Cluster headache may respond to kudzu products

NEW YORK Mon Feb 2, 2009 5:45pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A survey of patients who take over-the-counter products containing kudzu extract or kudzu root, suggests that components of the vine may be of use in managing cluster headache.

"Cluster headache patients, through trial and error, may have discovered a new cure for their horrible disorder," Dr. R. Andrew Sewell told Reuters Health.

In the medical journal Headache, Sewell points out that kudzu root was described in a Chinese medical texts some 1800 years ago and its rhizome continues to be used as an ingredient in a variety of traditional medicines. Among its effects is an increase in cerebral blood flow in the brain.

Sewell of Yale University School of Medicine, West Haven, Connecticut and colleagues surveyed 235 cluster headache patients by email regarding their use of complementary and alternative remedies. Kudzu was mentioned in such a way as to limit its appearance as a subject of particular interest.

In all, 159 patients responded and 22 (14 percent) endorsed self-treatment with kudzu. Sixteen of this group -- 11 with episodic cluster headache and 5 with chronic cluster headache -- agreed to further evaluation.

With kudzu treatment, 73 percent of the episodic group reported a decrease in attack frequency and 36 percent had a decrease in attack length. Among those with chronic cluster headaches, 60 percent reported a decrease in frequency and 40 percent reported a decline in headache length.

"Should these results be confirmed with a randomized clinical trial of standardized extracts," Sewell concludes, "kudzu may prove to have a role in the management of cluster headache."

Kudzu, also known as Pueraria montana, is native to Asia and was introduced in the U.S. in the late 1800s to control erosion. Since then, it has spread throughout the southeast and in other areas, crowding out many native plants.

The plant's roots and extracts are currently sold commercially as an alternative medicine. It is promoted as supplement or treatment for a variety of ailments including alcoholism, headaches, diarrhea, intestinal obstruction, and stomach flu, hypertension and angina pectoris.

SOURCE: Headache January 2009.

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