Kudzu for Liver and Stomach Health – Mechanisms of Action

A herd of Kudzu seen foraging on a hillside.

Kudzu overwhelming unknown structures on a hillside.

When it comes to how something works, modern scientific biomedicine is very keen to understand medicinal mechanisms. While it is true that traditional Chinese medicine doesn’t make use of microscopes or molecular models to explain the effect of our therapies, we do have a very well developed theoretical framework to explain the actions of herbs.

TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) gives herbs certain qualities such as its temperature, taste, and the channel and/or organ that the herb enters.

Herbs have a sort of thermal quality about them. For instance mint is cool and peppers are hot.

Herbs also have tastes such as spicy (also called pungent or acrid) sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and bland. Each of these tastes have medicinal functions associated with them. For instance, sweet and sour together are one way to stimulate the production of body fluids. If you think about how sweet and sour tastes in your mouth you might get an intuitive sense of how the body responds to these tastes used together. As they make your mouth water, so do they hydrate your body.

Finally, herbs have target organs and channels (these are the acupuncture meridians associated with the organs). An herb that is described as entering the Liver or the Kidneys has an effect on those organs as well as the channels associated with those organs. Effecting the channel often means that the part of the body that will benefit from the medicinal properties of the herb will lie on the trajectory of that channel. For instance, an herb for Stomach Fire might address heartburn in the Stomach, but also bleeding gums which is an area through which the Stomach channel passes.

One final thing: when I describe an organ with a capital letter such as “Liver” or “Kidney”. This is the TCM concept of this organ which differs somewhat from the biomedical assumptions. For instance, the heart pumps the blood, but the Heart stores the spirit and thus is implicated in some anxiety states and insomnia.

So when I describe an organ with a capitalized letter, don’t go running to your doctor complaining of a Liver problem because it may not have anything to do with your liver. : )

How Does Kudzu Work on Alcohol?

Kudzu's only natural enemy.

Kudzu's only natural enemy.

First let’s describe the energetic properties of alcohol, then we’ll see how Kudzu addresses these qualities.

Just as herbs are given tastes and temperature, so are other things that might end up going into our mouths. Alcohol is considered in TCM as being warm or hot in temperature. It makes you feel warm, it burns the stomach, it turns your face red and of course it is difficult to freeze. These are all indications that alcohol’s thermal nature is hot. Its effect on the human body is the creation of damp and heat inside the body. The heat part is relatively easy to understand as I just mentioned. However the dampness is something that we’ll see more in the hangover than the heat of intoxication.

Alcohol makes you all warm and humid inside.

Don’t get all confused by the fact that biomedicine explains that the reason for the red face is capillary dilation. This is not a situation where it has to be one cause or the other. TCM is just a different way of looking at things, which provides us with different solutions.

Kudzu root has the following properties: It is spicy, sweet, cool, and enters the Spleen and Stomach.

The spicy flavor in TCM is said to have a dispersing quality. If something is spicy enough it’ll make you sweat. Both peppers and mint (really strong medicinal mint, not necessarily mint flavored candy) are considered spicy as they both give rise to a light sweat. Spicy doesn’t always cause a sweat, but it does have an outward directionality that can disperse and push out toxins left behind by alcohol. Using Kudzu root will provide a very gentle dispersing quality.

Kudzu cools and nourishes while eliminating the residual effects of alcohol.

Kudzu’s cool properties address the heat component of the alcohol. In short, it will cool you off. Even after the intoxication period, there is latent heat brewing deep down inside. This is especially evident among alcoholics whose daily exposure to alcohol causes this heat to become more and more profound resulting in a ruddy almost red complexion as a permanent state.

Kudzu also enters the Spleen and Stomach and it is this ability to enter into the these organs that gives Kudzu the ability to address a hangover. The Stomach (and stomach) is obviously very upset during the hangover, but the dizziness associated with the hangover is also at least partly a function of the TCM Spleen. One of the Spleen’s many duties is the lifting of “clear yang”. Clear yang is the energy that fills our heads with brightness and intelligence. When clear yang is not rising into the head, symptoms such as dizziness, fogginess, lack of mental clarity, and fatigue arise. Alcohol clearly has an effect on the body to generate these sensations.

In particular, it is the damp quality of the alcohol that causes these problems. To a certain extent, the dampness also causes the nausea, though this is a slightly different issue. When clear yang can’t rise, turbid yin can’t descend. When turbidity can’t go downward, it wants to come upward, hence the nausea and vomiting of the hangover or acute state of alcohol intoxication.

Alcohol intoxication is false clear yang rising.

Kudzu has a taste for Japanese imports. Reminds it of home.

Kudzu has a taste for Japanese imports. Reminds it of home. NOTE: only the Chinese variety of Kudzu is used in Eagle Herbs formulas.

One thing that alcohol does provide is a sort of false clear yang rising. This results in the buoyancy and temporary joy of drunkenness. It temporarily stimulates the upward rising function for the clear yang of the Spleen, while also stimulating the upward movement of the Liver, another organ that according to TCM is involved with circulation of energies in the body.

The heat associated with the damp-heat of alcohol also damages the body fluids not unlike you might get dehydrated when running a fever. Kudzu’s function of generating fluids actually assists with this problem of dehydration. Biomedically speaking, alcohol has the effect of inhibiting the anti-diuretic hormone secreted in your brain. This leads to an increase in your urinary output or as is commonly said “you don’t buy beer, you rent it.” If you urinate too much, your blood chemistry can be effected leading to the symptoms such as thirst, weakness, dryness of mucous membranes, dizziness, and lightheadedness.

Kudzu helps the clear yang rise, and the turbid yin descend.

The sweet flavor of Kudzu, although it may not be evident to the taste buds, is most certainly evident in how the body responds to this herb. Sweet nourishes or strengthens and it has a natural affinity for the digestive organs that TCM calls the Spleen and Stomach. So adding a gentle sweet flavor (as opposed to the unnatural sweetness of something like Mountain Dew) can add some strength to the digestive organs thus regulating their functions that were compromised by excessive alcohol intake. Biomedicine says that alcohol damages the linings of the stomach and intestines. This will give rise to abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. TCM says that the damp-heat of alcohol damages the Stomach and Liver which result in much the same problems as described by the biomedical explanation. Dampness is something that commonly collects in the Stomach giving rise to nausea and vomiting.

All in all, Kudzu is a benign herb with no observed toxicity, its actually a food commonly served in some Asian cuisines. Still, as is the case with many Chinese herbs (and non-Chinese herbs, and vitamins, and certain foods…), there is the potential for herb/drug interactions. In the case of Kudzu, care should be taken if you’re taking insulin, sulfonylureas or other anti-sugar diabetic medications. Kudzu is actually used to treat one aspect of diabetes in TCM. So, it can lower the blood sugar. It is a weak action, but something that should be taken into consideration if you’re already taking drugs to perform that task. This isn’t so much an herb/drug interaction, but rather the herb and the drug’s functions overlapping which could cause an excessive reduction in blood sugar leading to hypoglycemia.

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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