A growing body of anecdotal evidence supports the use of Kudzu root for preventing cluster headaches.
Although it is a notorious weed in the southern U.S., it has long been used as a food and medicine in Asia. After discussing reports that kudzu root affects serotonin, some long-time sufferers at clusterheadaches.com (cache)
tried kudzu and reported promising results. Among the first 20 users, approximately 70% reported a clear improvement in their pattern of cluster headaches.
Kudzu has traditionally been used for a variety of condition including migraine, hypertension (high blood pressure), pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders, allergies, and angina. It is both a treatment for hangover, and a substance that reduced the urge to drink alcohol. source1 (cache)
In a 1979 study in China, kudzu was found to result in a complete or major (80%) reduction of migraines in half the patients studied, while 75% experienced some benefit. (Medherb source (cache)
) Although cluster headache is distinct from migraine headaches, both are neurovascular disorders that share many similiarities. In particular, many of the pharmaceutical treatments of CH were developed for migraine.
According to the Chinese system, the root has sweet, pungent and cooling properties. It clears heat, especially when close to the surface. It is considered a nourishing herb suitable for long term use. The Chinese name for kudzu is translated as Ge Gen
Kudzu root starch is popular in Japan and other eastern countries. The process of refining the roots into starch probably reduces the concentration of the active ingredients. In the Book of Kudzu
, William Shurtleff comments that much of what is sold in Japan as 'kudzu starch' actually contains little or no kudzu. Presumably, truth in labelling laws in other countries prevents this type of problems in the US and Europe. While kudzu starch has unique culinary and nutritional value, it cannot be considered identical to kudzu root.
Important Safety Considerations
Although many people consider herbs to be safe because they are natural, that perspective does not stand up to scrutiny. Many plants contain powerful chemicals which can both heal and hurt. Nicotine, opium and belladona are all 'natural' products with obvious downsides.
Those using triptans and verapamil are advised that kudzu could interact with these medicines as kudzu affects both serotonin and calcium levels in the blood. There have been two reports of adverse effects in people who combined kudzu with either verapamil or a triptan.
Another case has been reported where a cluster headache patient taking kudzu developed capillary fragility and bleeding after surgery; the patient was not on kudzu at the time of surgery, but began taking it approximately one month after surgery. The episode of bleeding occurred between 1-2 weeks after starting kudzu, and required emergency treatment. Although the person (a health care professional) does not blame the problem solely on kudzu, they do feel that kudzu was a contributing factor. Whether this was an isolated incident is not clear at this time.
In June of 2005, researchers in Taiwan published a study showing that kudzu administration in rats led to reduced metabolism and higher blood levels of the prescription medicine Methotrexate. At certain combinations, this led to a 50% mortality rate. (abstract (cache)
). Methotrexate is used to supress the immune system in people with autoimmune diseases (like psoriasis). Although it is not clear whether humans metabolize kudzu and methotrexate in the same way as rats, the results of this study were dramatic enough to call for extreme caution regarding this combination. It also raises the question of what other drugs might also be affected by kudzu.
Aside from these recently reported side effects, Kudzu has a long history of use and is viewed as a safe herb. On the other hand, possible interactions with triptans and verapamil have not been specifically investigated, and it appears that kudzu may affect some of the same biochemical pathways, which raises real concerns.
There is an Overview of Kudzu (cache)
at PDR Health, the website of the Physicians Desk Reference. According to this, there are no known interactions with other medicines and no counter-indications for taking kudzu.
According to traditional Chinese Medicine, kudzu is generally safe for long term use, but is not advised for pregnant women and in people with Yin Deficiency with Heat or aggressive blood problems.
Yin deficiency with heat is characterized by low blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) and rapid heart beat. As herbalists see kudzu as indicated in high blood pressure, it makes sense to avoid it when blood pressure is already low, or when taking verapamil or other agents to lower blood pressure. source (cache)
Another source (cache)
reports that it is to be avoided where there there is cold in the stomach or excessive sweating.
Ingredients & Mechanism of Action
Kudzu contains a compound called puerarin (an isoflavone glycoside) and daidzin and daidzein. The root typically contains 2 to 12 % of these compounds, with puerarin being the most abundant. Kudzu root also contains genistein and genestin (which are also found in soy) and quercetin, a common flavonoid. source
According to an article at Herbalchem.net (cache)
, kudzu is the second richest plant source of isoflavones, and 100 grams (approximately 4 ounces) contains around 200 mg. of isoflavones.
The two molecules shown above are more similar than they might appear at first glance - flip and rotate the daidzin molecule, and it fits almost perfectly on the puerarin molecule.
A number of possible mechanisms have been proposed for kudzu: 1) changes in serotonin activity, 2) changes in calcium metabolism, 3) Phyto-Estrogenic effects, and 4) increases in endorphins.
In an older study in China, puerarin was found to affect serotonin levels and platelet aggregation in blood cells [ source (cache)
A 1998 study at Harvard found that daidzin inhibits the breakdown of serotonin into 5-HIAA (which is inactive and excreted in the urine). In the presence of diadzin, serotonin aldehydes like 5-HIAL accumulated in cells. 5-HIAL is an obscure compound; a Google search returned only 51 pages on the internet that mention it (and only 31 were unique pages - 20 were duplications).
In 2003, a UNC study found that puerarin is a 5-HT2c antagonist. source (cache)
A 2004 study in Taiwan found that puerarin lowers body temperature, and that it does so either by stimulating 5-HT1 receptors and/or inhibiting 5-HT2 receptors.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that kudzu can block the effects of psilocybin; one person reports that taking a normal dose of kudzu for a week completely blocked the psychological and physical effects of 1.5 grams of psilocybin mushrooms. Those interested in the Clusterbuster
approach should consider the strong possibility that kudzu will interfere with that therapeutic approach.
Calcium Channel & Beta Blocker
Puerarin inhibits L-type calcium channels in the hearts of rats [ source (cache)
] In a study using post-menopausal monkeys, puerarin lowered parathyroid hormone and calcium levels. source (cache)
Using strips of cat tissue exposed to various chemicals, it was found that puerarin also has beta-blocking properties. (beta-adrenoreceptor) [ source (cache)
]. Due to the beta-blocking properties of puerarin, a 1% solution can be used to lower intra-ocular pressure in patients with glaucoma. source (cache)
Four articles have been published on the effects of isoflavones and migraine; two found that soy isoflavones can reduce the frequency of menstrual migraine, while one suggested that one person began experiencing migraines for the first time after taking a soy isoflavone supplement. prevent1 (cache) prevent2 (cache) trigger (cache)
Kudzu does contain the same isoflavones that are found in soy, but in lesser amounts. It also contains puerarin, which is not found in soy, and which has unique properties.
The fact that isoflavones were tested only for menstrual migraines is interesting; it is not clear to what degree the isoflavones prevent due to their weak estrogenic properties, and it is quite possible that some other mechanism is at work.
A study on rats who had their ovaries removed found that puerarin improved learning and memory, and normalized levels of glutamate and GABA in the brain. (abstract (cache)
A study in diabetic rats found that puerarin lowers blood sugar and increases endorphin levels in the blood. When naloxone (a drug that blocks endorphins and narcotics) was administered, blood sugar was not lowered, indicating that endorphins were involved in the blood sugar regulation. [ source (cache)
] It has been shown that endorphin levels are lower in the blood cells and CSF of cluster heads (source (cache)
) and it has also been shown that one effect of histamine desensitization is an increase in circulating endorphins. ( source (cache)
In a study in anesthetized mice, kudzu flavonoids were found to dilate microscopic blood vessels in the brain and improve microcirculation. (abstract (cache)
Puerarin was shown to increase the number of epithelial cells, their adhesion, and the formation of blood vessels in this (cache)
See also Anticoagulants
Kudzu root has antibacterial properties; a 5% solution of kudzu root can reduce the growth of spoilage bacteria on food by 6 to 7 log (99.9999%) over the course of a week of refrigerated storage. (Kim, et al, 2004 (cache)
Recent research suggests that kudzu may be helpful in reducing the development of Metabolic Syndrome
, a condition involving high blood pressure, disordered cholesterol and triglycerides and increased risk of type II diabetes. The study found that kudzu extracts improved cell metabolism in a number of ways that might counteract metabolic syndrome. It is, however, too soon to say that kudzu is a proven therapy for metabolic syndrome. (abstract (cache)
Dosage and Formulations
In traditional herb tea formulas, the daily dosage of kudzu is typically 9 to 15 grams of root, boiled for 45 to 60 minutes. Powdering the root before boiling would likely increase the availability of the active ingredients and reduce the amount needed. Capsules containing powder also probably requires a smaller dose than the teas. Various concentrated extracts are available, and these typically come with their own dosage recommendations.
While western herbalists often use individual herbs, almost all Chinese traditional medicines include 6 or more herbs, even if one is dominant. There are products on the market that include only kudzu or kudzu extract (Nature's Way and Solaray), and there are also products that include several herbs mixed in with kudzu (Planetary Formulas Kudzu Recovery). It is more difficult to predict the properties of a mixture of several herbs, although some people have reported good results with some of the multi-herb products.
One supplier that has been recommended by several people in the kudzu thread is Vitacost.com
Their prices are excellent and they ship to over 50 countries
Most people (approximately 70%) using kudzu reported no side effects.
The most frequently reported side effect of concern among cluster headache patients taking kudzu is dizzyness. One person reported that dividing the doses reduced or eliminated dizzyness. (For example, taking 1 tablet 4 times daily instead of two tablets twice a day). It is not clear if this dizzyness is caused by a decrease in blood pressure, change in serotonin activity, or some other mechanism.
Several people have reported an increase in flatulence (farting) and/or bowel activity. This is consistent with the serotonergic effects of kudzu, and the fact that there is more serotonin in the gut system than anywhere else in the body. Kudzu may someday be used as a treatment for IBS-C, the form of irritable bowel syndrome where constipation is predominant.
Kudzu is the common name for a variety of legumes; in the west, this is typically Pueraria lobata
. Another species used as a rejuvenating medicine is P. mirifica
. Other species with medicinal uses include P. thomsonii
, P. thunbergiana
and P. phaseoloides
Kudzu was intentionally introduced into the southern US to control erosion on hillsides and provide a fodder crop for cows. Although it is not a pest in Japan, the warmer temperatures in Dixie, and lack of natural insect predators allows kudzu to spread rampantly across much of the country.
Dried kudzu root slices, image by Jonathan Byron. The dried kudzu root has a silky feel due to the large amount of starch.
An image of kudzu courtesy of the US Government - not copyrighted.
Other Kudzu Pages
Gao Xiuxian, Liu Xiuxin, “Radix puerariae in migraine,” Chinese Medical Journal, 92 (1): 260-262, (1979)
Crawford, S. Kudzu entry in Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine (article (cache)
Draft version 1.6, 29 July, 2005.
kudzu monograph herb headache migraine cluster headache serotonin