Kudzu (pronounced KUD-zoo) in the Deep South and KOOD-zoo most everywhere else) is the prolific vine that many people in the Southeastern United States call by such pejorative nicknames as “foot-a-night vine,” “mile-a-minute vine,” and “the vine that ate the South.” But the often hated legume, Kudzu, is making medical news for its health benefits not fully explored previously in the U.S. Kudzu was first introduced to this country in 1876, when the Japanese government brought the vine for a garden display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Following this event, the growth of Kudzu went out of control in the U.S. Now as you drive through the Southern states, there is no way to miss seeing its thick vines winding up tall oaks, around telephone poles and covering countless hills and roadsides. Despite being a constant source of irritation to Southern landowners, Kudzu has long been a traditional medicinal plant in Asia where it has been used as a healer for thousands of years.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Kudzu is viewed as one of the “50 fundamental herbs.” It is used to treat tinnitus, vertigo, and Wei syndrome (paralysis/muscular atrophy), among other illnesses.
Kudzu powder is made into a smooth and soothing thickened broth called Kudzu cream, which helps to develop an alkaline constitution. Kudzu also provides quick relief from intestinal and digestive disorders (particularly upset stomach and acid indigestion), hangover, fever, colds and a variety of more serious ailments.
Kudzu is beginning to be recognized in the U.S. as a valuable plant. The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry suggests Kudzu could actually be a source of natural health benefits, based on research done by scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Kudzu may be of particular value in treating metabolic syndrome, a condition that affects some 50 million Americans.
According to the National Institutes of Health, metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors linked to being overweight or obese that increases the risk for heart disease and other health problems such as diabetes and stroke. The UAB research team’s studies on animal models show that natural chemicals called isoflavones found in the kudzu root could improve a host of problems associated with metabolic syndrome. For example, it normalizes blood pressure, lowers high cholesterol and stabilizes blood glucose. One particular isoflavone called puerarin that is found only in kudzu appears to have the strongest beneficial effect on health.
“Our findings showed that puerarin helps to lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol,” J. Michael Wyss, Ph.D., a professor in the UAB Department of Cell Biology and lead author on the study, said in a statement to the press. “But perhaps the greatest effect we found was in its ability to regulate glucose, or sugar, in the blood.”
Too much glucose in the blood is linked to both diabetes and obesity and can be a symptom of metabolic syndrome. According to Dr. Wyss, puerarin has the remarkable ability to regulate glucose by driving it to places in the body where it is beneficial, like muscles, and away from fat cells and blood vessels.
Dr. Wyss and the other UAB researchers added small amounts of kudzu root extract to the diets of laboratory rats for about two months. Then they compared this group of rodents to a control group of rats who didn’t get the kudzu supplementation. The rats who had consumed kudzu extract had lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin levels. What’s more, there were no side effects found from the use of Kudzu.
“Puerarin, or Kudzu root, may prove to be a strong complement to existing medications for insulin regulation or blood pressure, for example,” said Jeevan Prasain, Ph.D., an assistant professor and a study co-author. “Physicians may be able to lower dosages of such drugs, making them more tolerable and cheaper.”
Other significant health findings about Kudzu are causing a stir in the medical community that studies and treats alcoholism. A study published in last November’s issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, by Ivan Diamond, M.D., Ph.D., may help heavy drinkers or alcoholics. Kudzu and its extracts and flowers have been used in TCM to treat alcoholism for about 1,000 years.
Dr. Diamond explained the purpose of his study: “Excessive drinking causes harm while moderate drinking appears to be safe. Increasing numbers of doctors believe abstinence is an unrealistic goal. It sounds like heresy, but it isn’t. Therefore, an ideal drug might be able to prevent uncontrolled relapse, convert heavy drinkers into moderate drinkers, and avoid the harmful consequences of excessive alcohol intake. If our compound works and is safe to use, then I think most physicians would not hesitate to prescribe a new drug to prevent relapse and reduce heavy drinking.”
“Alcoholism is a medical disorder, not just a problem of will power,” Dr. Diamond said. “Physicians treat medical disorders in order to prevent harm, while not necessarily curing the disease being treated – for example, drug treatment of hypertension, statins for high cholesterol, insulin for diabetes – and the same will become true for treating alcoholism. Heavy drinking causes harm. We need to prevent heavy drinking in order to prevent harm.”
Diamond added that relapse may be the biggest problem facing physicians today. “We are talking about a patient who has the motivation to undergo a very unpleasant detoxification to try to stop drinking, and then gets into trouble afterward,” he said. “Nearly 80 percent of abstinent alcoholics or addicts relapse within a year. Current therapies for alcoholism help, but we can do much better.”
Elsewhere, the once hated Kudzu plant is also rising in status:
 Kudzu powder is now being used in lieu of lower-quality cooking starches and is featured in some of America’s finest natural food restaurants. We may soon even witness the rise of a new southern delicacy, Kudzu candy!
 Kudzu Root Tea and Kudzu Creams are being used by naturopaths and appearing in their books on healing.
 Organic farmers in northern states are experimenting with planting Kudzu in the colder, drier climates where growth can be kept under control.
 Several people have shown interest in starting the first commercial Kudzu shops in the West to supply high-quality, natural powder and root at domestic prices.
Additional Source: “Researchers Find Kudzu, the Vine That Ate the South, Loaded with Health Benefits,” by S. L. Baker, Oct. 2, 2009, NaturalNews.com.