Name: Gugulipid (Commiphora mukul)
Otherwise known as: Spiny Myrtle
Habitat: A thorny shrub member of the Myrticeae, growing to about 2m in barren areas and native to India and Arabia. The plant is distinguished by having a deciduous bark and although it is free from foliage for most of the year, its leaves are trifoliate with the flowers appearing in the axils, terminating in red berries. It actually bears the name of the resin that is extracted from it; each tree is tapped in winter and yields about 800-1,000g of oleoresin.
What does it do: Very little was known about the plant outside of the sub-continent much before the 1980s but now it has leapt to prominence because of its lipid lowering properties. Recent experiments in the United States indicate extracts from gugulipid can significantly cut cholesterol as well as reduce high levels of triglycerides.
The plant has been used in Indian medicine for centuries to treat ‘obesity and the obstruction of channels’. The classic Ayurvedic text The Sushrutasamhita gives a detailed description of when to extract the gum and how to apply it to give relief in cases of ‘fat coatings and blockages’.
The plant contains a number of compounds, the main constituents being steroids, the most important of which are guggulsterones that are separated by way of solvent extraction.
Research has shown that the plant extract, even in its crudest form, will lower very low-density lipo protein cholesterol (bad cholesterol), while simultaneously elevating high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (good cholesterol), thus affording protection against heart disease.
The principal reason for the plant’s cholesterol lowering activity is that it stimulates the liver to increase its metabolism of low-density lipoprotein from the blood. Another recently discovered activity of gugulipid is that it stimulates thyroid function and may therefore be responsible for the plant’s reputation for weight-loss activity, which unsurprisingly accounts for its current popularity in the USA.
In addition to the foregoing, gugulipid prevents the development of atherosclerosis (where fatty and mineral deposits attach to the walls of the arteries) and in some animal experiments has shown a propensity to regress the disease.
In experiments conducted on patients suffering from acute and chronic inflammation of the joints, guggulsterone was found to be as effective as ibubrofen, hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone. The trials in India and the USA on human and animal subjects indicate that the extracts are free from toxicity and demonstrated no harmful side-effects unlike some of the drugs currently used to combat these conditions.