Ayurveda is the Traditional Medicine system of India and this rich source of literature makes a note of a herbal cure for every disease.
Ayurveda along with Unani and Traditional Chinese medicine form the basis of today’s nutraceutical industry.According to Ayurveda, guggul is a herb that can treat obesity, cholesterol problems, arthritis, atherosclerosis etc .
The herb is mentioned as early as from 3000 to 10,000 years ago in the Vedas, the holy scriptures of India for treating human illnesses.
Guggul was first introduced in the scientific world by an Indian medical researcher in 1966 for treatment of atherosclerosis. In 1986 it received approval for being marketed as a drug to lower blood lipid levels.
It got introduced in Western Medical literature in 1990s for treating cholesterol and heart diseases.
Guggul is a short shrub or tree found primarily in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The sap obtained from guggul tree (Commiphora mukul) is called gum guggul and its extract is known as guggulipid.
The active ingredient of this extract is guggulsterone. Guggul has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti microbial properties.
It is used to treat dermatitis and also improves skin texture and complexion. It is used primarily to reduce cholesterol levels.
What does research have to say about role of guggul in obesity?
A review of Ayurvedic literature was conducted, wherein it was stated that classic Ayurvedic literature mentions that Guggul is superior among drugs used to treat Medoroga (obesity). Old guggul, that has been stored for a year, is effective in treating obesity.
Lets go over the research that has been conducted on guggul and its effect on obesity and metabolic disorders.
It inhibits development of fat cells
Development of fat cells is an intricate process which requires a number of biological molecules to participate in cell signalling. Farnesoid X receptor is one such biological molecule whose activation regulates fat cell development and insulin activity.
Guggulsterone is a farnesoid X receptor antagonist- it inhibits the activity of this biological target which could explain its anti-obesity effect.
In a cell culture study , mature and developing fat cells were treated with guggulsterones and guggulsterones had the following effects:
- They inhibited development of fat cells.
- They destroyed fat cells.
- They promoted break down of fats and prevented accumulation of fats in mature fat cells.
Based on these results, researchers concluded that guggul has anti-obesity effect.
Another study conducted by the same researchers demonstrated that genistein (a plant based estrogen) along with guggulsterone acts synergistically and inhibits development of fat cells and prevents fat accumulation.
Similar results have been proven for the combination of xanthohumol (a natural compound found in beer hops) and guggulsterone which together enhance breakdown of fats.
What does this mean?
Cell culture studies have shown that guggulsterone, alone or in combination with other bioactive ingredients, inhibit development of fat cells and prevent accumulation of fat.
It influences appetite
Defence Food Research Laboratory, Mysore, India studied the effect of guggulsterone on appetite regulating hormones. Animals were given increasing doses of guggulsterone.
A dose of 400mg/kg was found to reduce food intake and prevented body weight gain for a period of 15 days.
Also there was a decrease in ghrelin-‘hunger hormone’, glucose and blood lipid levels and increase in leptin-‘satiety hormone’, serotonin and dopamine.
What does this mean?
An animal study shows that guggulsterone can curb appetite by regulating gastric hormones and brain chemicals.
It influences thyroid functioning
Researchers from Banaras Hindu University, India have found that guggulsterone can regulate thyroid activity. Z-guggulsterone when administered to albino rats showed strong thyroid stimulating activity.
Increase in iodine uptake by thyroid was observed and increased activity of thyroid related enzymes was noted. Thyroid is one of the key organs involved in regulating metabolism. Improper functioning of thyroid can affect body weight.
What does this mean?
Research on animals shows that guggulsterone stimulates thyroid activity which can have implications on body weight.
It is used to treat cholesterol
Kuppurajan et al showed that gum guggul given at 2 g each day for 21 days to hyperlipidemic non obese patients significantly reduced blood lipids. Another study conducted in 1979 by Kotiyal and his fellow researchers also showed similar studies in 4 weeks.
A review of studies focussed on guggul and its effect on high cholesterol and blood lipids revealed confusing results. Some studies showed positive results while some demonstrated no effect. Also side effects were noted.
What does this study?
Ayurveda and studies conducted by Indian researchers indicate that guggul is useful in treating cholesterol problems. As far as total scientific evidence is concerned guggul’s effect on cholesterol is inconclusive.
It has blood sugar lowering effect
Diabetes is a common consequence of obesity. Additionally impaired glucose tolerance and insulin activity can cause increased appetite and subsequent weight gain. The effect of guggul has been studied on high fat diet induced diabetic animal model.
Guggulsterone reversed all the unhealthy changes brought about by high fat diet. It reduced glucose levels and improved insulin sensitivity.
In addition these studies showed improvement in antioxidant status and improved insulin sensitivity. Researchers feel that guggul extract can serve as an adjuvant therapy in diabetes or insulin resistance.
What does this mean?
Guggul extract can be employed as an add on therapy for high fat diet induced obesity.
Human studies on guggul and weight loss
Swami Prakashananda Ayurveda Research Centre, Mumbai, India organised a study on guggul and its effect on humans.
The subjects were advised low calorie diet and brisk walk. In addition to that some participants received guggul 1.5-3g/ day for 30 days.
Weight loss was higher in the group that received guggul treatment (around 2.25kg). All the individuals weighing more than 90 kg lost weight in the guggul group while 3 individuals in the non drug group did not lose weight.
It was concluded guggul with a low calorie diet can aid in treating obesity.
Kepar, a natural supplement , produced in Italy contains many plant extracts like turmeric, guggul, chlorgenic acid (green coffee bean) etc. In this study Kepar was given at 2 pills a day with regular treatment for metabolic syndrome for 4 months.
Significant reductions in body weight, BMI, waist circumference and cholesterol levels were observed. However both studies concluded that larger studies with longer follow up periods need to be conducted to verify these results.
What does this mean?
Limited studies show that guggul supplementation causes weight loss in humans. Larger and more concrete studies are required to verify these results.
But it is good to start with small doses. Gum guggul can be taken in doses of 1.5-3g a day.
Different Ayurvedic preparations of guggul are available and its best to consult an Ayurvedic physician for this.
Few of the side effects noticed with guggul consumption include stomach discomfort and allergic rash. Guggul should be avoided in case of :
- Hormonal imbalance
- Acute kidney infection
- Use of thyroid supplements
- Use of cholesterol lowering drugs
Guggul can have drug interactions so avoid it if you are taking any other medication. Consult a health physician before taking guggul supplements.
Traditional literature relating to medicine and preliminary studies show that guggul has anti-obesity property. But there is no sufficient evidence in terms of human studies that show that guggul supplementation can cause significant weight loss.
So it is difficult to conclude that guggul will help you lose fat.
You can try small doses of guggul initially and observe any changes in body composition for a month in case you don’t face any side effect. It is advisable to take an Ayurvedic practitioner’s advice on this.
If you have tried guggul share your experience with us.