Gotu -- what? Was my first response when I heard of this ayurvedic herb; I was unaware of it, just like most millennials, until I "googled" it today. Turns out not only was I oblivious to its existence, but I also didn't have the curiosity to look it up despite being a consumer of brands that use the versatile ingredient in their products.
"Gotu Kola" is a herb used widely in Chinese, Indonesian and ayurvedic traditional medicine for its wound healing and anti-inflammatory capabilities. It is often termed as the herb of longevity by practitioners.
These practitioners claim it boosts brain function, heal skin issues, and promote liver and kidney health. In Indian traditional medicine, it is believed that there is a cure for all ailments naturally found in nature because back then, people lived natural lives. There were no processed foods, no chemical-laden foods. Hence, if people came across body ailments, they could cure them with naturally occurring plants, herbs, potions found in mother nature. In recent times, trends have changed, and people rely heavily on modern medication because modern problems require modern solutions. However, some herbs have found their place outside of the "traditional medicine" umbrella and have made their own space. Gotu Kola is one such herb.
What is Gotu Kola?
Its scientific name is Centella Asiatica [CA] - a perennial herbaceous creeper that belongs to the family of Umbelliferae (Apiaceae). Throughout India, it is found to an altitude of 1800m growing in moist places and known as Indian pennywort. It is also found in most tropical and subtropical countries growing in swampy areas, such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Madagascar, South Pacific, Eastern Europe, and South Africa.
About 20 species related to this herb grow in the tropic or wet pantropical areas such as rice paddies, and also at times on rocky higher altitudes. The herb is also confused with Brahmi at times.
Gotu Kola is a tasteless and odourless plant that thrives in and around water. Its leaves are fan-shaped green in colour with white or light purple-to-pink or white flowers and have small oval fruits. The complete plant can be used for medicinal purposes. It is used primarily as a blood purifier and for treating high blood pressure, memory enhancement and promoting longevity. Gotu kola is one of the primary herbs for revitalizing the nerves and brain cells, as per Ayurveda. Eastern healers relied on this herb to treat emotional disorders, such as depression, that were thought to be rooted in physical problems. In Western medicine, during the middle of the twentieth century, CA and its alcohol extracts reported positive results in the treatment of leprosy.
Benefits of Gotu Kola
Gotu kola is mainly used for burns and poor circulation that leads to chronic venous insufficiency. It is also used for scars, curing stretch marks, and many various other conditions.
How does it work?
The herb contains a specific set of chemicals known to decrease inflammation and reduce blood pressure in veins. It also seems to increase collagen production, an integral part of wound healing.
Promotes wound healing and minimize scarring.
In a 2015 study conducted on rats, researchers found that wound dressing containing the medicinal plant Gotu kola affected multiple wounds. These included clean cuts by sharp objects, jagged tears caused by blunt-force trauma, and infected tissue.
The Gotu kola extract-treated wounds were found to epithelialize faster. The rate of wound contraction was higher than in control wounds. These results indicated that the herb produced different actions on the various phases of wound repair by exhibiting significant wound healing activity in regular and delayed healing models.
Boost cognitive function.
The effects of Centella Asiatica is known to revitalize the brain, increase attention span, and concentration and combat ageing. A small study revealed Gotu kola extract and folic acid results in boosting cognitive function after stroke. It was found that Gotu kola and folic acid were equally beneficial in improving overall cognition. The former was more effective in improving the nervous system.
Gotu kola can enhance memory and nerve function, which gives it potential in treating Alzheimer's. In fact, one mice study in 2012 found that Gotu kola extracts positively affected behavioural abnormalities in mice with Alzheimer's disease.
In lab and animal studies, the extract was also shown to have a modest effect on protecting brain cells from toxicity. This could also save the cells from forming the plaque associated with Alzheimer's.
Still, further research is needed to determine precisely how Gotu kola can be used for Alzheimer treatment.
Help reduce disorders such as anxiety and stress.
An animal study from 2016 established that Gotu kola had anti-anxiety effects on male mice sleep deprived for 72 hours, as sleep deprivation is known to cause anxiety, neuroinflammation and oxidative damage.
Mice treated with Gotu kola for five successive days before undergoing sleep deprivation displayed significantly less anxiety-like behaviour. The mice also experienced improved locomotor activity and less oxidative damage. A medical review in 2013 suggested that the herbal formulations of Gotu kola has an acute anti-anxiety effect.
Help as an antidepressant.
The herbs positive effects on cognitive and brain functions make them an excellent natural source of antidepressant.
A 2016 study aids these findings. In a survey of 33 people with generalized anxiety disorder, the participants took Gotu kola instead of their antidepressant medication for sixty days. They self-reported decreased feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Another animal study mentioned in a review outlined the effect of Gotu kola on rats with chronic depression. This Ayurvedic medicine positively impacted behavioural depression, including body weight, body temperature, and heart rate.
However, one must be wary and check with their doctor before going off antidepressant medication and transitioning to herbal healthcare.
It May be helpful for detox.
Newer research is taking a look at this herbs effect on liver and kidney toxicity. According to one 2017 animal study, positive results of Centella Asiatica were seen on suppressing the toxic adverse effects of the antibiotic isoniazid, which is used as a treatment for tuberculosis.
Rats were administered 100 mg of Gotu kola for 30 days before they were treated with antibiotics. These rats experienced less toxicity. The rats that did experience toxicity in the liver and kidneys resumed to near-normal levels after being treated with Centella Asiatica extract, aka Gotu kola.
However, more research is needed to further these findings.
Improved circulation and lowered swelling.
Research suggests that the herb can reduce problems with fluid retention, edema, ankle swelling, and circulation tied to taking air travel that lasts longer than four hours.
Participants of the research study who suffered from mild-to-moderate superficial venous disease were asked to take a dietary supplement of
Gotu kola for two days before their air travel, the day of their air travel, and the day after their flight.
Researchers found that participants who took the nutritional supplement experienced significantly less fluid retention and ankle swelling than those who didn't. Studies have also suggested that Gotu kola can be handy in treating varicose veins, known as venous insufficiency. The reason being, Gotu kola has a positive metabolic effect on the connective tissue of the vascular wall and blood vessels.
Given its traditional ability to treat anxiety, stress, and depression, Gotu kola can also treat insomnia that sometimes accompanies these conditions. Some ayurvedic practitioners consider this herbal remedy to be a safe alternative to prescription medications used to treat insomnia and induce drowsiness.
Although old research studies suggest that Gotu kola helps treat sleep issues, additional studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Reduce stretch marks appearance
A published study in 2013 suggested Gotu kola reduces the appearance of stretch marks. It's assumed that the terpenoids found in the herb increase collagen production in the human body. This action helps prevent new stretch marks from forming and support healing or decrease signs of any existing blemishes.
One may also try applying a topical cream containing 1 per cent Gotu kola extract to the affected area to reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
Relieve joint pain.
The anti-inflammatory properties of this herb help relieve arthritic pain. Research studies on collagen-induced arthritis in rats found that oral administration of Gotu kola reduced joint inflammation, cartilage erosion, and bone erosion. Its antioxidant effect also had a positive impact on the immune system.
Active ingredients (Referred from Published studies)
The primary active constituents of Gotu kola are saponins (also called triterpenoids), which include asiaticosides. A trisaccharide moiety is linked to the aglycone Asiatic acid, madecassoside and madasiatic acid. These triterpene saponins and their sapogenins are mainly responsible for wound healing and vascular effects by inhibiting collagen production at the wound site. Other components isolated from Gotu kola, such as brahmoside and brahminoside, may be responsible for CNS and uterus relaxant actions but are yet to be confirmed by clinical studies. Some derived ingredients from the herb are found to be effective in the treatment of venous hypertension.
Side Effects of Gotu Kola
CA has no proven toxicity in recommended doses. Side effects are few, but they can cause skin allergies and burning sensations if applied externally. Other side effects include headache, stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, and extreme drowsiness, which tend to occur with high doses of the herb. The fresh plant may have a lower potential for skin irritation.
Oral Intake: Gotu kola is safe for most people when taken orally for up to 12 months. It may cause nausea and stomach pain if the dosage is excess.
Topical application: Gotu kola is safe for most people for skin application up to 10 weeks. However, in rare cases, it may cause itchiness and redness.
Interaction with other drugs
There have been no documented reports on harmful interactions between the herb and medications to date.
Since high doses of the herb cause sedation, it is warned that people on sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication should refrain from taking this herb without checking with their doctor or physician.
Theoretically, the herb was also found to interfere with blood glucose levels and thus also possibly interfere with the existing hypoglycaemic therapy and cholesterol-lowering agents.
In the case of the following, it is best to avoid the use of Gotu kola to be on the safe side.
Pregnancy: Gotu kola is safe for skin application on pregnant women. However, there isn't sufficient information to know if Gotu kola is safe for oral intake.
Lactation: There isn't sufficient information to know if the herb is safe to use during breastfeeding.
Liver disease: There are concerns that Gotu kola may cause liver damage. Folks who are on medication for liver conditions should avoid the use of this herb. It can complicate liver problems.
Surgery: The herb might cause too much sleepiness if combined with medications used during and after surgery. Do not consume the herb at least two weeks before surgery.
In conclusion, I'd like to add that natural and traditional remedies are available for many health issues that one faces. One can find solace and healing in the same. However, one must ensure that one must also have a simple and holistic lifestyle for natural remedies to work. One cannot expect to live an unhealthy lifestyle and continue taking natural and herbal supplements and wait for a miracle. Take your health in your hands, educate yourself about what you consume, and slowly transition to a more balanced suitable lifestyle tending to your body's daily needs.
However, if already on medication, please do not stop these medications and self diagnose and medicate yourself with traditional and herbal remedies. Always speak to your physician or certified ayurvedic practitioner before stopping any medication or substituting with herbal traditional ayurvedic herbs.
Authored by: Padmaja Rai
About the Author: Padmaja is a healthcare consultant and avid fitness enthusiast. She holds a masters' in bio-innovation and rare diseases from University of Pennsylvania. She is a firm believer in ancient Indian holistic healing.