The Uses and Benefits of the Guggul Herb on Cholesterol

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Previously published on Answers.com.

Guggul herb has been used in Ayurvedic medicine – the traditional medicine of India – for thousands of years. Guggul is known for its cholesterol-lowering properties, and is also used to treat arthritis, acne, skin disease, and obesity. While it’s believed that guggul herb reduces cholesterol among users in India, it has not been shown to be an effective cholesterol-lowering medication for those following a Western diet.

What Is Guggul Herb?

Guggul herb (Commiphora mukul) is made from the sap of the Mukul myrrh tree, which is native to India and also grows in northern Africa and central Asia. This flowering tree, also known as the Commiphora mukul tree, secretes a yellowish resin or sap.  Once the tree is tapped, the plant sterol gugulipid is extracted from its sap. The gugulipid contains an active ingredient, guggulsterone, which is used as an Ayurvedic medicine. Guggul herb is sold in capsule form.

How Does Guggul Herb Work?

The active ingredients in guggul herb lower cholesterol and triglycerides.  There is some evidence as well that guggul herb has anti-inflammatory properties.

Is Guggul Herb Effective at Lowering Cholesterol?

It has been believed for centuries that guggul herb treats or lowers heart disease risk. As reported by WebMD, Ayurvedic texts dating back to 600 BC recommend guggul herb for treatment of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Even today, guggul herb is widely used in India to treat high cholesterol. And among this group, guggul is believed to be effective at lowering total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.  While early, small-scale U.S. research studies were promising, larger studies have shown guggul herb to be ineffective at lowering cholesterol and triglycerides for those following a western diet.

Is Guggul Herb Effective at Lowering Cholesterol in North America?

The first US study of guggul herb was performed at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003 and published in the Journal of the American Medial Association (JAMA). This study, a randomized, controlled trial of more than 100 people with high cholesterol, proved guggul herb ineffective at reducing either cholesterol or triglycerides. In fact, not only did guggul herb not lower cholesterol or triglycerides in this JAMA study, it actually increased LDL (bad) cholesterol among the participants.

As reported by CNN’s, Cholesterol-lowering supplements: What works, what doesn’t “The 2003 JAMA study was a black eye for guggul. More research is needed, but for now there is not enough evidence to justify using guggul to lower cholesterol.”

Are There Side Effects With Guggul Herb?

According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, “Crude extracts of guggul are more likely to produce side effects than purer products. In the past, effects included loss of appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rashes. In studies using purer extracts, significant adverse effects have not occurred. Headache and mild nausea are sometimes reported.”  Similarly, WebMD reports that guggul herb, “…can cause side effects such as stomach upset, headaches, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, diarrhea, belching, and hiccups. Guggul can also cause allergic reactions such as rash and itching. Guggul can also cause skin rash and itching that is not related to allergy. These adverse reactions are more common with higher doses, such as 6000 mg per day.”

Conclusion

Guggul herb is not an effective natural treatment for high cholesterol or atherosclerosis in North America. It has been proven ineffective at lowering cholesterol in a US study. Given that it does seem to be effective in India and has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to lower cholesterol, further research in the US is warranted. But until further evidence is found, North Americans with high cholesterol should not rely on guggul herb as a treatment.

Did You Know?

Natural medicines may be contaminated with lead or other toxins. Care should be taken with any medication, but with natural medicines which are not regulated by the FDA, be sure you trust the brand. For example, in CNN’s “Cholesterol-lowering supplements: What works, what doesn’t” article, the reporter states, “Plus, some research has found that 20 percent of Ayurvedic medicines may be contaminated with lead or other toxins.”

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