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Finding a use for kudzu

August 27, 2009 | 10:16 am

Kudzu1 Kudzu, the wild vine that has overtaken almost 10 million acres in the southeastern United States, may be more nutrient than nuisance. Previous studies have suggested a chemical in the vine may help alcoholics curb their addiction. Now a study, also in rats, shows kudzu can help regulate blood pressure, glucose metabolism and cholesterol levels.

Kudzu root, which is called Radix Pueraria, contains polyphenols, substances that are known to have a range of positive health effects. Kudzu is already available in health food stores as a dietary supplement marketed to women for menopausal symptoms. In the new study, researchers gave half of a rat population kudzu root extract and compared them to rats that didn't receive the extract. All of the rats were females prone to strokes (a type of lab rat often used as a model for human metabolic syndrome).

The findings, the authors wrote: "suggest that polyphenols in kudzu root may provide a nonpharmacological complement to traditional approaches for treating hypertension. The ability of a well-tolerated, safe and low-cost food additive to decrease hypertension is of considerable interest."

The study, performed by researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, was published this week in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Studies in humans will be needed to evaluate the true worth of kudzu. And, scientists warn that supplements now sold in stores may be poorly absorbed and may also vary in concentration from bottle to bottle.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Judy Hough / University of Connecticut via Bloomberg News