by Dr. Michael Tierra, O.M.D.
Guggul or guggulu (commiphora mukul, also commiphora wightii), more popularly known as Bdellium, is derived from the gummy resinous exudate of a plant closely related to myrrh that is found in arid to semi-arid areas of Northern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
When used for medicinal purposes, the resin, harvested from the stems in the winter, is traditionally processed to purify and render it bioassimilable by placing the gum into a bag of thick, coarse cloth and then boiling it in an aqueous medium such as pure water or a decoction of Triphala until it is soft. This is then spread out and on a wooden board where it is smeared with ghee (clarified butter) and allowed to air dry. The dried gum is again fried in ghee and finely powdered for medicinal use.
Medicinal and Energetic Properties of Guggul
Similar to another important Ayurvedic preparation called triphala, guggul is considered tridoshic, or balancing to all three doshas in the body. The three doshas or bodily humours of the body represent the foundation of traditional Ayurveda. These are: kapha or the anabolic humour, watery humour; pitta or the catabolic, fiery humour; and vata, the air or nervous system humour. When all three humours are in balance, the result is health and wellness. When one or more are excess or deficient this represents imbalance or disease. Guggul stimulates pitta and thus enhances warmth, digestion, circulatory and reproductive processes. It also regulates vata (nerve force) and kapha (fluidic aspects).
The Sanskrit definition of the term “guggul” is “one that protects against diseases.” This attests to the wide respect and therapeutic Ayurvedic applications for this botanical, considered the most important for the removal of “ama,” toxic substances which accumulate as a result of sluggish digestion and circulation associated with a slowing of metabolism.
As an “ama”-resolving herb, guggul has a wide range of applications beginning with rheumatic and arthritic pains and obesity. In addition it treats sluggish liver, malaria, stimulates libido, nervous diseases, bronchial congestion, cardiac and circulatory problems, weak digestion, fractures, gynecological problems, leucorrhea, sterility, impotence, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and various skin diseases including acne and psoriasis.
Guggul has been used for over 3,000 years and is described in all of the classical Ayurvedic texts including the Sushruta Samhita (3rd to 4th centuries) where it is especially recommended for the treatment of rheumatic pains and obesity, as mentioned above. It is one of the most important rasayanas (herbal tonics) of Ayurveda where it is described as warm, dry, pungent-flavored, and aromatic with nutritive, lubricant, stimulant and digestion-enhancing properties. The Sushruta recommends guggul for a condition called medoroga (obesity). Current research substantiates its benefit for the treatment of elevated blood lipids and coronary and arterial plaque known as atherosclerosis.1 As a result, today standardized guggul extracts are being approved for lowering elevated serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels in India.
The traditional properties of guggul are demulcent, aperient, carminative, antispasmodic and emmenagogue. On the mucus membranes, it serves as an astringent and antiseptic. Internally, its bitter principles stimulate appetite and relieve bloating and gas. Its oleo-resins are excreted through the skin, mucus membranes, and the urinary system, stimulating and disinfecting their secretions. It is also a uterine stimulant, making it useful for regulating menstruation but contraindicated during pregnancy. The warming, circulatory properties of guggul also serve as a potent aphrodisiac.
Guggul is warming and stimulates metabolism that is why it is one of the few botanicals that has been shown to treat hypothyroid conditions.
Guggul also serves as an antipyretic in reducing fever and reduces secretions from diseased surfaces of the body. As such it is excellent when used synergistically with other anti-inflammatory herbs such as tinospora (guduchi), echinacea and goldenseal (hydrastis).
Guggul can be given in large doses several times daily for laryngitis, bronchitis, pneumonia and whooping cough. The fumes of burning guggul can be inhaled for hay fever, acute and chronic nasal congestion, chronic laryngitis, chronic bronchitis and tuberculosis. A plaster of the powder applied to the pit of the stomach stops hiccough instantly.
Guggul, as with other resins, is excreted through the skin, mucus membranes and the kidneys. This makes it particularly useful for the urinary tract and for a wide number of skin diseases including acne2 and psoriasis.
Types of Guggul Preparations
Traditionally, guggul is used as a combination combined with several herbs to enhance its effects. Two of the most popular forms are yogaraj guggul and kaishore guggul. Yogaraj guggul is used to treat enlargement of the abdomen, peritonitis, rheumatism, neurasthenia, sciatica, and, most importantly, degenerative nervous system diseases (Vata derangements). It also has significant anti-inflammatory properties. 3 Kaishore guggul is used to treat weak digestion, constipation, arthritis, boils, diabetic ulcers, abdominal tumors, leprosy, leukemia, cancer, psoriasis, and most inflammatory conditions associated with an imbalance of pitta or fire humour.
Guggul and Myrrh
Like myrrh, a closely related species, one of its first and continued uses today is as a fumigant for sacred rites and fires. Myrrh is a much more scarce plant so that guggul is sometimes called ‘˜cheap myrrh.’ However, it is considered that myrrh adulterated with guggul is a superior medicinal product.
All the recommendations for the use of guggul would apply to the use of myrrh except that myrrh is more expensive, and guggul is safer because of how it is processed.
Therefore, like myrrh, guggul is used as a gargle for dental care, weak spongy gums, pyorrhea, chronic tonsillitis, pharyngitis and ulcerated throat. A teaspoon of the tincture (extracted with 90% alcohol), is added to 10 ounces of water to make a useful gargle and liniment for indolent sores. It is also used for chronic catarrh of the bowels and diarrhea.
Guggul: a safe and effective alternative to NSAIDs
As a pain relieving analgesic, guggul 4,5 is an excellent alternative to non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in its ability to relieve pain, skin and other inflammations as well as promoting healing of the underlying cause.
Pharmaceutical NSAIDs are sold without prescription to millions of people throughout the world daily for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. This includes a wide number of drugs ranging from aspirin to acetaminophen. Most educated consumers are already aware of the dangerous side-effects of NSAIDs, a few of which are outlined below.
A British study in the journal Pain reviewed 49 randomized, controlled trials with data on gastric or duodenal ulcer, ulcer hemorrhage or perforation, and death attributable to NSAID (aspirin) use. The authors estimated that one in 1,200 patients taking NSAIDs for at least two months died from gastroduodenal complications. They also estimated that 2,000 people in the United Kingdom die each year from gastroduodenal lesions who would not have died if they were not taking NSAIDs.
Acetaminophen, which is the basis of the NSAID drugs Tylenol, Vicodin® or Percocet® classified as Cox-2 inhibitors commonly used for chronic pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, acute short-term pain, and for the treatment of severe menstrual pain, is known to cause liver damage, liver failure and death. Each year, these drugs are responsible for 100,000 calls to poison control centers, 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and more than 450 deaths only from liver failure.
Other serious health problems associated with their use include bleeding stomach ulcers, intestinal bleeding, heart problems, and damage to the liver and kidneys. These complications can occur with or without warning symptoms and if severe can lead to hospitalization or death.
Stronger NSAID medications are Vioxx and Celebrex. These do require a prescription, are more expensive and are not available as generics. Sales of these NSAIDs in the United States have been estimated to exceed $4 billion each year.
Because of its safe, quick-acting and highly effective anti-inflammatory properties that also enhance circulation, guggul offers a safe and effective pain relieving alternative to NSAIDs. It is ideal for those whose work involves a lot of back bending followed by stiffness and pain. For the zealous gardener, the yoga practitioner or after a strenuous gym workout, guggul will effectively relieve the stiffness and pain usually within an hour or two that would usually can take anywhere from one to several days to resolve.
Who should take guggul?
Guggul may be taken by anyone suffering from pain, including arthritic and rheumatic pains, back pain, headaches, body stiffness, and fracture recovery. It can be used for anyone who suffers a painful stiff back after bending a lot or from stretching and bending exercises.
People with a tendency toward obesity, cardiovascular disease, digestive weakness, low libido, sterility, impotence, skin diseases, coldness, low immune system, cancer, low thyroid and low energy may also benefit from guggul.
It is a specific formula for the elderly that can be taken regularly to offset the negative effects of slower metabolic functions.
It absolutely should not be taken during pregnancy.
Guggul contains resin, volatile oils, and gum.
Guggulsterones which are mentioned in the marketing of guggul products are the extract isolates of ketonic steroid compounds. Based on research, these compounds are considered to be responsible for guggul’s cholesterol- and triglyceride-lowering actions. Guggul significantly lowers serum triglycerides and cholesterol as well as LDL and VLDL cholesterols (the “bad” cholesterols) by approximately 25%. At the same time, it raises levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol).
Guggul has also been shown to reduce the stickiness of platelets – another effect that lowers the risk of coronary artery disease. One double-blind trial found guggul extract similar to the drug Clofibrate which is used not only for lowering cholesterol and blood lipid levels generally, but for treating angina pectoris, blood sludging and diabetic neuropathy.
The anti-inflammatory properties of guggul, like all oleoresins, are due at least in part to their ability to increase leucocytes in the blood and to stimulate phagocytosis.6
The therapeutic dose of guggul ranges from 75 to 150 mg daily. Commercial daily recommendations for the purified guggul extract are typically based on the amount of guggulsterones in the extract. A common intake of guggulsterones is 25 mg three times per day. Most extracts contain 2.5-5% guggulsterones and can be taken daily for 12 to 24 weeks for lowering high cholesterol and/or triglycerides.
Side effects and contraindications
The early studies of guggul used the crude oleoresin and despite its far higher benefits, there were also some minor side effects. These included diarrhea, anorexia, abdominal pain, and skin rash. Some users experienced mild gastrointestinal discomfort which did not necessitate discontinuation. High doses have been used without the incidence of ill effects. Modern purified extracts, however, have exhibited far fewer side effects even with reported with long-term use.
For some, guggul may be too warming and stimulating; one of the side effects that has been reported is a mild rash which disappears as soon as the dose is either discontinued or lowered. For those with a warm, fiery constitution, Kaishore guggul, which is combined with anti-inflammatory herbs, is better tolerated.
People with liver disease or inflammatory bowel disease and diarrhea should use Guggul with caution.
Finally, as mentioned guggul is strictly contraindicated for use during pregnancy.
Guggul may compete with some cholesterol reducing medications, so those on such medications you should consult a doctor before taking guggul. Likewise, those taking thyroid supplementation should tell their doctor and be sure to monitor free T4 and T3 hormone levels.
I have used widely used guggul clinically over 15 years with no reported incidence of any of the above mentioned adverse reactions. I recommend daily use with weekly or periodic breaks from taking it of approximately one day a week. If results are not clear, one can safely try to increase the dose, by doubling if necessary. Taken prudently on a regular or occasional basis, guggul should be considered very safe.
The best way to use guggul is in traditional complex formulations where it is combined with other herbs and formulas such as Triphala. The recommended minimum daily dose, two 325 mg tablets daily, provides 75 mg of guggulsterones, enough to lower cholesterol, relieve pain and body stiffness, and all of the other uses for guggul mentioned above. However, for quicker results, one can take four tablets daily (two tablets twice a day). For acute conditions I recommend starting out with as much as four tablets all at once and gradually taper down as symptoms subside. In most cases one will notice relief usually within the first hour or two after ingesting.
Planetary’s Guggul Cholesterol Compound is most similar to yogaraj guggul which is the one most commonly used for most of the indicated conditions. Planetary’s Guggul Cholesterol combines the three fruits of triphala with the three spicy herbs of trikatu (black pepper, long pepper and ginger root) as well as dill seed and asafetida ‘“ all of which are meant to serve as catalysts aiding the primary properties of guggul.
1 Nityanand S, Kapoor NK. Hypocholesterolemic effect of Commiphora mukul resin (Guggal). Indian J Exp Biol 1971;9:367-77.
2 Thappa DM, Dogra J. Nodulocystic acne: oral gugulipid versus tetracycline. J Dermatol. 1994;21:729-731.
3 Pandley et al., 1996
4 Kimura I, Yoshikawa M, Kobayashi S, Sugihara Y, Suzuki M, Oominami H, Murakami T, Matsuda H, Doiphode VV. New triterpenes, myrrhanol A and myrrhanone A, from guggul-gum resins, and their potent anti-inflammatory effect on adjuvant-induced air-pouch granuloma of mice. Bioorg Med Chem Lett 2001 Apr 23;11(8):985-9
5 Kimmatkar N, Thawani V, Hingorani L, Khiyani R. Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee–a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine 2003 Jan;10(1):3-7 [abstract]
6 Nadkarnia, Indian Materia Medica, pub by Bombay Popular Prakashan, 1976
Cholesterol – Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that the guggulsterone, the active ingredient in guggul extract, blocks the activity of a receptor in the liver’s cells called Farnesoid X Receptor (FXR). Later, Dr. David Mangelsdorf at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas confirmed that the guggul blocked the receptor and affected how cholesterol is metabolized.
Cholesterol/ Atherosclerosis – A double-blind placebo-controlled study of guggul for reducing cholesterol studied 61 individuals for 24 weeks. After following a healthy diet for 12 weeks the participants were divided into two groups with half of the participants receiving placebo and the other half receiving guggul (100 mg of guggulsterones daily). At 24 weeks the results showed that the treated group had a 11.7% decrease in total cholesterol. Those on guggul also had a 12.7% decrease in LDL (“bad” cholesterol), a 12% decrease in triglycerides, and an 11.1% decrease in the total cholesterol ratio.
Cholesterol/ Atherosclerosis – Forty heart disease patients participating in a 16-week study were given twice daily divided doses of 4.5 grams of guggul lipid. They experienced a 21.75% decrease in blood fats (including LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides) and a 35% increase in “good cholesterol.” Guggul lipid also reduced platelet stickiness.
Cholesterol – Another study conducted at Kerala University in India established that “guggul given to laboratory animals reduced their blood lipid levels quickly and effectively without side effects”..They found that improved liver enzyme activity was one of the ways guggul reduced the blood cholesterol. Kerala Univ., Indian J. Exp. Biol. 33, 1995
Cholesterol/ Atherosclerosis – A study of 228 patients showed similar results from guggul as were obtained from the standard drug Clofibrate.
Impotence – South Carolina scientists conducted a study of more than 3,200 healthy men between the ages of 25 and 83. The men with total cholesterol over 240 mg/dl had close to double the risk of penile dysfunction as men with readings of 180 mg/dl. Also those with HDL readings of 60 mg/dl or greater were less likely to develop penile dysfunction than the men with less than 30 mg/dl HDL.
Obesity – In one double-blind study, a combination of guggul, phosphate salts, hydroxycitrate, and tyrosine (along with healthy exercise) improved the mood of overweight patients with a slight tendency to improve weight loss. However, there appeared to be no effect on thyroid gland function in the people studied.
Acne – In a 1994 study at the Department of Dermatology, in Bajaj Nagar, Jaipur, India, 20 patients with nodulocystic acne were randomly given either 500 mg of Tetracycline or doses of gugulipid with 25 mg guggulsterone. Both groups produced a progressive reduction in lesions. Those on tetracycline showed a 65.2% reduction compared with a 68% reduction with the guggulipid. The three-month follow-up showed relapses in 4 cases of Tetracycline and two cases of the guggulipid patients.