In brief: Herbal treatment helps curb urge to drink

In brief

Herbal treatment helps curb urge to drink

Women, especially, have good reason to keep an eye on how much they drink. We become intoxicated at lower levels of alcohol consumption than men do, and we're quicker to develop alcohol-related problems. Alcohol in moderation—for women that means one drink a day—offers certain health benefits, but too often one drink turns into two or more. Research suggests that every additional drink per day a woman takes raises her risk of breast cancer by as much as 10%.

Alcohol dependence is a serious medical problem that requires professional help and usually complete abstinence from alcohol. But for women who are concerned about the occasional one-drink-too-many and would like to cut back, a relatively simple aid may soon be available. Harvard Medical School scientists have found that an herbal substance with no apparent side effects dampens the desire for alcohol.

Taking their cue from ancient Chinese medical texts and research on binge-drinking laboratory animals, investigators at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., examined the effects of an extract of kudzu root on alcohol consumption in humans. Kudzu is best known as an invasive plant that was introduced to the United States more than a century ago and is now displacing native vegetation in large areas of the South. In China, it's better known as an herbal medicine for treating alcohol-related diseases and the effects of intoxication.

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