Aug. 28, 2009 -- Kudzu, a fast-growing vine widely considered a nuisance because it covers everything in its path, may be set for a medical makeover.
A new study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, shows that kudzu root extract may help curb symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that make diabetes and heart disease more likely. People with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following traits:
- Large waist: 40 inches or larger for men; 35 inches or larger for women
- Low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol
- High levels of blood fats called triglycerides
- Elevated blood pressure
- High blood sugar
The new study tests kudzu root extract in female rats with high blood pressure that were prone to stroke. Those rats had many of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
The researchers, who included Ning Peng and J. Michael Wyss, PhD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, put the rats on a diet free of antioxidants called polyphenols. They added kudzu root extract, which naturally contains certain polyphenols, to the diets of some of the rats.
The rats stayed on those diets for two months. During that time, the rats in the kudzu group gained less weight than the other rats, though the kudzu didn't hamper their eating habits.
At the end of the two months, the rats in the kudzu group had better blood pressure, blood sugar, insulin, and total cholesterol levels than the other rats.
It's not clear if that's because of the kudzu root extract or because of the weight difference between the two groups of rats.
No side effects were seen with the kudzu root extract. So the researchers conclude that kudzu polyphenols may have potential as complements to other strategies (such as diet and exercise) for reducing metabolic disorders.
The researchers aren't recommending kudzu supplements for people with metabolic disorders. They didn't test kudzu root extract on people.
The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but the journal notes that the contents of the study "are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the Office of Dietary Supplements, or the NIH."