Guggul (Commiphora wightii / Commiphora mukul) is an exotic plant that is widely distributed in the central parts of Asia and North Africa (India, Arab countries, Pakistan), and is one of the most commonly used herbs in Ayurveda. It is a small flowering plant from the Burseraceae family. It has a very dark softwood color, which produces a specific resin called oleoresin or guggulipid.
Guggul has been a well-known herb used for treatment in the Ayurvedic medicine for at least three thousand years, and is considered to help the body feed itself using the accumulated fat. Its juice is extracted by making a small hole in the bark of the tree, from which its aromatic resin flows slowly. When the drop dries out, it is already ready to be collected. Holes can be made in the trees in the months between November and January, and the collection of resin takes place from May to June. It is believed that after proper treatment, its healing properties can be preserved for over 20 years.
The taste of guggul is sharp, bitter, firming and sweet at the same time, and its aftertaste is rather bitter. According to the ayurvedic tastes, its energy (virya) is warming. Its qualities are penetration, lightness and dryness.
The resin obtained from guggul is rarely consumed in the form of teas and potions, because its taste is bitter and unpleasant. Once its degree of purity has been assessed, we can proceed to the use off guggul. It can be used for lighting up the icon-lamp, as well as for the preparation of various medical products, powders, etc.
Nowadays, science has found that guggulipid contains unique active substances called guggulsterones, as well as a number of essential oils such as eugenol, cineol and limonene.
Action and medical applications
Guggul is highly valued in Ayurveda because of its healing properties, and it has become a rare herb due to the high demand, so it is included in the Red list of threatened species. Its name comes from Sanskrit and means a „plant which protects from diseases“.
According to Ayurveda, the guggulipids allow the body to manage the accumulated surplus of Vata and Kapha dosha, and generally, they balance all of our doshas, although it may be a problem in case of overly dominant Pitta dosha, so we should be careful with regard to dosage.
The plant activates very much that body regime, in which it repels all accumulated toxins that are called „Ama“ in Ayurveda. It is believed to be particularly effective in the treatment of arthritis, ulcers, tumors and problems with the liver, kidneys and urinary tract.
In recent years, many scientists have begun to research whether the properties of the hydroalcoholic extracts of Commiphora mukul, a variety of guggul, are powerful enough to treat diabetes. Laboratory tests with mice have been performed and they showed relief of symptoms, as well as general improvement of health and even to some extent recovery of cognitive disturbances resulting from diabetes. In fact, modern scientists are just proving empirically all those things that the Ayurvedic science knows and applies for thousands of years– such as the fact that guggul can be successfully used for the treatment of dementia and other similar conditions.
The essential oils that can be found in the resin of the plant contain powerful antioxidants and thanks to them it can also be used for rejuvenation. The guggul also stimulates the production of collagen, while at the same time it suppresses the occurrence of enzymes that destroy the structure of the skin. The substances in it also contribute to the reduction of redness and swelling in some types of acne.
Clinical trials have shown that the plant is doing better job than the widely used product tetracycline for internal application, which has been proven to be severely harmful to the liver. For acne treatment, guggulipid is taken orally twice a day, and it should contain between 25 and 50 mg of guggulsterones, depending on the severity of the acne.
Guggul is also present in some miraculous elixirs for weight loss. For this purpose, it is used in combination with, for example, hydroxycitrate, phosphate salts and 4-hydroxyphenylalanine (tyrosine) as well as with a suitable physical activity.
Guggulsterones also help to lower the level of harmful cholesterol in our blood, because they have purifying effect on the liver and they also naturally suppress the constant desire to eat. In fact, guggul does not just suppress the so-called bad cholesterol and its accumulation, but it also contributes to the formation of HDL – these are high-density proteins, better known as good cholesterol. Moreover, its resin balances the dopamine levels in the blood, as shown by medical experiments. The resin helps us completely forget the hunger and any harmful foods. Due to its cleansing properties, guggulipid is present in a number of detox programs.
Experiments with mice show that guggul can lower the cholesterol, but its action may be blocked by the farnesoid X receptor (FXR). It is a hormonal receptor that is activated by bile acids. For therapeutic purposes, in the case of bad cholesterol, guggul resin with guggulsterone content between 50 and 75 mg should be consumed.
As a result of the increase of cholesterol, for example, we can develop excessive levels of triglycerides in the body – these are molecules in the blood that accumulate in our fat cells if there is too high cholesterol level. They increase the risk of atherosclerosis, which in turn can lead to various cardiovascular diseases and even to stroke and heart attack.
According to scientists from the Medical University of Michigan, the guggul resin helps in case of high triglycerides. Clinical studies on the subject show that the extract is particularly very effective. In one of the cases, the serum triglyceride levels have decreased by more than 30 percent.
Except for people who are prone to obesity, the guggul is also useful for those who suffer from cardiovascular diseases. Its healing properties help, for example, to reduce the stickiness of our thrombocytes (cytoplasmic fragments in the blood). This effect reduces the risk of coronary artery disease. Guggulipids heal the angina pectoris disease (also known as breast pang) as well as diabetic neuropathy.
Guggul resin helps resolve digestive problems, low libido and impotence, and many other conditions such as the infertility, skin diseases, decreased immunity, cancer, hypothyroidism * and fatigue can be healed with guggulipid. It is usually used in combination with various other plants in order to unfold the full spectrum of its potential.
Cures with guggul can also be taken by those suffering from various disorders of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue, for example, rheumatic or arthritic pain, headache, back pain and stiffness in the joints. It is also very useful in the process of recovery after bone fractures. The beneficial effect of the resin in patients suffering from osteoarthritis in the knee joints is proven. The clinical studies have shown that best effect in people with these symptoms have the treatment with 500 mg of concentrated guggul extract three times a day.
3000 mg of guggulipid is recommended for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and for improvement of the condition it has to be taken every day for at least four months. Since it has very good anti-inflammatory effect, goggul can also be used as a prophylactic measure when there are repeated bends or repetitive joint movements, as well as exercises for hyper stretch and bending. Modern scientific and laboratory researches have shown that the anti-inflammatory properties of goggul are comparable to those of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.).
The plant can also be used as a means of maintaining oral hygiene. A tincture with a 90 percent content of alcohol, dissolved in water, is prepared with guggul, and we can make gargle with it.
Contraindications and possible side effects
One of the main reasons this plant is so highly appreciated in Ayurveda is that is has almost no contraindications. Only people with increased Pitta dosha should be careful with guggul intake, because it can increase it even more. People with intolerance to inhibitors of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme А (HMG CoA) reductase, the so-called statins, first must undergo full medical examinations before proceeding to ayurvedic therapies with guggul.
It is also important to dose and take guggul correctly, because some side effects may occur such as loss of a small percentage of muscle mass and mild skin problems. Guggul should not be consumed during pregnancy. Breastfeeding women must first consult with a specialist in neonatology before taking guggul. It is absolutely essential to seek an advice from a pediatrician before choosing a therapy with guggul, and the treatment doses should be carefully considered by an Ayurveda specialist.
In addition, because of its tendency to suppress blood clotting, guggul is contraindicated for people with bleeding disorders who use anticoagulants such as Warfarin. Other pharmaceutical products with which the plant may interact include:
- Inhibitors of HMG KoA
- Antifungal medicines such as Ketoconazole (Nizoral) and Itraconazolum (Sporanox)
- Antihistamines containing fexofenadine (Alegra)
- Diltiazem (Cardizem)
- Oral contraceptives based no estrogen
- Sedatives such as alprazolam (Xanax) and triazolam (Halcion)
Since the guggul may behave as an estrogen once it enters the body, all people suffering from hormonal imbalance states must undergo complete medical examination before proceeding with the plant resin therapy. The same applies to people with hypothyroidism, although many studies have shown improvement in health condition due to the treatment.