Guggul (Goo-gall) is a resin from a tree native to India. This resin has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine, which combined it with other plant products to cleanse and rejuvenate the body, especially the blood vessels and the joints. It was also used for sore throats and digestive complaints.
In Chinese medicine, guggul is known as mo yao and is used to activate blood flow, relieve pain, and speed recovery.
A resin from a related tree, C. myrrha, is the myrrh mentioned in the Bible as one of the gifts the wise men from the East brought to the infant Jesus.
Guggul (also spelled gugul, gugulu, or guggal) is now coming to attention in the United States because of its reputation for lowering cholesterol.
Ayurvedic practitioners probably didn’t even know what cholesterol was, much less care about lowering it. But it appears that the resin they used to cleanse blood vessels may indeed have benefit for Westerners with elevated blood lipids.
The greenish resin is harvested in the winter.
Active Ingredients of Guggul
Guggul contains essential oils, myrcene, Z and E guggulsterones, alpha-camphorene, various other guggulsterones, and makulol. The Z and E guggulsterones, extracted with ethyl acetate, are the constituents that appear to be responsible for lowering blood lipids.
Uses of Guggul
Animal studies suggest that guggulsterones can increase the liver’s ability to bind “bad” LDL cholesterol, thus taking it out of circulation. Animals given guggul extract and a high-fat, plaque-producing diet had lower blood fats and developed less atherosclerosis than animals given the diet alone.
In some of this research, a combination of guggul and garlic worked better than guggul by itself.
In humans, three months of guggul treatment resulted in lower levels of total cholesterol (average 24 percent) and serum triglycerides (average 23 percent reduction) in the majority of patients.
A double-blind trial comparing guggul to the cholesterol-lowering drug clofibrate found that the two treatments were very similar in their ability to lower total cholesterol (11 percent by gugulipid, 10 percent by clofibrate) and triglycerides (17 percent by gugulipid, 22 percent by clofibrate).
HDL (“good”) cholesterol was also altered by gugulipid, increasing in 60 percent of patients, while clofibrate did not have any effect on HDL. Raising HDL and lowering total cholesterol improves the ratio of these blood fats.
Two other placebo-controlled trials in India confirm that guggul can lower total cholesterol and raise HDL.
Guggulsterones are reported to stimulate the thyroid, which might tend to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol for people with underactive thyroid glands.
Guggul also protects the heart: In animals challenged with drugs that damage heart tissue, cardiac enzymes did not change significantly when the experimental animals were pretreated with it.
Guggul has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity in rats.
Some reports suggest that it helps keep platelets from clumping together to start a blood clot, that it can help break up blood clots (fibrinolytic activity), and that it is an antioxidant.
The normal dose is one 500-mg tablet, standardized to 25 mg guggulsterones, three times daily.
Measurable changes should be apparent within four weeks for people who will benefit.
Special Precautions of taking Guggul
The biggest difficulty in using guggul is said to be finding a reliable standardized product. Quality is quite variable.
Because it is reported to stimulate the thyroid, it makes sense to monitor thyroid hormones in people using guggul for long-term treatment.
People with liver problems should use guggul only under the supervision of a physician willing to monitor liver enzymes.
Guggul may not be appropriate for people with chronic diarrhea.
Some people in the clinical trials reported mild digestive upset.
There are no other reports of side effects, although increased thyroid gland activity could presumably lead to complications such as nervousness, weakness, palpitations, or eye problems.
No drug interactions have been reported. In theory, guggul might counteract thyroid-suppressing drugs or increase the effect of thyroid hormones such as Synthroid or Levoxyl. Monitoring of thyroid function is prudent.
No interactions with cholesterol-lowering drugs have been observed, but they might be possible. People who use guggul together with cholesterol medications should be monitored carefully by their physician.