Gotu Kola Health Benefits
Known locally here in Thailand as bua-bog and more commonly known by its Chinese name gotu kola, the scientifically named Centella asiatica has been used in Asia for several thousand years for its health and healing properties. Gotu kola is used for a variety of health purposes including the healing of wounds, skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, varicose veins and anxiety relief.
Even after living in Northern Thailand for over a decade, I am frequently bedazzled and bemused by the range of products at the local markets. There is often a huge array of green stuff and fungi that I have a tendency to walk past while making a beeline for cheap children’s clothing or electronic goods of dubious origin.
There are herbs growing in my garden which look rather like any other weed; presumably, I’ve been trampling over them for years ignorant to the fact that they are the same greens being sold in abundance at the market.
I could not tell you the exact price, but the leaves and stems of the gotu kola plant cost around 5 baht or around 15 cents for a carrier bag full of them and they are highly valued here for their far-reaching therapeutic properties. Gotu kola is a tasteless herb related to the parsley family and despite its name; the plant is not related to the kola nut and does not possess any caffeine or stimulant properties.
Gotu kola has legendary status in China where it is sometimes called the ‘fountain of life’ owing to stories of a herbalist that extended his life to over 200 years by dosing himself daily on gotu kola.
While such hobbit like life expectancy might be desirable for some, this article will explore some of the more tangible and realistic claims made regarding gotu kola. So why exactly does this humble looking herb have such a great reputation in Asia and what health benefits will it actually confer?
1. Gotu Kola for Wounds
Gotu kola has been traditionally used in Asia to treat wounds and its effectiveness seems to be based to the chemical constituents of the plant. Gotu kola possesses triterpenoids which among their other properties are compounds known to heal wounds. Research would seem to support the wound healing claims of gotu kola; studies have indicated that triterpenoids boost antioxidant levels in the wounds and improve blood supply to affected areas.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that creams made with gotu kola can help minimize scaring from burns. As well as reducing the appearance of scars, gotu kola is also able to limit any risk of further infection. (1)
When it comes to healing wounds, gotu kola is able to not only expedite wound healing but can also help strengthen any new or rejuvenated skin.
2. Skin Treatment
The same chemicals have been found to increase skin strength and gotu kola has been used effectively to treat psoriasis, eczema and minor burn injuries. It can also reduce stretch marks after pregnancy and post-surgical scarring.
Gotu kola is actually used as an ingredient in many creams and ointments for skin and wound healing.
3. For Stretch Marks and Cellulite
Studies have revealed that skin creams which contain gotu kola and gotu kola supplements may be able to help you get rid of unwanted stretch marks and also cellulite. Stretch marks are usually caused by weight gain or pregnancy and occur when the constant stretching results in damage to the dermis layers of the skin making them turn into a faint silvery color.
Cellulite is another common female skin issue caused when fat cells push through your collagen layers. Both cellulite and stretch marks are often seen in the hips, buttocks and thighs.
Preliminary trials indicate that creams and supplements made with gotu kola can prevent these common female issues. (2)
4. Varicose Veins and Venous Insufficiency
Gotu Kola may have major implications in the treatment of a condition called chronic venous insufficiency. This is a condition which occurs when blood vessels are damaged and lose elasticity resulting in blood accumulating in the legs and causing fluid to leak from blood vessels. When this happens, the legs will swell up and might lead to varicose veins or leg sores and in more serious cases may even result in blood clots in the legs. The acids found in gotu kola might help to improve blood circulation and help to reduce any swelling.
One relatively small scale study carried out on 94 people suffering from venous insufficiency had very positive results with significantly improved symptoms in those taking gotu kola compared to subjects that were given a placebo. Another study of people suffering from varicose veins showed a reduced fluid leakage in those who were given gotu kola supplements.
If you suffer from the discomfort caused by swelling on aircraft, there is more hopeful news. A study found that subjects taking gotu kola prior to their flight suffered from less swelling of the legs and ankles than those that did not take it.
5. Anxiety Relief
One of the many traditional uses of gotu kola is its ability to relieve anxiety and to a certain extent this has been backed up by science. The triterpenoids present in gotu kola appear to be able to decrease levels of anxiety as well as increase cognitive function in mice but there have also been positive experiments carried out on human subjects.
One study found that people taking gotu kola were less inclined to be startled by sudden and new noises when compared to those who were given a placebo. The reaction to a startle noise is used to indicate levels of anxiety and researchers believe anxiety symptoms might well alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
Gotu kola might also be effective in treating depression and is used extensively in Asian cultures for this purpose.
6. Increased Brain Function
Gotu Kola is believed to have applications for a number of cognitive functions and is thought to improve memory, concentration and intelligence and according to research might have the potential to treat degenerative brain disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One study carried out on rats at Kasturba Medical College in India showed a significant improvement in the memory of rats given a daily dose of gotu kola extract over a 2 week period.
Certain acids found in gotu kola have been shown in studies to protect against neural damage caused by free radicals and these derivatives are potential candidates in the future treatment of Alzheimer’s disease but clearly far more research is needed.
Gotu Kola is often recommended as a treatment for insomnia and animal testing indicates that it does indeed act as a sedative. While these results sound promising, it should be noted that so far, no testing has been done on human subjects regarding its suitability to treat insomnia.
8. Gastric Ulcers
Gastric ulcers are caused by inflammation and the destruction of mucous membrane in the stomach. Gastric ulcers can be brought on by excessive consumption of alcohol and some studies have indicated that gotu kola might be effective in treating alcohol induced ulcers.
8. Joint Pain
Studies have also shown that gotu kola is an effective anti-inflammatory and can be used to help those suffering from joint pain such as arthritis. While most of the research has been carried out on rodents, one very small scale study on women suffering from sclederoma showed that gotu kola reduced the skin hardening and joint pain associated with the disease and significantly improved movement in the fingers.
10. For diabetic symptoms
One of the many complications of diabetes is that it can result in a deterioration of the capillaries which can hinder the delivery of essential nutrients and oxygen to the tissues. This condition known as dysfunctional micro-circulation can lead to serious consequences including damage to the nerves, kidneys and eyes. Many people with diabetes commonly experience these conditions.
Fortunately it seems that gotu kola can offer some natural respite. In a study published in 2001 involving 50 diabetic patients suffering from diabetic microangiopathy those who were given gotu kola supplements of 60mg each day experienced significant improvements in their symptoms compared with the placebo group.
Those given gotu kola had less swelling in the ankles and significantly improved blood flow leading researchers to conclude that the herb may delay or totally prevent the serious complications associated with diabetic microangiopathy. (3)
Sources of Gotu Kola
Where I am living in Thailand, people typically blend fresh gotu kola leaves and stems with boiling water and sometimes add something to sweeten it like honey or stevia. If you don’t live in Asia, you are unlikely to find fresh gotu kola growing in your garden or sold at the local market, but it is readily available in a variety of forms. You can buy gotu kola as dried herbs, teas, capsules or tablets.
Recommended Doses and Precautions
The recommended gotu kola dose varies according to the type you are using and your reason for using it. If you are not sure how much to take, make sure that you consult your health provider first.
- Tea: You can drink tea made with dried gotu kola 3 times a day.
- Powdered herb capsules: take between 1,000 and 4,000 mg 3 times a day
- Standardized extract: between 50 and 250 mg a day depending on the condition being treated.
Gotu Kola Side Effects
- It might be harmful to your liver if it is taken for too long and it isn’t recommended that you take it for more than 6 weeks at a time. If you are suffering from a form of liver disease you should not take gotu kola.
- Gotu kola is not recommended for children.
- If you are taking any prescription medication, check with your doctor before you take gotu kola as it may react with certain drugs.
- Side effects are rare but high doses might result in nausea, dizziness and headaches.