Kudzu, a highly invasive weed, is generally considered a pest. But new research may improve its reputation by showing how kudzu’s polyphenols could help control diabetes and lower cholesterol.
Agricultural experts are now looking for ways to safely curb kudzu growth and eliminate the pesky, invasive vines. Other scientists, though, say the plant may have some redeeming qualities. Wyss says kudzu contains important healthy substances, called isoflavones. One particularly important isoflavone is puerarin, found only in kudzu. In fact, it’s the most abundant isoflavone in the plant.
The Chinese have used puerarin as an alternative medicine for centuries. So, researchers decided to investigate the effects of kudzu in animals. Female rats were given an extract made from kudzu root for two months. Another group of rats were fed a standard diet.
At the end of the study, the rats given the kudzu extract had lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower blood sugar and insulin levels than the rats that ate the control diet. According to Wyss, only a very small amount of kudzu root extract was needed to achieve these results.
The study suggests that kudzu may be an effective alternative treatment that could be used in conjunction with traditional drugs to control insulin and cholesterol levels, and ultimately lower a patient’s risk for metabolic syndrome. In some cases, doctors may be able to give patients lower doses of other drugs, reducing the chance for side effects from the medication and making medications more affordable.
J. Michael Wyss, Ph.D., Neuroscientist with the University of Alabama says kudzu is available in some health food stores. However, the exact doses needed for humans are not yet known. Researchers need to understand how kudzu works and who may benefit from it the most before beginning human trials.
The investigators only studied a kudzu root extract. If other parts of the plant are found to also be beneficial (like the leaves), it’s possible people may eat the plant like a salad to get health benefits. Another research study found kudzu root to be effective in protecting brain function in rats with blockages in the cerebral and carotid arteries.
Reported by: Charlotte Ames
Friday, June 11 2010