Health Benefits of Guggul

Ayurvedic remedy may aid in weight loss and cholesterol

powdered guggul in a small bowl
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Guggul is a fragrant resin produced by secreted by the Mukul myrrh tree (Commiphora mukul) found in India, Central Asia, and North Africa. Guggul has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, to treat a variety of medical conditions from arthritis and acne to hemorrhoids and urinary tract infections. Guggul is also touted as a weight loss stimulant.

Guggul resin is tapped from the tree in much the same way as maple syrup. Harvesting may begin as early as November and continue until late July. The collected resin is then hand-picked to remove foreign matter and allowed to dry.

Once it has been graded for purity, guggul can be used for incense or to make medicinal extracts, powders, and topical salves. Because of its bitter taste, guggul is seldom used to make tea.

Guggul is also known as guggulipid or its Sanskrit name guggulu (meaning "to protect against diseases"). In Ayurvedic medicine, guggul is used to balance the doshas and clear the obstruction of channels.

Health Benefits

Alternative practitioners have ascribed guggul with medicinal properties that are believed effective in treating certain conditions, such as:

  • Acne
  • High cholesterol
  • Gingivitis
  • Joint pain
  • Intestinal worms
  • Liver disease
  • Obesity
  • Sinus infection
  • Skin ulcers
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vitiligo

For the most part, there is little clinical evidence to support these claims. With that being said, guggul does have properties that warrant further investigation. Most of the current research is focused on a substance in guggul known as steroid guggulsterone, which is known to suppress an enzyme central to the metabolism of cholesterol.

High Cholesterol

Although guggul is widely used in India to fight high cholesterol, the current evidence is largely mixed as to whether it actually works or not.

A 2009 study involving 43 adults with moderately high cholesterol found that those who took 2,160 milligrams of guggul in capsule form every day had a greater drop in total cholesterol than those who took a placebo.

On the downside, people who used guggul showed no reduction in their levels of "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or triglycerides or increases in their "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. These are the lipids (fats) that directly influence the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Others studies have shown that guggul may increase LDL, including a small human trial in which a daily 2.5% guggulsterone supplement increased LDL levels by around 10 percent after eight weeks.

Similarly, a 2017 study from Chile found that guggul not only triggered lipid abnormalities in mice but also affected liver function, enhanced atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and accelerated death due to ischemic heart disease.

Weight Loss

The evidence remains mixed as to whether guggul can "boost metabolism" or "burn fat" as advertised. Although a number of human studies have suggested a benefit, most have been poorly designed or limited by their small size.

Lab studies have been equally conflicted. On the one hand, 2008 study from the University of Georgia concluded that guggulsterone was able to trigger lipolysis (the breakdown of fat cells) and apoptosis (spontaneous cell death) in certain types of fat cells. On the other, guggulsterone has no effect on adiponectin, the hormone that regulates fat metabolism, according to 2017 research from India.

These contradictory results indicate that much more research is needed before guggul can be officially declared a weight loss aid.

Cancer

As far-fetched as it may seem, preliminary research suggests that a guggul extract may help fight certain types of cancer. Most of the evidence is based on test tubes studies in which guggulsterone appears to suppress enzymes (known as protein kinase) that promote tumor growth while stimulating other proteins that trigger apoptosis in tumor cells.

Among some of the tumor cell line partially or fully neutralized in the lab are breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, leukemia, liver cancer, and prostate cancer.

According to a 2017 review of studies in Nutrition and Metabolism, guggul extracts were able to reduce the tumor size in mice with medically induced esophageal, pancreatic, or prostate cancer.

Despite the promising results, there is nothing to suggest that the same might occur in humans. At the relative doses prescribed, guggul would likely be toxic, undermining the benefits of treatment. Still, the studies hint at a possible, new avenue of cancer drug research.

Possible Side Effects

Guggul is believed to be relatively safe if used in moderation. Common side effects include headache, nausea, diarrhea, bloating, hiccups, and vomiting. Little is known about the long-term safety of guggul, although medical literature suggests few if any symptoms after 24 weeks of use.

Skin rash and pruritus (itching) unrelated to allergy have been known to occur in people who have taken doses in excess of 6,000 milligrams.

Guggulsterone is a phytosteroid, meaning a plant with hormonal characteristics. Because of this, guggul should be avoided in people with hormone-sensitive conditions like breast cancer, endometriosis, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and uterine cancer.

Guggul has also been found to stimulate the thyroid gland. To this end, anyone with a thyroid condition should consult a doctor before using a guggul extract or supplement.

Due to the lack of safety research, guggul should not be used in children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.

Drug Interactions

Guggul may inhibit blood clotting and should be avoided in people with bleeding disorders or who are on anticoagulants ("blood thinners") like warfarin. Among some of the other drugs that can interact with guggul are:

  • Antifungals like Nizoral (ketoconazole) and Sporanox (itraconazole)
  • Antihistamines like Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Cardizem (diltiazem)
  • Estrogen-based contraceptives
  • Sedatives like Halcion (triazolam) and Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Statin drugs like Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Mevacor (lovastatin)

Always advise your doctor about any supplements you are taking to avoid interactions and treatment complications.

Dosage and Preparation

There are no prescribed guidelines to direct the appropriate use of guggul. When taken as an oral supplement, guggul is formulated in doses ranging from 400 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams. Guggul is generally considered safe when taken within this range. As a rule of thumb, never exceed the recommended dose on the product label.

Do not confuse guggul supplements for guggulsterone supplements, the latter of which is taken in far smaller doses (50 milligrams or less per day).

Guggul supplements, extracts, powders, and salve ointments can be found online and in some health food and supplements stores.

What to Look For

Dietary supplements are largely unregulated in the United States and do not need to undergo the rigorous testing that pharmaceutical drugs do. Because of this, the quality can vary between one brand and the next.

To ensure quality and safety, stick with well-known brands with an established market presence. While vitamin manufacturers will often voluntarily submit their products for testing and certification by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or ConsumerLab, homeopathic supplements manufacturers rarely do. You need to use your best judgment and try not to be swayed by health claims that may or may not be true.

It is generally unadvised to buy raw guggul resin imported from overseas. In the end, you have no way of knowing whether the product been safely processed or exposed to contaminants, pesticides, pathogens, or other toxins. If you want to create an extract of your own, you can do so with guggul powder rather than raw resin.

For an added layer of safety, choose brands that have been certified organic under the regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Other Questions

How is guggul used in Ayurvedic medicine?

Guggul plays an important role in the Ayurvedic tradition as it considered a yogavahi, meaning that it can carry other substances deep into the tissues. To this end, guggul is usually prescribed with other Ayurvedic remedies to help balance the three doshas that constitute your physical, mental, and emotional characteristics.

The Ayurvedic practitioner will prescribe a guggul-based remedy based on a review of your medical history and a physical exam (including an assessment of your six pulse points). When used for medicine, guggul may be taken internally, applied to the skin as a salve or paste, or gargled to promote oral health.

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