A cure for binge drink may be found in a humble root. According to a new study, herbal medicine may hold the key to prevent excessive alcohol consumption.

Components found in the root of the Chinese herb kudzu could possibly reduce excess alcohol drinking without any serious side effects. This may be a promising start but in order to truly know if kudzu holds a cure for binge drinking, science needs to understand how chemicals found in the kudzu root affect alcohol consumption behavior.

The new kudzu study was set up by David Penetar, PhD, from the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at McLean Hospital. Researchers focused on one particular component of the root, isoflavone puerarin, to see if it helped reduce alcohol consumption. Kudzu is native to parts of China and Japan but is considered to be a weed because it grows so quickly limiting sun exposure to trees and shrubbery that it grows over.

Isoflavone puerarin was singled out because puerarin has been shown to be safe and effective in treating various heart diseases including coronary heart disease, heart attack and angina, which is chest pain when your heart does not get enough blood.

The isoflavone puerarin extract was given to 10 men and women who had reported regular weekly alcohol consumption. The researchers set up an apartment inside the laboratory and filled a refrigerator with the participant’s preferred alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Researchers let the participants drink up to six beverages in a 90-minute timespan.

After the initial 90-minute apartment session, participants were randomly given the puerarin extract or a placebo for a week and a follow-up 90-minute session was conducted. A third session was conducted without the participants using either the puerarin or placebo. Whatever supplement the participant did not get initially was given to them for a week prior to the final session.

Puerarin was effective in reducing alcohol consumption in the participants, note researchers, reducing intake by one beer. The participant’s alcohol consumption went from 3.5 beers to around 2.4 beers after taking puerarin.

Puerarin not only helped reduce alcohol consumption but altered how the participants consumed alcohol. Researchers noticed that the participants took more sips and took longer to finish their beer. While researchers do not believe this will stop drinking it can help alter risky behavior like binge drinking which could help treat alcohol abuse.

The study was published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.