Can An Herb Curb Binge Drinking?

A hearty, invasive plant introduced to this country decades ago to control soil erosion could have what it takes to curb binge drinking, new research suggests.

Kudzu, an ever-expanding vine considered a pest in much of the South, appears to contain a compound that can be effective in reducing alcohol intake among humans.

Researcher Scott Lukas did not have any trouble rounding up volunteers for his study, published in this month's issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Lukas' team at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital set up a makeshift "apartment" in a laboratory, complete with a television, reclining chair and a refrigerator stocked with beer.

Findings show that subjects who took kudzu drank an average of 1.8 beers per session, compared with the 3.5 beers consumed by those who took a placebo.

Lukas was not certain why but speculated that kudzu increases blood alcohol levels and speeds up its effects. More simply put, the subjects needed fewer beers to feel drunk.

"That rapid infusion of alcohol is satisfying them and taking away their desire for more drinks," Lukas said. "That's only a theory. It's the best we've got so far."

In 2003, David Overstreet and other scientists found the herb to be effective in reducing alcohol intake on rats.

"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence from China that kudzu could be useful, but this is the first documented evidence that it could reduce drinking in humans," said Overstreet, who described Lukas' work "groundbreaking."
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