A Chinese herb extract has been found to dramatically reduce alcoholism and could offer a solution to binge drinking, according to a new study conducted by McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School researchers.
The Chinese herb kudzu was found in studies to reduce alcohol consumption without any adverse side effects. Researchers hope that with further tests the herb could be used to treat alcohol abuse and dependence.
Researchers from the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at McLean Hospital simulated an afternoon drinking session in a laboratory to test whether isoflavone puerarin (a major component of the kudzu root) could reduce alcohol consumption.
Puerarin has become an established treatment in humans, and is known to be more safe and efficient. Chinese doctors use the component regularly to treat coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction and angina, chiefly because it is more potent and has fewer side effects.
David Penetar, PhD, who led the study, had to create a rather unique laboratory in order to conduct the experiment. He took 10 men and women in their 20s who regularly drank, and set a hospital lab up as an apartment, with TV, DVD player, reclining chair and other amenities. He then stocked the unit up with a refrigerator full of each subject's favourite beer and other non-alcoholic beverages.
During the first 90 minutes of the study the subjects were allowed to consume as much alcohol as the wished. They were then sent away, with some members told to take puerarin, and a control group given a placebo. After two weeks, they returned to the same apartment conditions and conducted the same test, and the control group was switched around for a final session of drinking.
The study revealed that subjects taking puerarin drank significantly fewer beers—dropping from 3.5 beers on average to 2.4. Dr Penetar said: "This was a simulation of a binge drinking opportunity and not only did we see the subjects drinking less, we noted that their rate of consumption decreased, meaning they drank slower and took more sips to finish a beer.
"While we do not suggest that puerarin will stop drinking all together, it is promising that it appears to slow the pace and the overall amount consumed."