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Nutrient Spotlight—Guggul

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Also known as gugulipid, guggul is an extract derived from the sap of the Commiphora mukul tree, which is native to India. The sap has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries; in fact, a medical text dating back to 600 BC references the tree for use in treating atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Given this, it is no surprise that guggul is best known for its cardiovascular benefits, particularly in reducing cholesterol levels. Additionally, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, it has also been shown to ease arthritis and some skin disorders, including acne.

Conditions Supported by Guggul

  • Cholesterol
  • Joint health
  • Skin health

What Does the Research Say?

Cholesterol

Guggul is also known as gugulipid—and for good reason. It contains the active constituents guggulsterones, which can inhibit cholesterol synthesis in the liver and modulate bile acid metabolism.

The result is that guggul lowers total and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels via its effect on liver synthesis of cholesterol—in some cases in as few as six months.1-2

This was seen in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled researchers divided 34 people with moderately high cholesterol into two groups.3 The first group received 2,160 mg of guggul per day for 12 weeks, while the other group received a placebo.

At the end of the study period, researchers found that those taking the guggul enjoyed significantly reduced levels of total cholesterol. However, they also had reduced levels of HDL (or beneficial) cholesterol. Additionally, there were a few side effects in those using the guggul, including mild GI upset and skin rash.

A study conducted in 1989 with a larger group of participants (205) saw much more clear results.4 In this multicenter clinical trial, researchers from seven different clinics in India gave participants 500 mg of gugulipid twice a day for 12 weeks.

At the end of the trial period, researchers noted an average drop in blood cholesterol levels of 24 percent and an average decrease of 23 percent in triglycerides in 70-80 percent of the participants.

The same study also reported results from a double-blind, crossover study with 233 patients. One hundred twenty-five people were given gugulipid, while the other 108 were given the cholesterol drug clofibrate. Those taking the gugulipid saw a decrease in total cholesterol and triglycerides by 11 and 17 percent respectively, while those taking the clofibrate had 10 and 22 percent drops respectively. Additionally, 60 percent of those people taking the gugulipid also saw an increase in HDL cholesterol.

A study from a 2003 issue of the Annual Review of Nutrition looked at the “why” behind guggul’s effect on cholesterol.5 Researchers point to the numerous animal and human studies that have shown guggul works to lower cholesterol levels. They note that the active agents in the resin have been identified as stereoisomers E- and Z-guggulsterone.

In fact, these compounds are known to work with a bile acid receptor that is critical in the regulation of cholesterol. They concluded, “It is likely that this effect accounts for the hypolipidemic activity of these phytosteroids.”

Joint Health

Research suggests that guggul is effective for both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), likely due to its ability to reduce inflammation.6-8

In one animal study, researchers looked at the effects of both guggul and boswellia on arthritis-induced rats.9 They found that animals taking the guggul and/or boswellia excreted more connective tissue metabolites (specifically hydroxyproline, hexoamine and uronic acid) than the controls. This meant that these compounds were significantly reduced in the animals themselves.

Researchers concluded, “The results of the investigation indicated that both these anti-inflammatory drugs could offer a partial protective action against changes induced by adjuvant induced arthritis.”

In a human trial published in 2003, researchers tested the effects of guggul on 30 older patients with arthritis of the knee.10 Participants took 500 mg of guggul extract twice a day (with food) for two months. They were monitored for pain, stiffness, improved function and tolerability at the start of the study, as well as at the one month and two months mark.

Researchers found that after two months, participants’ function, mood and pain levels were all significantly improved. They concluded, “Overall data indicate significant improvement for participants during the trial in both scales and objective measures used for assessment purposes. There were no side effects reported during the trial. CM appears to be a relatively safe and effective supplement to reduce symptoms of OA.”

Skin Health

Another benefit of guggul’s anti-inflammatory properties is its effectiveness in skin disorders, including redness and acne.

In fact, a study published in 1994 found that guggul worked as well as the antibiotic tetracycline when it came to treating a severe form of inflammatory acne known as nodulocystic or cystic acne.11

Researchers divided 20 people with cystic acne into two groups. The first group took 500 mg of tetracycline twice a day for three months, while the other group took gugulipid (equivalent to 25 mg guggulsterone) twice a day for the same duration.

Researchers found that those taking the gugulipid had a 68 percent reduction in inflammatory lesions, as compared to a 65.2 percent reduction in the prescription group. Additionally, three months later, there were just two cases of relapse in the gugulipid group and four relapses in the tetracycline group. Plus, the participants with oily faces fared remarkably better on the gugulipid than the medication.

How to Use Guggul

The recommended daily intake for guggul/gugulipid is 500 mg (standardized to 25 mg guggulsterone) two to three times a day, with meals.

Note: Estrogen interacts with guggul and could increase the side effects of estrogen. Additional side effects include possible GI distress, thyroid dysfunction and/or skin rash.

References:

  1. Hasani-Ranjbar S, et al. Curr Pharm Des. 2010;16(26):2935-47.
  2. Singh RB, et al. Cardiovasc Drugs Ther. 1994 Aug;8(4):659-64.
  3. Norh LA, et al. Complement Ther Med. 2009 Jan;17(1):16-22.
  4. Nityanand S, et al. J Assoc Physicians India. 1989 May;37(5):323-8.
  5. Urizar NL and Moore DD. Annu.Rev.Nutr. 2003;23:303-13.
  6. Arora RB, et al. Indian J Exp Biol 1971;9(3):403-4.
  7. Arora RB, et al. Indian J Med Res 1972;60(6):929-31.
  8. Deng R. Cardiovasc Drug Rev. 2007 Winter;25(4):375-90.
  9. Reddy GK, et al. Agents Actions 1987;22(1-2):99-105.
  10. Singh BB, et al. Altern.Ther.Health Med. 2003;9(3):74-9.
  11. Thappa DM and Dogra J. J Dermatol 1994;21:729-31.

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