Could a Chinese herb stop you drinking too much? – BBC News

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New alcohol guidelines have stressed the importance of cutting back. Could an ancient Chinese herbal redres help you get that pleasurable buzz while drinking less, asks Michael Mosley.

One of the main reasons we drink alcohol is because it makes us feel more sociable. But when we drink too much it also does huge damage. Recent guidelines recommend we stick to 14 units a week, which will be harder for some than others.

I’m currently “enjoying” a dry January, which has turned out to be easier than I feared – I am sleeping better, losing a little weight and I don’t truly miss it. Well , not much

So when I return to moderate drinking in February I plan to stick to abstinence, at the least three days a week. But I also want to try out a herbal supplement called kudzu. Because, much to my astound, it turns out that this ancient Chinese remedy for heart disease may also help us cut our alcohol intake without actually noticing it.

Now, many of us make the resolution to cut back on alcohol, but like better than good resolves there is the danger of slippage. So for those working of us with the modest purpose of merely cutting back a little bit, could kudzu really help? To find out more the Trust Me I’m a Doctor team recently set it to the test.

Image copyright iStock Image caption Kudzu root

The Kudzu plant is a type of vine that is native to South East Asia. It’s a plant with a long history, as Prof Elizabeth Williamson of the University of Reading, explains.

“Traditional utilizes, going back 2,000 years, were for things like coughs and colds and flu, and also for blood pressure, hypertension, angina. But it also has been used since at least AD600 for helping avoid alcohol abuse.”

I’m generally sceptical about herbal supplements. Even if the original plant has impressive health-giving properties, and many of our more effective medications are derived from plants, that doesn’t mean that supplements based on those plants will be effective. They rarely capture the complexity of a plant and there is so little regulation of the market that you literally don’t know what you are buying.

Nonetheless, there have been a few intriguing analyses suggesting that after taking kudzu supplements people drink less, almost without noticing.

Find out more

Trust Me I’m A Doctor is on BBC Two at 20:00 on Wednesday 27 January – catch up on BBC iPlayer

In a recent randomised placebo-controlled trial of 17 heavy-drinking American men, for example, they found that taking kudzu cut alcohol consumption by between 34% and 57%.

Intrigued, we decided to test kudzu in the wild, so to speak, with a group of Brits.

So we recruited a group of volunteers from Reading willing to have two nights out in the name of science.

Two hours before starting we gave them pills – some get kudzu extract, others a placebo( a harmless sugar pill ). None of them knew which they had just taken.

Then we allowed them access to the bar for 90 minutes, during which day they could have their fill of brew, wine or spirits. We were, of course, closely but surreptitiously monitoring how much and how quickly they drank.


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Group of plants in the genus Pueraria, native to South East Asia, East Asia and some Pacific islands , native to South East Asia, East Asia and some Pacific islands Used widely in the US in the 1930 s and 40 s as a route of controlling soil erosion, it is now considered an invasive species and has been the subject of a government programme to control its spread since the 1990 s Kudzu fibre is used in basketwork and its leaves as an animal feed; the starch from its root is widely used in Asian food

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