Kudzu, the nuisance vine that has invaded up to 10 million acres in the Southeast, may turn out to be an important dietary supplement for metabolic syndrome, according to researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham1.
In findings published in the August 26, 2009 Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, studies on animal models revealed that substances found in kudzu root called isoflavones can lower factors involved in metabolic syndrome, such as high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose. Puerarin, an isoflavone found only in kudzu, seems to be the one with the greatest beneficial effect.
This isn’t the first study to look at medical uses of kudzu. The Harvard Medical School is studying kudzu as a possible way to treat alcoholic cravings, by turning an extracted compound from the herb into a medical drug2. It has also shown value in treating migraine and cluster headache, and research in mice models suggests that kudzu is beneficial in women for control of some post-menopausal symptoms, such as hypertension and diabetes type II.3
Kudzu contains a number of useful isoflavones, including daidzein, an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent, genistein (an antileukemic agent) and the isoflavone puerarin.
“Our findings showed that puerarin helps to lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol,” said J. Michael Wyss, Ph.D., UAB professor and the study’s lead author. “But perhaps the greatest effect we found was in its ability to regulate glucose, or sugar, in the blood.”
An excessive amount of glucose in the blood is associated with both diabetes and obesity. Wyss says puerarin appears to regulate glucose by routing it to places where it is of assistance, such as muscles, and away from fat cells and blood vessels.
The researchers added a small amount of kudzu root extract to the diets of lab rats for about two months. Compared with the control group not getting the extract, the rats had lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin levels. No side-effects were noted.
“We need to better understand the mechanism by which kudzu root has these effects and then conduct human trials before we can recommend it as a supplement,” Wyss said. “We also need a better understanding of who would most benefit. Is this something that children should take or perhaps those at risk for stroke or heart disease?”
“Puerarin, or kudzu root, may prove to be a strong complement to existing medications for insulin regulation or blood pressure, for example,” says Jeevan Prasain, Ph.D., a study co-author. “Physicians may be able to lower dosages of such drugs, making them more tolerable and cheaper.”
In traditional Chinese medicine, where it is known as gé gēn, kudzu is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs, and is used to treat tinnitus and vertigo. Kudzu is native to China and Japan and was brought to the United States in the 1930s for erosion control. Kudzu vines can grow as much as a foot per day during the summer and can overwhelm trees, power poles and buildings if left unchecked.
1. Chronic Dietary Kudzu Isoflavones Improve Components of Metabolic Syndrome in Stroke-Prone Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats - Ning Peng, Jeevan K. Prasain, Yanying Dai, Ray Moore, Alireza Arabshahi, Stephen Barnes, Scott Carlson and J. Michael Wyss J. Agric. Food Chem., 2009, 57 (16), pp 7268–7273DOI: 10.1021/jf901169y
2. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005 May;29(5):756-762.
An Extract of the Chinese Herbal Root Kudzu Reduces Alcohol Drinking by Heavy Drinkers in a Naturalistic Setting.
Lukas SE, Penetar D, Berko J, Vicens L, Palmer C, Mallya G, Macklin EA, Lee DY.
3. (2007, August 14). Grapes, Soy And Kudzu Blunt Some Menopausal Side Effects. ScienceDaily.