The rapidly growing vine kudzu may put a strangle hold on alcoholism, according to a report to be published in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Recent investigations show that kudzu contains compounds that decreases alcohol intake in laboratory animals.
Kudzu extracts and flowers have been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for alcoholism and intoxication for about a millennium. Given the apparent success of this folk remedy and the serious alcoholism problem in the United States and around the world, scientists have been eager to determine if kudzu is really effective and if so, why.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 17.6 million Americans – one in 12 adults – abuses alcohol or is alcohol dependent. Currently about 80 percent of alcoholics relapse within one year of becoming abstinent.
The current study, which included investigators from across the country, has identified several compounds in kudzu extract – namely, the isoflavones puerarin, daidzin, and daidzein—that decrease the intake of alcohol is animals. More specificially, daidzin is the most potent of the isoflavones, and its ability to inhibit alcohol consumption is attributed to the fact that it is a selective inhibitor of ALDH-2.
Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH-2) breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde. When kudzu is consumed, the daidzin inhibits ALDH-2 and allows acetaldehyde to accumulate. An excess of acetaldehyde causes flushing and an ill feeling, which makes people much less likely to want to drink alcohol.
The investigators then synthesized a drug based on daidzin and produced a kudzu-like compound called CVT-10216 and tested the ALDH-2 inhibitor on rats that had been bred to drink moderate to high levels of alcohol. The researchers found that CVT-10216 increases levels of acetaldehyde in living animals, decreases drinking under various conditions, prevents binge drinking that typically occurs within five days of abstinence, and prevents relapse to drinking.
Ivan Diamond, an investigator with the study and Professor Emeritus of neurology, cellular and molecular pharmacology and neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco, believes the new synthetic derivative of kudzu, CVT-10216, may be better tolerated than disulfiram (Antabuse™), and become an effective treatment option for alcoholism.
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