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Kudzu

Scientific Name(s): Pueraria lobata (Willd) Ohwi., Pueraria montana (Lour.) Merr., Pueraria thunbergiana (Siebold & Zucc.) Benth., Pueraria tuberosa (Indian kudzu)
Common Name(s): Ge Gen, Japanese arrowroot, Kakka, Kakkon, Kakkonto, Kudzu, Kudzu vine, XJL (NPI-028)

Clinical Overview

Use

Kudzu is being investigated for its potential use as a therapy for alcoholism; however, sufficient and consistent clinical trials are lacking. The estrogenic activity of kudzu and the cardioprotective effects of its constituent puerarin are also under investigation, but clinical trials are limited.

Dosing

Alcohol abuse: 3 g daily of kudzu extract (25% isoflavone content) has been studied in adults diagnosed with alcohol abuse/dependence. In another study, 2.4 g of kudzu root was given daily. Unstable angina: Intravenous (IV) puerarin has been used in studies of unstable angina at dosages of 200 to 500 mg daily for up to 28 days.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented. Because kudzu may decrease blood glucose, additive effects are possible with use of antihyperglycemic agents.

Adverse Reactions

A few case reports of hypersensitivity reactions (ie, maculopapular drug eruption, Stevens-Johnson syndrome–type reaction) exist.

Toxicology

No data.

Scientific Family

  • Fabaceae (pea)

Botany

Kudzu is a fast-growing vine native to the subtropical regions of China and Japan, as well as some other Pacific islands.1, 2 The plant consists of leaves (containing 3 broad oval leaflets), purple flowers, and curling tendril spikes.3, 4 Because the stem grows up to 20 m in length and due to its extensive root system, kudzu has been used to control soil erosion. Since its introduction to the United States, kudzu has become well established and proliferates in moist southern regions, where it is now considered an invasive plant.

History

Kudzu was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s to control soil erosion.5 Although it is widely recognized as a ground cover and fodder crop in the Western world, kudzu also has a history of medicinal use in Asian cultures. Beginning in the sixth century BC, Chinese herbalists used the plant to prevent intoxication, reduce muscular pain, and treat measles.4, 6

Chemistry

Numerous reports have identified chemical constituents in various plant parts of kudzu.7, 8, 9 Flavonoid, isoflavonoid, and isoflavone content (including puerarin) has been identified in kudzu roots and flowers.10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 Kudzu contains a high total isoflavone content compared with other isoflavone-containing herbs, with the dry root containing as much as 5.32 mg/g.20, 21

Oleanene triterpene glycosides, also known as kudzu saponins, have been isolated from the plant.22, 23 Analysis of isoflavonoid aglycones and their glycosides has been performed.24 Robinin in kudzu leaf has also been reported.25 Other constituents evaluated include daidzin, daidzein, genistein, genestin,26 tectoridin,27 kakkalide,28 formononetin, biochanin A, and plant sterols.2, 4, 29, 30, 31 In addition, morphological and anatomical identification studies of kudzu have been performed.32

Uses and Pharmacology

Alcohol abuse

Animal data

Available animal studies of the effects of kudzu on alcohol dependence have been reviewed.6, 33, 34 The isoflavones daidzin, daidzein, and puerarin may be responsible for the suppression of ethanol intake; although the mechanism of action is not certain, inhibition of alcohol dehydrogenase is thought to be a major factor in kudzu's antidipsotropic activity.30, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38

Clinical data

Few clinical trials evaluating the effects of kudzu on alcohol consumption have been conducted, with conflicting results.39 In a study of 38 military veterans, kudzu extract administered for 1 month had no effect on alcohol consumption patterns or cravings.40 Another small study (N=14) conducted over a period of several weeks demonstrated a reduction in the number of beers and total volume consumed by heavy drinkers.5, 41 The amount of isoflavone present in the extracts used in these 2 trials likely differed, which may account for the inconsistent results.5

More recent clinical studies available in the literature were all conducted by the same pool of researchers, with all demonstrating favorable effects of kudzu on moderate to heavy alcohol consumption.5, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46

Cancer

In vitro data

A kudzu ethanolic extract has been evaluated for antiproliferative activity against breast, ovarian, and cervical cancer cell lines, with some components demonstrating cytotoxic activity.47

Cardiovascular effects

Animal and in vitro data

Kudzu has been examined for its effects on vascular smooth muscle tissue48; for its potential effects in arrhythmia, ischemia, and angina pectoris49, 50, 51; and for its antioxidant activity.52, 53

Clinical data

A meta-analysis examined patients with unstable angina pectoris who received puerarin as an adjunct to conventional therapy. Most of the 41 included studies (N=2,953) were conducted among Chinese populations and were of small sample size. The meta-analysis reported improvements in the incidence of angina pectoris, electrocardiogram findings, nitroglycerin consumption, and plasma endothelin levels.54

A small 12-week study (N=15) reported decreased blood pressure and enhanced plasma fibrinolytic activity with daily consumption of Indian kudzu (P. tuberosa).55

Diabetes

Animal and in vitro data

Isoflavones in P. lobata have demonstrated alpha-glucosidase inhibitory effects in vitro, while other constituents (eg, puerarin) have resulted in increased glucose utilization in rat models.56, 57

In a study of mice with streptozotocin-induced diabetes, improvements in memory and cognitive function, as well as changes in acetylcholinesterase activity, were observed.58

Estrogenic activity

Animal and in vitro data

The high isoflavone content of kudzu has prompted investigation of the potential estrogenic activity of kudzu extracts. In vitro experiments suggest that daidzein is more potent than daidzin or puerarin.27 Studies comparing kudzu with red clover, soybean, mung, and alfalfa sprouts found kudzu to be the most potent19, while another study suggested the ethanol extract of P. lobata is less effective than Pueraria mirifica or Mucana collettii.21

Clinical data

In one trial of 25 menopausal women, a decrease in the number of hot flushes per day occurred when a multiple-ingredient preparation containing kudzu extract was used.59 However, in a larger trial, a P. lobata extract did not demonstrate positive effects on symptoms of menopause.60 In another study, P. lobata root given to postmenopausal women for 60 days prior to hysterectomy resulted in increased collagen and elastin content and less blood loss during surgery.61

Hepatoprotective effects

Animal and in vitro data

A few experimental studies in mice and human cells that investigated the hepatoprotective effects of puerarin and saponins demonstrated some antihepatotoxic activity.20, 62, 63

Obesity

In vitro data

In an in vitro experiment, biochanin A demonstrated potential hypolipidemic activity via activation of peroxisome proliferator–activated receptors.64

Clinical data

The effects of kudzu flower (as Pueraria thomsonii extract) on obesity have been evaluated in a clinical trial (N=81). Reduced body mass index and visceral (but not subcutaneous) fat was demonstrated over 12 weeks.65

Osteogenic activity

In vitro data

In an in vitro study of a Radix puerariae (kudzu root) extract, an increase in the synthesis of alkaline phosphatase in human osteoblast cells was observed.66

Dosing

Based on pharmacokinetic studies in healthy adults, a 3-times-daily dosing schedule is recommended. In one study, the isoflavone puerarin was rapidly absorbed after oral administration, reaching peak levels in 2 hours.18 Isoflavone content varies widely among commercial kudzu preparations, with most containing less than 1%.5

Alcohol abuse

3 g daily of kudzu extract (25% isoflavone content) has been studied in adults with a diagnosis of alcohol abuse/dependence.5 In another study, 2.4 g of kudzu root of unknown isoflavone content was given daily.40

Unstable angina

IV puerarin has been used in studies of unstable angina at dosages of 200 to 500 mg daily for up to 28 days.54

Pregnancy / Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Briggs Book Link

Interactions

None well documented. Several in vitro and animal studies indicate glucose-lowering effects; therefore, additive effects are possible with use of antihyperglycemic agents.56, 57 Puerarin and other compounds from Radix puerariae (kudzu root) affect cytochrome P450 (CYP-450) isoenzymes; study results demonstrate contradictory effects (ie, a complex pattern of CYP modulation was observed, including both induction and inactivation).67

Adverse Reactions

Kudzu has historically been used for medicinal purposes, with few reported adverse reactions.30 There are a few case reports of hypersensitivity reactions (ie, maculopapular drug eruption, Stevens-Johnson syndrome–type reaction) to the kudzu-containing Kakkonto decoction.68

Toxicology

Although data regarding use in traditional Chinese medicine indicate a lack of toxicity, the safety profile of kudzu and its extracts has not been determined by systematic pharmacologic screens.49 Acute toxicity of 4 Pueraria species has been studied comparatively.51

Index Terms

  • Pueraria thomsonii
  • Radix puerariae
  • Kudzu flower
  • Kudzu root

References

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21. Cherdshewasart W, Cheewasopit W, Picha P. The differential anti-proliferation effect of white (Pueraria mirifica), red (Butea superba), and black (Mucuna collettii ) Kwao Krua plants on the growth of MCF-7 cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004;93(2-3):255-260.15234761
22. Arao T, Kinjo J, Nohara T, Isobe R. Oleanene-type triterpene glycosides from Puerariae radix. II. Isolation of saponins and the application of tandem mass spectrometry to their structure determination. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 1995;43(7):1176-1179.7586062
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25. Saĭiad SA, Borysov MI, Koval'ov VM. Isolation, identification and quantitative determination of robinin in the leaves of Pueraria lobata [in Ukrainian]. Farm Zh. 1979;(4):52-55.225196
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27. Park EK, Shin J, Bae EA, Lee YC, Kim DH. Intestinal bacteria activate estrogenic effect of main constituents puerarin and daidzin of Pueraria thunbergiana. Biol Pharm Bull. 2006;29(12):2432-2435.17142977
28. Lee HU, Bae EA, Kim DH. Hepatoprotective effects of irisolidone on tert-butyl hyperoxide-induced liver injury. Biol Pharm Bull. 2005;28(3):531-533.15744084
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30. Keung WM. Biochemical studies of a new class of alcohol dehydrogenase inhibitors from Radix puerariae. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1993;17(6):1254-1260.8116840
31. Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. Paris, France: Lavoisier; 1999.
32. Kartmazova DS, Tkachenko NM, Borysov MI, Saĭiad SA. Morphological and anatomical diagnosis of the subterranean vegetative organs of Pueraria lobata [in Ukrainian]. Farm Zh. 1980;(3):61-63.7409122
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36. Keung WM, Vallee BL. Kudzu root: an ancient Chinese source of modern antidipsotropic agents. Phytochemistry. 1998;47(4):499-506.9461670
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38. Lin RC, Li TK. Effects of isoflavones on alcohol pharmacokinetics and alcohol-drinking behavior in rats. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(6)(suppl):1512S-1515S.9848526
39. Ulbricht C, Costa D, Dam C, et al. An evidence-based systematic review of kudzu (Pueraria lobata) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2015;12(1):36-104.24848872
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This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

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