Botanical names: Commiphora wightii, C. mukul, Burseraceae
Other names: Mahiṣākṣa (S), Gugal (H), Gukkal (T), Bdellium (E), Mo yao (C); ‘Myrrh’ is C. myrrha, called Bola in Sanskrit; ‘Frankincense’ is another similar species in the Bursuraceae called Kuñduru (Boswellia serrata).
Botany: Guggulu is a small shrubby tree, 1.2 – 1.8 meters in height, with knotty and crooked branches that terminate in a sharp spine. The compound leaves are comprised of one to three subsessile leaflets, rhomboid-ovate in shape, serrate along the upper margin and tapering at the base, the leaf surface shining and smooth, the lateral leaflets usually half the size of the terminal leaflet. The flowers are borne in fascicles of two or three, the calyx campanulate, glandular and hairy, the petals brownish-red, nearly three times the length of the calyx. The flowers give way to a red drupe when ripe, 6-8 mm in diameter. Guggulu is found throughout the subcontinent of India, the Middle East and Africa, particularly in dry arid locales (Kirtikar & Basu 1935, Warrier et al 1994).
Part used: Oleogum resin, exuding from the cracks and fissures in the bark, or from incisions. Crude Guggulu may contain the oleogum resin from several different species. Warrier et al states that the best quality Guggulu is that which melts and evaporate with heat, bursts into flame when burned, and dissolves easily in hot water (1994).
• Rasa: tikta, kaṣāya, kaṭu
• Vipāka: kaṭu, laghu
• Vīrya: uṣṇa, rūkṣa
• Karma: pācana, rasāyana, vajīkaraṇa, balya, kṛmighna, vedanāsthāpana, raktaprasādana, ārtavajanana, aśmaribhedana, saṃdhānīya, svarya, vātakaphahara
• Prabhāva: Although Guggulu is stated to be uṣṇa in vīrya, the Bhāvaprakāśa states that due to its kaṣāya rasa it also reduces pitta, and is therefore tridoṣaghna (Srikanthamurthy 2001, Warrier et al 1994).
Constituents: The oleogum resin of Guggulu is a mixture of 30-60% water-soluble gum, 20-40% alcohol-soluble resins, and about 8% volatile oils. Among the water-soluble constituents is a mucilage, arabinose and proteins. Alcohol-soluble constituents include the commiphoric acids, commiphorinic acid and the heerabomyrrhols. Amongst the volatile constituents are terpenes, sesquiterpenoids, cuminic aldehyde, eugenol, myrcene, a-camphorene, the ketone steroids Z- and E-guggulsterone, and guggulsterols I, II, and III. The sesquiterpenoid fraction within the essential oil contains a group of furanosesquiterpenoids that give Guggulu its primary odour. Also found in Guggulu are the lignans guggullignan I and II. (Blumenthal et al 2000, Bradley 1992, Evans 1989, Williamson 2002, Wu et al 2002, Zhu et al 2001). Gugulipid is a proprietary standardized extract of the oleogum resin that does not contain the gum or the base fraction of the resin.
• In vitro: hypocholesterolemic (Cui et al 2003, Urizar et al 2002, Wu et al 2002), antimicrobial (Asres et al 1998, Dolara et al 2000)
• In vivo: hypocholesterolemic (Singh et al 1990, Urizar et al 2002), antithrombotic (Olajide 1999), cardioprotective (Seth et al 1998), hypotensive (Abdul-Ghani & Amin 1997), thyrostimulant (Panda & Kar 1999), anti-inflammatory (Kimura et al 2001, Tariq et al 1986), anti-arthritic (Sharma & Sharma 1977), antitumor (Al-Harbi et al 1994, Qureshi et al 1993)
• Human trials: compared to placebo Gugulipid significantly decreased total serum cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides in patients with hypercholesterolemia (Singh et al 1994); compared to clofibrate the use of Gugulipid in hypercholesterolemic patients promoted a significant improvement in HDL to LDL ratios (Nityanand et al 1989); over a period of 30 days the administration of Guggulu was found to enhance weight loss in obese adults (>90 kg) eating a calorie-restricted diet, by an average of 2.25 kg (Bhatt et al 1995); over a three month period Gugulipid promoted slightly better results than tetracycline in the treatment of nodulocystic acne, with patients with oily faces responding best to the treatment (Thappa and Dogra 1994); Guggulu was found to be a safe and highly effective remedy in the treatment of Fasciola (liver fluke) infection over a three month period (Massoud et al 2001); Guggulu was found to be a safe and highly effective remedy in the treatment of schistosomiasis (Sheir et al 2001); Guggulu resin had a total curative effect in children diagnosed with fascioliasis and schistosomiasis, over a four to twelve week period (Soliman et al 2004).
Toxicity: Acute (24 hour) and chronic (90 day) oral toxicity studies on Commiphora molmol were carried out in mice, using dosages of 0.5, 1.0 and 3 g/kg in the acute studies, and 100 mg/kg per day for the chronic study. Researchers found no significant difference in mortality in acute or chronic treatment as compared to controls, noting a significant increase in the weight of the testes, epididymides and seminal vesicles, as well as a significant increase in RBC and hemoglobin levels in the treatment group, compared to the control group (Rao et al 2001). In young male Nubian goats an oral dose of 0.25 g/kg per day was found to be non-toxic (i.e. 37.5 g in a 150 kg human) (Omer & Adam 1999). Myrrh has been reported to cause dermatitis in topical preparations used to relieve pain and swelling due to traumatic injury (Lee & Lam 1993).
Indications: Gingivitis, apthous ulcers, dyspepsia, candidiasis, chronic colitis, intestinal parasites, hemorrhoids, chronic fever, chronic upper respiratory tract infection, chronic muco-epithelial ulceration, strep throat, pharyngitis, bronchitis, cystitis, urinary calculi, spermatorrhea, endometritis, amenorhea, menorrhagia, leucorrhea, skin diseases, wounds, abrasions, chronic ulcers, arthritis, gout, lumbago, neurasthenia, diabetes, dyslipidemia, atherosclerosis, hypothyroidism, anemia, edema, cancer, post-chemotherapy (to improve WBC count).
Contraindications: The Bhāvaprakāśa states that those undergoing therapy with Guggulu should avoid sour foods and drinks, uncooked foods, excessive physical and sexual activity, alcohol consumption, and excess exposure to heat and sunlight (Srikanthamaurthy 2001). Generally speaking, Guggulu should be used with caution in pittakopa conditions. Guggulu is contraindicated with concurrent hypoglycemic and lipotriptic therapies, thyrotoxicosis, thyroiditis, and pregnancy. The effect of a single oral dose of Gugulipid was studied on bioavailability of single oral dose of propranolol (40 mg) and diltiazem (60 mg), and was found to significantly reduce the peak plasma concentration and area under curve of both the drugs in a small trial of healthy volunteers (Dalvi et al 1994).
Medicinal uses: Guggulu is a common ingredient in many formulations, used both as a medicinal agent and excipient, such that an entire class of medicaments are called guggulu (e.g. Triphalā guggulu, Yogarāja guggulu, Gokṣurādi guggulu, etc.). In the treatment of boils and gout, the Bhāvaprakāśa recommends a preparation of Guggulu mixed with equal parts juice of Guḍūcī and Drākṣā macerated in a decoction of Triphalā. This preparation is evaporated in the hot sun or over heat to the correct consistency and rolled into pills of about 5 grams and taken with honey (Srikanthamurthy 2001). As an anseptic and vulnerary the Cakradatta recommends that Guggulu be mixed with a decoction of Triphalā, and applied topically (Sharma 2002). In the treatment of broken bones and fracture, the Cakradatta recommends an internal preparation comprised of one part each Harītakī, Trikaṭu and Triphalā, mixed with a portion of Guggulu equal to all of the above (Sharma 2002). In the treatment of sciatica the Cakradatta recommends a pill comprised of 40 g of Rāsnā and 50 g of Guggulu, mixed with ghṛta (Sharma 2002). In the treatment of vāttika disorders of muscles, bones, joints and nerves, the Cakradatta recommends a formula comprised of ten parts Guggulu, two parts each of Triphalā and Pippalī, and one part each Tvak bark and Elā seed, soaked in a decoction of Daśamūla, and dried in the sun. When the appropriate consistency is obtained the mixture is rolled into pills and dosed at 3-5 g, b.i.d.-t.i.d., taken with a diet rich in meat soups (Sharma 2002). The famous formula Yogarājaguggulu is prescribed in similar conditions. As a tincture, Guggulu is effective as a gargle in gingivitis, apthous ulcers, strep throat, and pharyngitis, alone or with such herbs as Sage (Salvia officinalis). The tincture also has a vulnerary and antiseptic activity in gastrointestinal ulcers, both of the upper and lower tracts, although it is best avoided in active inflammation, used only after the initial inflammation has been dealt with by demulcent and vulnerary botanicals such as Yaṣṭimadhu, Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva). Internally, the tincture improves digestion and stimulates the appetite in digestive atony, removing chronic catarrh in both the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts. Guggulu also finds utility in urogenital infections after the active inflammation has been resolved, improving mucus membrance secretion and providing an antiseptic action against any lingering infection. In endometritis it may be combined with Purple Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), False Unicorn (Chamaelirium luteum), Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus) and Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis) to check inflammation, remove infection and reorientate the estrus cycle. In arthritis and gout Guggulu is particularly effective, combined with such herbs like Lignum vitae (Guaicum officinalis), Celery seed (Apium graveolens), and Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), or used in formulations like Yogarāja guggulu. In the treatment of dyslipidemia, atherosclerosis and diabetes the use of the standardized extract called Gugulipid has shown promise, especially when taken with a low-carbohydrate diet and array of anti-oxidant minerals, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. For a more traditional approach, Guggulu may be combined with herbs such as Guḍūcī, Āmalakī and Śilājatu in the treatment of diabetes. In chronic immunodeficiency, or in patients undergoing chemotherapy or taking corticosteroids, Guggulu may be combined with Aśvagandhā and Yaṣṭimadhu.
• Cūrṇa: 2-5 g b.i.d.-t.i.d.
• Tincture: 2-5 mL (1:3 95%) b.i.d.-t.i.d.
• Standardized extract: (equal to 25 mg guggulsterones), 500 mg b.i.d.-t.i.d.