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“Super-Detoxing Herb” Guggul: Benefits and Side Effects

Guggul is an adaptogenic resin that forms from the sap of the guggul tree, also known as the mukul myrrh tree (Commiphora Mukul), and is most known for its active ingredient guggulsterone’s effects, which traditionally has been used to counter high blood fats and liver dysfunction. The guggul tree is a small, thorny tree native to India and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 2,000 years. In India, guggul is known by it’s Sanskrit name “Guggulu,” which means “protects from disease.” It is said the effects of guggul lasts 20 years.

There are many variations of guggul that are determined by the color and age of the resin and each comes with its own benefits. While guggul is a staple in Ayurvedic traditions, it is rarely taken by itself. Guggul has an amazing ability to store other compounds within it and penetrate deep into the body, so it is often combined with other herbs. Because of its excellent affinity with all of the tissues of the body and its ability to store compounds, guggul is very effective in clearing toxins and rejuvenating the body. These qualities give guggul its basis for its numerous benefits.

Guggul resin from the mukul myrrh tree
Guggul resin from the mukul myrrh tree

Benefits of Guggul 

  • Blood purifier and overall detoxifier
  • Promotes healthy cholesterol levels
  • Promotes healthy weight management
  • Helps relieve joint stiffness
  • Helps relieve muscle cramps and stiffness (antispasmodic)
  • Is a natural source of antioxidants and helps support the immune system
  • Anti-rheumatic and anti-arthritic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Helps remove toxins from gout
  • Is an effective pain reliever
  • Expectorant (helps clear the lungs)
  • Anti-cancerous
  • Supports digestive health and helps relieve numerous digestive conditions
  • Supports nerve health and relieves pain from conditions like sciatica and fibromyalgia
  • Supports a healthy menstrual cycle and relieves associated pains
  • Encourages healthy, vibrant skin and relieve acne problems

Cholesterol

Guggul has been reported to have an outstanding ability to encourage balanced cholesterol levels and purify the blood, but that has come with some conflicting evidence. Some sources actually report the increase of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol in the blood. The discerning factor here, though, is based on diet. Guggul actually seems to reduce cholesterol in people who eat an Indian-based diet and increases cholesterol in those who eat a more Western diet. There’s something to be said about this: herbs and other medications don’t work to their best abilities if you live an unhealthy lifestyle. Many western type foods have preservatives, steroids, or other unnaturally processed ingredients added in them and likely counteract the positive effects of guggul.

Weight Loss

As a liver stimulant and detoxifier, guggul helps in eliminating oils, fats, and toxins from the body, therefore, supporting weight management in many ways. However, some research shows guggul by itself will not significantly affect weight in overweight people and should be coupled with exercise. Again, many overweight people eat foods with unhealthy additives which could be a determining factor.

Joint Health

Toxic residues stuck in the joints are at the root of almost every joint problem. Guggul’s ability to deeply penetrate and clear toxins from the body makes it a prime candidate for joint pain relief. Research suggests that taking 1500 mg of guggul a day can improve osteoarthritis symptoms and taking 3000 mg a day can improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Acne

Guggul contains a number of natural steroids, the most known being guggulsterone, that give it its defining qualities. Of these natural steroids, some are very effective in treating nudolocystic acne, a severe type of acne that affects the face, chest, and back. Guggul has been found to decrease the number of acne outbreaks one experiences, as well as lessening the redness and swelling associated with outbreaks.

Side Effects and Contraindications of Guggul

Guggul has been known to cause adverse side effects such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, gaseousness, skin rashes, and itching, however, these side effects are more common at higher doses of 6000 mg a day. It’s important to note that too much of anything can and will cause adverse side effects. A standard dose ranges from 500-1,000 mg per day.

Guggul can also adversely react with certain medications and should be taken with caution under these conditions:

Estrogen-Based Medications

High amounts of guggul may affect estrogen levels in the body and increase the side effects of estrogen-based medications. Some of which includes conjugated equine estrogens (Premain), ethinyl estradiol, and others.

Birth Control Pills

Some birth controls pills contain estrogen, therefore guggul may increase their side effects. These include Triphasil, Ortho-Novum, and others.

Medications Processed by the Liver

As guggul helps with the detoxification process, it may decrease how much the body absorbs or increase how quickly the liver breaks down and processes some medications. Especially in the case of slow releasing medications, guggul may decrease their effectiveness. Some of these medications include Mevacor (lovastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), Nizoral (ketoconazole), Sporanox (itraconazole), Allegra (fexofenadine), Halcion (triazolam), among many others.

Cancer Medications

Some cancers such as breast, uterine, and ovarian are estrogen-sensitive cancers and theoretically, guggul can affect the body’s estrogen levels. Medications such as Nolvadex (tamoxifen) are used to help treat these types of cancers and guggul may decrease its effectiveness.

Blood Thinning Medications

Guggul can slow blood clotting and taking it along with blood thinning medications may increase the chances of bleeding and bruising. Some blood thinners include Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), Anaprox, Naprosyn, (and other naproxens), Heparin, and others. Taking guggul before or after surgery can increase the risk of bleeding and slow healing.

Pregnancy

Due to it’s blood thinning properties, guggul encourages menstrual flow and stimulates the uterus, so some researchers think it may endanger pregnancy. Though not enough is known about this due to the fact that research may put pregnant women at risk.

Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism

Increasing thyroid activity is one of the most well marketed effect of guggul, but that normally doesn’t occur with small doses found in available supplements. Taking large amounts of guggul may interfere with the main effects and side effects of thyroid medications.

Choosing Guggul Supplements

Guggul can be found in powder, tablet, or capsule form, but Ayurvedic traditions recommend using powders or tablets to taste the herbs you use. Taste signals the digestive process to initiate the body’s corresponding supportive mechanisms. Guggul can be taken alone and works more of a detoxifier that way, but it is more commonly taken in conjunction with other herbs in order to help deliver them to deeper parts of the body’s tissues.

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