Health Benefits and Common Uses of Gotu Kola
Gotu kola is a medicinal plant that has been used for thousands of years. Learn how it affects your body and what kind of health benefits you can get from it. In this article, you'll also find detailed descriptions of gotu kola's common medical uses and supporting studies.
What is Gotu Kola
Gotu kola is a plant belonging to the parsley and carrot family. Its leaves and stems are used for medicinal purposes.
It is commonly used for treating cellulite, skin burns and wounds, hair loss, chronic venous insufficiency and other circulation problems, Alzheimer’s disease, stomach ulcers, anxiety, depression, and other conditions.
Later in this article we’ll take a more detailed look into how gotu kola helps with these conditions.
Gotu kola has been traditionally used as a form of birth control, so don't take gotu kola supplements if you are trying to get pregnant.
It is also not advised to take gotu kola during pregnancy as it may trigger miscarriage.
Other common names of Gotu Kola include:
Centella asiatica (scientific name), Indian Pennywort, Hydrocotyle asiatica, Brahma-Buti, Brahma-Manduki, Mandukaparni, Tsubo-kusa
Traditional Use of Gotu Kola
Gotu kola is an important medicinal plant in traditional Indian, Chinese and African medicine.
Texts about medicinal use of gotu kola in Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) go back thousands of years. In Ayurveda, gotu kola is an important ingredient in various tonics for treating nervous disorders (such as anxiety and depression). It is also used in preparations made for revitalizing the brain and improving memory.
Gotu kola is also one of India’s prominent religious herbs. The Indians believe that gotu kola enhances the crown chakra and is used in the practice of Yoga for deepening meditative states.
Chinese medicine recommends the plant for improving general health and immune system support.
In Western medicine, gotu kola has been successfully used around the middle of twentieth century for treating leprosy. Gotu kola infusion has also been used for purifying the blood, treating skin inflammation, and lowering high blood pressure.
Gotu kola is said to help you achieve long life.
Folk tradition in Sri Lanka talks about how people observed that elephants love to chew gotu kola leaves. Since elephants are known for their long life, gotu kola is figuratively regarded as an herb that promotes health and longevity. The recommended dose for “achieving long life” is chewing a couple of leaves each day.
In Chinese tradition, gotu kola was called “The Fountain of Life”. Popular legend says that a famous daoist herbalist Li Ching Yuen daily ate gotu kola leaves and because of that lived for more than 200 years.
Active Ingredients in Gotu Kola
Gotu kola contains an array of different active (healing) substances. The main substances that provide most of the health benefits come from a group of saponins, called triterpenoids.
Triterpenoids in gotu kola include 3 major substances; namely asiatic acid, madecassic acid and madasiatic acid. These compounds are the ones that are largely responsible for the way gotu kola speeds up wound healing and supports cardiovascular health.
Other important compounds found in gotu kola are isothankuniside and thankuniside, which prevent conception (hence the use of gotu kola for birth control).
Centelloside, also found in gotu kola, is the substance that helps with venous hypertension.
Other substances in gotu kola include tannins, ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, rutin, phytosterols (campesterol, sitosterol, stigmasterol), mucilages, resins, flavonoids, ginsensosides (types, which are not found in any known species of ginseng), vallerine (a substance that gives gotu kola bitter taste), beta carotene, C vitamin, fatty acids, and more.
How does Gotu Kola Work
Antioxidants in Gotu Kola Fight Free Radical Damage in the Body
Gotu kola is rich in phenols and flavonoids. These substances are potent antioxidants - they scavenge harmful free radicals and neutralize their effects on the body. Antioxidants in gotu kola extract are the main source of the plant’s benefits for cardiovascular and brain health.
Several test tube studies have confirmed the antioxidant effects of gotu kola (1), (2). Indian study from 2011 (2), has found that gotu kola has comparable antioxidant effects as bacopa monnieri (another well known plant, which is commonly used in Ayurveda).
Water gotu kola extracts seem to provide better antioxidant protection that alcohol extracts. Studies have also shown that Gotu Kola works synergistically with vitamin E, which means that it boosts its antioxidant action (3).
Substances in Gotu kola Calm Down Inflammation and Alleviate Pain
Gotu kola contains triterpenoids that possess anti-inflammatory properties (4). This is the reason why gotu kola has been historically used for a wide range of diseases that are driven by inflammation – such as arthritis, psoriasis, venous insufficiency, and more.
In recent years, anti-inflammatory effects of gotu kola have also been confirmed in several studies.
Study on mice (5) showed that water gotu kola extract has anti-inflammatory activity, which is dose-dependent (meaning that with larger doses, the effect is greater). In the same study, gotu kola has also been proven to provide pain relief. The extract alleviates pain as effectively as aspirin (but less so than morphine).
Another study, focused on madecassoside, which is the most prevalent triterpene substance in gotu kola (6). In this study, researchers administered madecassoide to mice with rheumatoid arthritis. In test animals, the substance significantly reduced infiltration of inflammatory cells, synovial hyperplasisa and joint damage (which are 3 major factors in rheumatoid arthritis).
It was concluded, that madecassoside is the substance that is mostly responsible for anti-inflammatory and joint protective effects of gotu kola.
Gotu Kola Boosts Collagen Production
The skin can be affected by several factors, many of which contribute to skin aging. Here’s where gotu kola plays an important role.
The plant contains an abundance of saponins that augment the production of collagen – the substance, which is responsible for holding the whole body together and making the skin tight and firm.
Because it increases collagen levels in the body, gotu kola is often used in skin tightening creams and various ointments for reducing wrinkles, stretch marks, and cellulite.
Gotu kola affects collagen levels in 2 ways. It slows down the breakdown of collagen by inhibiting the enzymes that catalyze it. At the same time, gotu kola also increases the rate at which collagen is made in the body.
Most of the studies involving gotu kola and collagen synthesis were done on scar tissue and wound healing (7), (8). It was shown that gotu kola specifically stimulates the production collagen type 1, which is the most prevalent type of collagen in human body.
Gotu Kola Supports Brain Health
Not only does Gotu Kola help with skin aging, it also keeps the brain from aging. This is achieved through several mechanisms.
First, gotu kola is well known for improving circulation. Good blood circulation means that enough nutrients and oxygen get to the brain, which is the basis for keeping the brain healthy.
Gotu kola also reduces age-related brain changes through its antioxidant action - by limiting free radical damage in the brain.
The plant extracts are full of antioxidants. These antioxidants are able to penetrate the blood brain barrier and get to the brain where they protect neurons from damage caused by free radicals (9).
Blood brain barrier is a permeability barrier that separates the circulating blood from the brain. It allows some substances to cross, while preventing the others from crossing.
The barrier serves as some kind of security system for the brain and protects the brain tissue from toxins and too large variations in blood composition.
Last, but not least, gotu kola also seems to promote the growth of the dendrites (which are short branched extension of the neurons).
It does that by triggering a release of a certain protein, known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF (10), (11). This factor is in part responsible for stimulating the formation of new brain cells and supporting the survival of existing neurons.
Plant Extracts Improve Blood Circulation
Gotu kola has long been used for different circulation problems.
Gotu kola extracts help to strengthen weakened walls of the veins and capillaries by stimulating collagen production (collagen is the substance that keeps the connective tissues in the blood vessels strong).
Alongside this action, gotu kola (specifically the substance, called madecosside) also protects the endothelium (lining of the blood and lymphatic vessels) from oxidative stress and by doing that reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases (12).
But the benefits of this plant don’t end here. Besides helping the veins, gotu kola also improves circulation in the capillaries, which are the smallest blood vessels. By improving this so called microcirculation, gotu kola prevents blood from leaking into the surrounding tissue and thus alleviates puffiness and swelling in extremities (13), (14).
These combined actions of gotu kola make it an extremely useful herb in treating conditions such as chronic venous insufficiency and associated problems ( varicose and spider veins, etc), and other blood flow issues (such as microangiopathy).
Gotu Kola has Antibacterial, Antifungal and Antiviral Properties
Due to its antimicrobial properties, gotu kola has been historically used for treating various conditions, including skin infections, leprosy, stomach pains caused by different infections, bronchitis, and more.
Gotu kola is also used for treating fungal infections (for example candida albicans infection) – although this effect seems to be weaker than the plant’s antibacterial action (17).
Common Medical Uses of Gotu Kola
Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Gotu kola is often used for treating venous insufficiency. This condition occurs when there is a problem with the flow of the blood from the veins back to the heart. When this happens, blood starts pooling in the legs and may leak into the surrounding tissue. The symptoms include swollen and painful legs, often accompanied by varicose and spider veins.
Gotu kola contains saponins, which directly target the cause of chronic venous insufficiency (18). They strengthen the walls of the veins and the capillaries and heal the surrounding tissues. Through this action, gotu kola improves blood flow and reduces high pressure in the veins (which is caused by the abnormalities in the veins).
Several studies have confirmed that gotu kola significantly improves the symptoms of venous insufficiency and helps maintain strong connective tissue in the walls of the veins (19).
Gotu kola has also been used for treatment of other circulatory disorders. These include atherosclerosis, phlebitis or the inflammation of the vein’s walls, and the tingling of the legs and arms caused by poor circulation.
Gotu kola is also sometimes taken by people who have atherosclerosis - a disease that is caused by accumulation of plaques of fatty material inside the walls of the arteries.
These plaques often don’t cause any visible problems. However, they slowly build inside the arteries and decrease blood flow. When a plaque ruptures, a blot clot is formed on its site. If this happens in the artery in the brain or heart, this may lead to stroke or heart attack.
Keeping plaques stable is therefore the key to preventing atherosclerosis to progress to more severe health conditions (such as heart attack and stroke).
Here is where gotu kola comes into play. Studies have shown that triterpenoid substances in gotu kola effectively stabilize high risk plaques (20), (21), (22) – the last study examined gotu kola in combination with pycnogenol, a substance derived from pine bark).
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid beta plaques (protein fragments) in the brain. These plaques prevent the communication between neurons and eventually damage the neurons to the point that they die.
Asiaticoside and asiatic acid in gotu kola have been shown in test tube studies (23) to alleviate the damage to the brain cells caused by beta amyloid and prevent brain cell death.
Gotu kola, which contains potent antioxidant substances, also reduces oxidative stress in the brain - which is another mechanism through which the plant and its extract are helpful for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Traditionally, gotu kola’s leaves were used for treating stomach pains.
Among the most important causes of stomach pain are stomach ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach). Gotu kola helps these conditions by strengthening the gastric mucosal barrier and reducing the effect of free radicals on the stomach lining (24).
Gastric mucosal barrier protects the stomach lining from gastric acid.
If this barrier is broken (which may be caused by stress, aspirin, NSAIDs pain relief pills, etc), acid gets to the stomach lining. There it causes damage to the gastric mucosal lining, which leads to stomach ulcers and associated problems.
Gotu kola, especially the substance asiaticoside, also lowers inflammation in the stomach and speeds up the healing of the ulcers (25).
Anxiety and Depression
In Eastern medicine, gotu kola has been used in all sorts of nervous tonics. The plant was taken as tranquilizer (for reducing anxiety), as an antidepressant, mild sedative, and for treating sleep problems.
Gotu kola fights stress, anxiety and depression by calming down the body’s central nervous system. Most of the plant’s relaxing effects come from its two active constituents: brahmoside and brahminoside (2).
It was shown that it balances the chemical messengers in the brain (monoamine neurotransmitters) and reduces the levels of stress hormone corticosterone.
Neuratransmitters are substances that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain (some kind of chemical messengers).
Monoamine neurotransmitters' include dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline and serotonin. They have essential role in arousal, emotions and mental function.
There is also significant evidence that gotu kola helps anxiety. It reduces the feelings of anxiety and brings down the number of panic attacks.
Studies have shown that the plant works in several different ways.
The antioxidants in gotu kola help to bring down neuroinflammation in the brain (28).
Gotu kola (especially its substance Asiatic acid) also increases the levels of the major calming neurotransmitter in the brain (GABA) by interacting with GABA receptors (29).
GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain – the one chemical messenger that calms down the neurons and prevents them from getting overexcited.
Scars and Wrinkles
Gotu kola is an ingredient in many skin care creams and ointments. The reason for this is that the saponins in gotu kola boost collagen production. This in turn helps to make the skin tight and decreases the appearances of scars and wrinkles.
Low Sex Drive
Gotu kola has long been popular for increasing vitality and sexual performance in men. On one hand, it improves blood circulation and, as we all know, proper circulation is crucial for achieving strong erection.
On the other hand, it has a potent effect on the nervous system. It relaxes the mind and the body, which in turn makes people more ready for engaging in sexual activity.
Cellulite is basically bumpy fact under the skin. Gotu kola targets 2 major causes of cellulite simultaneously: poor circulation and decreased levels of collagen in the body.
The plant is rich in triterpene saponins, which boost the production of collagen. Collagen synthesis is the key to reducing cellulites as it is the substance responsible for skin’s strength and structure.
Besides increasing collagen production, gotu kola also improves blood flow, reduces inflammation and helps prevent the making of new cellulite.
It has been shown that topical application of gotu kola gel significantly reduces orange peel appearance of skin and improves skin tonicity even in women with stubborn cellulite (30).
Faster Wound Healing
Historically, gotu kola’s leaves were used for treating skin infections, autoimmune skin conditions such as psoriasis, skin burns, and other types of skin damage.
Studies show that gotu kola help in different phases of wound repair.
The madecassosides and asiaticosides in gotu kola speed up the healing process of the wounds. These compounds even provide additional protection against infections and help heal infected wounds. At the same time, they decrease scaring.
Gotu Kola is well known for its sedative effects and for that reason it is often used as sleeping aid.
In Ayurvedic medicine, gotu kola is mixed with honey and prepared as tonic for insomnia.
Gotu kola is also sometimes used for hair re-growth. By calming down the nervous system, the plant is supposed to reduce hair loss caused by stress.
Gotu kola also improves circulation, which increases the supply of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, including scalp.
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