The mukul myrrh tree, or Commiphora mukul, is small, thorny, and usually devoid of foliage. It grows naturally throughout India and Arabia. Guggul is the gum resin that comes from this tree, which belongs to the same genus as myrrh and has some similar components and actions. Guggul resin contains steroids, diterpenoids, alipathic esters, and carbohydrates. These factors appear to work together to exert the beneficial effects of this botanical.
Guggul has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis, inflammation, bone fractures, overweight, and disorders of lipid metabolism. One ancient Ayurvedic reference describes the power of guggul to treat "coating and obstruction of channels." This description stimulated further research into the properties of this botanical medicine for preventing and treating atherosclerosis, as well as other conditions resulting from high levels of lipids in the body.
Guggul has been recommended for the treatment of arthritis, hypercholesterolemia, nodulocystic acne, and overweight. It is one of the primary therapeutic substances used in Ayurvedic medicine to prevent atherosclerosis, as well as one of the most promising herbs or supplements for the prevention and treatment of this condition. Studies in animals have documented not only the protective effects of guggul against atherosclerosis, but have shown actual regression of the condition in animals that already had it.
The active portion of the plant is the gum resin, which contains guggulsterone, a steroid compound. It appears to be effective in lowering blood levels of both total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. In trials lasting one to three months, cholesterol levels were reduced by 14–27% and triglycerides by 22–30%. These results are equal to or better than those of some conventional medications used to lower cholesterol, but with fewer side effects. There are several hypotheses to account for the effectiveness of guggul in decreasing serum lipids. It may decrease the production of cholesterol in the liver. Excretion of cholesterol and bile acids are increased, so that less fat and cholesterol are absorbed. Guggul also increases the production of thyroid hormones, which lower the levels of serum lipids. The lowering of serum lipids is what consequently decreases the risk of atherosclerosis. One of the most important ways that gugulipid lowers cholesterol may be by stimulating the liver to remove LDLs from the bloodstream. The effect on high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is undetermined, as two studies yielded different conclusions. To lower cholesterol, one recommended dose of gugulipid is 100–500 mg taken daily. This dosage contains 25 mg of guggulsterone. It may take a month or so for the full effect to be experienced. Similar doses of gugulipid are used to promote weight loss.
The thyroid gland is stimulated by guggulsterone. This effect may play a role both in the ability of the substance to decrease cholesterol levels and to promote weight loss by increasing the body's rate of metabolism.
Guggulsterone has significant anti-inflammatory properties, although they are somewhat overshadowed by its effects on lipid metabolism. This finding supports its traditional use in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Studies have shown guggulsterone to be at least as effective as the conventional medications phenylbutazone and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for both acute and chronic types of inflammation in animal models.
Platelet stickiness appears to be reduced by guggul, which is desirable for decreasing the risk of coronary artery disease. Guggul may also promote fibrinolysis (dissolving the fibrin in blood clots) and act as an antioxidant. More research is warranted for these properties. They have potential benefits in the prevention of strokes and embolisms.
Studies have shown guggulsterone to have approximately the same effectiveness as the antibiotic tetracycline for the treatment of nodulocystic acne. It decreases inflammation and lowers the risk of recurrence of the condition. Guggul is also thought to have astringent, antiseptic, and antisuppurative (preventing pus formation) qualities that lend themselves to the treatment of this severe, and sometimes scarring, form of acne.
In India, guggul has been a standard and approved treatment for high cholesterol since 1986. Guggul is most often available in tablet or capsule form, as a purified extract. Formulations should have a standardized concentration of guggulsterone. Most extracts contain from 5–10% guggulsterone. It is readily available in the United States, but available only by prescription, if at all, in the United Kingdom.
Gugulipid is also a component of some combination nutritional products that are being promoted for the support of normal metabolism of cholesterol and triglycerides. Other components may include inositol hexaniacinate, chromium, and vitamin antioxidants.
Studies in both humans and animals have demonstrated a wide margin of safety and negligible toxicity
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.
Guggul can be problematic for people being treated for thyroid conditions. Since guggul stimulates production of thyroid hormone, it may alter the dosage requirements for thyroid replacement medication. It can also reduce the availability and effectiveness of the heart medications propranolol (Inderal) and diltiazem (Cardizem). Patients should consult a health care practitioner before taking guggul along with any other herbs or medications.
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