol abuse," the study said.

Keung said that kudzu has been effective in treating alcoholics in China. "They don't drink anymore," he said. "Except that they lost their appetite for alcohol, doctors observed no side effects."


Keung said that research must now focus on how kudzu works to reduce the alcohol craving.

"We'll be moving in two directions. One is to see the compound go through toxicological and clinical testing," Keung said. "The other would be to test the mechanism of the compound."

But Keung and Vallee's findings do not necessarily apply to humans, said James F. Riordan, a professor at Harvard's Center for Biochemical and Biophysical Science and Medicine.

Riordan cautioned that hamsters have different reactions to alcohol than humans.

"They drink an enormous amount of alcohol," Riordan said. "These animals don't even get drunk when they drink it, so it may be a very unusual circumstance."

Medical School professors said it is too early to tell how effective kudzu will be in treating cases of alcoholism in humans.

Virginia T. Latham, instructor in medicine, said she was "intrigued" by the report but was skeptical on whether kudzu could be used on humans.

"I'm from North Carolina, and kudzu just grows all over everything," Latham said. "I find it very intriguing, but it has a long way to go before it becomes usable to humans."

But doctors disagree over the best general approach to curing alcoholism.

Scott E. Lukas, associate professor of pharmacology, said drug treatment is necessary to treat alcoholics.

"Drugs play an integral part in treating people," Lukas said. "Most people can't get by with psychotherapy alone."

Lukas added that no one drug is appropriate for everybody.

"I think the real challenge is to findbiological markers to find who would be better offwith which kind of treatment," Lukas said.

But Ira L. Mintzer, instructor in medicine,said that psychotherapy, not drugs, has workedmost effectively to curb alcoholism.

"Our direction is certainly in 12-stepprograms," Mintzer said. "When people drink onAntabuse [a current drug], they can die."

Vallee was not available for comment yesterday