Gotu Kola – An Overview
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is a powerful medicinal herb that is widely used in traditional eastern medicine. It is used for:
- Raising mood and fighting depression/anxiety
- Improving sleep
- Skincare and wound healing
It is a perennial plant native to the wetlands of Asia and is not to be confused with the kola nut.
It has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and in China, it is considered one of the “miracle elixirs of life”.
The famous Chinese herbalist Li Ching Yuen claimed that Gotu kola helped him live an incredibly long life (197 or 256 years old, depending on which records you believe)
While you might not quite see those results yourself, it is evident that Gotu kola does have some very useful therapeutic properties.
And you don’t have to take the work of ancient traditions, either. Research has started to back up these claims.1Howes MJ, Houghton PJ. Plants used in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine for improvement of memory and cognitive function Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003
Gotu kola has recently started gaining attention in the West for its anti-anxiety and nootropic effects.
It’s also used for treating a variety of skin conditions, as well as illnesses like fever, and gastrointestinal problems.2Brinkhaus B, Lindner M, Schuppan D, Hahn EG. Chemical, pharmacological and clinical profile of the East Asian medical plant Centella asiatica Phytomedicine. 20003Howes MJ, Houghton PJ. Plants used in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine for improvement of memory and cognitive function Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003
What Does Gotu Kola Do?
Gotu Kola For Memory and Learning
Gotu kola is known to re-vitalize the brain and nervous system, increase attention span and combat aging.
This could have an effect on cognition in healthy people.4Brinkhaus B, et al. Chemical, pharmacological and clinical profile of the East Asian medical plant Centella asiatica Phytomedicine. 2000
Giving Gotu extract to healthy test subjects for 2 months had a remarkably positive influence on overall cognitive performance in all of the subjects studied.5Sushma Tiwari, et al. EFFECT OF CENTELLA ASIATICA ON MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT(MCI) AND OTHER COMMON AGE-RELATED CLINICAL PROBLEMS Digest Journal of Nanomaterials and Biostructures.2008
A 2008 clinical study consisting of 60 elderly subjects with mild cognitive deficiency indicated that Gotu extract for 6 months led to a significant cognitive improvement.6Sushma Tiwari, et al. EFFECT OF CENTELLA ASIATICA ON MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT(MCI) AND OTHER COMMON AGE-RELATED CLINICAL PROBLEMS Digest Journal of Nanomaterials and Biostructures. 2008
In animal studies, Gotu kola improved memory in rats. Researchers suspected that this may be due to its effects on glutathione.
Increasing glutathione levels may improve memory according to some research.7Veerendra Kumar MH, Gupta YK. Effect of different extracts of Centella asiatica on cognition and markers of oxidative stress in rats J Ethnopharmacol. 20028Yabuki Y, Fukunaga K. Oral administration of glutathione improves memory deficits following transient brain ischemia by reducing brain oxidative stress Neuroscience. 2013
According to brain mapping studies, Gotu kola can influence neuronal morphology (neural pathways) and promote the higher brain function of young mice.9Rao SB, Chetana M, Uma Devi P. Centella asiatica treatment during postnatal period enhances learning and memory in mice Physiol Behav. 2005
Evidence For Antidepressant Therapy
Gotu kola has been used for centuries as a mood elevator. And now, there’s clinical evidence to back it up.
This nootropic may act as an anti-depressant by balancing amino acid levels through its natural terpenes.10Chen Y, et al. Effect of total triterpenes from Centella asiatica on the depression behavior and concentration of amino acid in forced swimming mice Zhong Yao Cai. 2003
Terpenes are a class of naturally occurring organic compounds, which may have a variety of effects on the human body.
The antidepressant effect of triterpenes of Gotu kola may come from these terpenes increasing the contents of monoamines in the brain.
This could lead to an overall increase in neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that regulate mood and emotion in a positive way.11Chen Y, et al. Effects of total triterpenes of Centella asiatica on the corticosterone levels in serum and contents of monoamine in depression rat brain Zhong Yao Cai. 2005
One study saw a favorable improvement in mood and other age-related conditions in subjects with mild cognitive impairment.12Sushma Tiwari, et al. EFFECT OF CENTELLA ASIATICA ON MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT(MCI) AND OTHER COMMON AGE-RELATED CLINICAL PROBLEMS Digest Journal of Nanomaterials and Biostructures. 2008
Gotu Kola And Anxiety
Gotu kola Shows promise as an anxiety treatment by binding to cholecystokinin (CCK) receptors.13Bradwejn J, Zhou Y, Koszycki D, Shlik J. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) on acoustic startle response in healthy subjects J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2000
Research shows that CCK can have potent effects on modulating fear and anxiety circuitry and stress responsiveness.14Mallory E. Bowers, Dennis C. Choi, and Kerry J. Ressler. Neuropeptide Regulation of Fear and Anxiety: Implications of Cholecystokinin, Endogenous Opioids, and Neuropeptide Y, Physiol Behav. 2012
Gotu kola can also stimulate the enzyme decarboxylase, which has a big influence on brain GABA levels.
In fact, it may be able to raise levels of GABA by up to 40% in rats.
GABA is a major inhibitory transmitter, and increasing its transmission may have a big effect on stress and overall feelings of calm.15Awad R, et al. Effects of traditionally used anxiolytic botanicals on enzymes of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2007
In animals, Gotu Kola shows sedative properties, which could potentially make it an anxiolytic nootropic for humans as well.16Wijeweera P, et al. Evaluation of anxiolytic properties of Gotukola–(Centella asiatica) extracts and asiaticoside in rat behavioral modelsPhytomedicine. 2006
Evidence For Alzheimer’s Treatment
Studies have shown Gotu kola to have a positive effect in the treatment of a condition called “venous insufficiency,” which can significantly increase the odds of forming Alzheimer’s Disease.
Venous insufficiency is a condition in which the veins have problems sending blood from the legs back to the heart.
This can cause a lack of oxygen in the brain, leading to neural degeneration over time.
This can increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s17Manju Liu, et al. Patterns of Chronic Venous Insufficiency in the Dural Sinuses and Extracranial Draining Veins and Their Relationship with White Matter Hyperintensities for Patients with Parkinson’s Disease J Vasc Surg. 2016
Venous insufficiency is also linked to conditions like transient monocular blindness, headaches, spontaneous intracranial hypertension, the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis, and total transient amnesia.18Wiśniewski A, et al. The role of chronic venous insufficiency in the pathogenesis of brain diseases Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2013
There is also evidence that Gotu kola can inhibit acetylcholinesterase (AChE), a key enzyme in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
AChE is the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine (ACh), which is a major neurotransmitter.
So, by inhibiting AChE, Gotu kola can increase the amount of ACh in the brain.
Researchers suspect that regulating ACh in the brain is a major factor in fending off the development of Alzheimer’s19Orhan, Gurdal; Orhan, Ilkay; Sener, Bilge. Recent Developments in Natural and Synthetic Drug Research for Alzheimer’s Disease. Letters in Drug Design & Discovery. 2006
Gotu kola may also prevent β-amyloid (beta-amyloid) plaques from forming
The buildup of these toxic plaques is heavily correlated with Alzheimer’s.
However, Gotu kola extract was shown to reduce levels of β-amyloid plaques in the hippocampus of mice.
Although there have not been any human studies on this phenomenon, this is a promising clue.20Dhanasekaran M, et al. Centella asiatica extract selectively decreases amyloid beta levels in hippocampus of Alzheimer’s disease animal model Phytother Res. 2009
Gotu kola has been shown to stimulate glutamic acid decarboxylase, an enzyme responsible for GABA metabolism by over 40%.21Awad R, et al. Effects of traditionally used anxiolytic botanicals on enzymes of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2007
Significant reductions in GABA levels have been described in severe cases of AD, which could be underlying the behavioral and psychological symptoms of AD.
So, stimulating GABA production, such as through Gotu kola supplements, may ease the symptoms of this disease.22Solas M, Puerta E, Ramirez MJ. Treatment Options in Alzheimer´s Disease: The GABA Story Curr Pharm Des. 2015
Parkinson’s is a neurological disease characterized by signs of major oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage.
Current research suggests that Gotu kola’s neuroprotective effects treat some of the symptoms of this disease.
Gotu kola is a powerful antioxidant and can improve the symptoms brought on by oxidative stress.
A 2010 animal study looked at neurotoxicity in rats given Gotu extract versus rats given a placebo.
They then examined the rats for biomarkers of oxidative stress and found significantly lower signs of damage in the rats who took the extract.
They concluded that Gotu kola has a protective effect against mitochondrial damage associated with Parkinson’s.23Haleagrahara N, Ponnusamy K. Neuroprotective effect of Centella asiatica extract (CAE) on experimentally induced parkinsonism in aged Sprague-Dawley rats J Toxicol Sci. 2010
Parkinson’s disease is also associated with dopamine neurotoxicity.
This may be due to a compound called tyrosinase, which can oxidize and damage dopamine receptors. Gotu kola has been found to inhibit tyrosinase in humans.24Blum D, et al. Molecular pathways involved in the neurotoxicity of 6-OHDA, dopamine and MPTP: contribution to the apoptotic theory in Parkinson’s disease Prog Neurobiol. 200125Ilkay Erdogan Orhan. Centella asiatica (L.) Urban: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine with Neuroprotective Potential Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 201226Mahmud Tareq Hassan Khan. Molecular design of tyrosinase inhibitors: A critical review of promising novel inhibitors from synthetic origins Pure And Applied Chemistry. 2009
Another harmful compound associated with Parkinson’s is 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP).
MPTP converts to the neurotoxin MPP+, which can destroy dopaminergic neurons in the brain, leading to Parkinson’s.
In one animal study, Gotu kola exerted a neuroprotective effect against PD by reversing the neurotoxicity induced by this process.
By balancing dopamine levels increasing antioxidant activity, Gotu kola reversed Parkinson’s symptoms in rats.27Xu CL, et al. Asiaticoside: attenuation of neurotoxicity induced by MPTP in a rat model of Parkinsonism via maintaining redox balance and up-regulating the ratio of Bcl-2/Bax Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2012
Multiple studies suggest that Gotu kola may be able to decrease the damage caused by epilepsy and seizures, as well as improve recovery afterward.28Gupta YK, et al. Effect of Centella asiatica on pentylenetetrazole-induced kindling, cognition and oxidative stress in rats Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 200329MS Ganachari, eta al. Neuropharmacology of an Extract Derived from Centella asiatica Pharmaceutical Biology. 2004
Gotu Kola Benefits For Skin Care
This herb can be useful in the treatment of skin diseases, especially in wound healing.
Research shows that it increases the collagen synthesis, while at the same time inhibiting the inflammatory phase of wound healing.30Bylka W. Centella asiatica in dermatology: an overview Phytother Res. 2014
Combined with Vitamin E and collagen, Gotu Kola was associated with fewer women developing stretch marks than in placebo.31GL Young, D Jewell . Creams for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy.(Review) The Cochrane Collaboration. 2005
Preliminary results suggest that Gotu Kola extracts could work as a topical anti-psoriatic agent.32Sampson JH, et al. In vitro keratinocyte antiproliferant effect of Centella asiatica extract and triterpenoid saponins Phytomedicine. 2001
Gotu Kola Shown To Help Digestion
Gotu Kola may improve digestion by improving the function of cholecystokinin (CCK), which in turn improves gallbladder function.33Bradwejn J, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) on acoustic startle response in healthy subjects J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2000
Evidence For Sleep Improvement
There is some preliminary evidence that Gotu Kola can improve sleep quality and fight insomnia, at least in patients with cognitive impairment.
It remains to be seen how this effect may carry over into healthy people.34 EFFECT OF CENTELLA ASIATICA ON MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT(MCI) AND OTHER COMMON AGE-RELATED CLINICAL PROBLEMS Digest Journal of Nanomaterials and Biostructures. 2008
How Gotu Kola Works In The Brain
The primary therapeutic compounds of Gotu Kola are a class of organic compounds called triterpenoid saponins.
Researchers believe these organic compounds are responsible for most of this plant’s therapeutic effects.35Kashmira J. Gohil, et al. Pharmacological Review on Centella asiatica: A Potential Herbal Cure-all Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010
Two saponins in particular, asiatic and madecassic acids, are linked to positive effects on brain aging.
Current research considers these two saponins responsible for Gotu Kola’s ability to fight neurodegeneration and promote brain health.36Howes MJ, Houghton PJ. Plants used in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine for improvement of memory and cognitive function Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003
Gotu kola isn’t just for preserving cognitive function; it can also improve it.
There are preliminary findings that suggest Gotu kola can have multiple nootropic effects.
This herb can decrease anxiety by influencing the GABA system, promoting a calm relaxed state.
It is also possible that it can influence the action of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin (aka the “feel good” chemicals) in the brain.
It may also increase the “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF), which is crucial to establishing and strengthening connections in the brain.37Bradwejn J, Zhou Y, Koszycki D, Shlik J. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) on acoustic startle response in healthy subjects J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2000
How Much Gotu Kola Should I Take?
Most human studies used approximately 600 mg of dried leaves or extract per day, divided into three doses.
Gotu Kola Potential Side Effects
At high doses, Gotu Kola may cause:
- Upset stomach
- Transient unconsciousness.
It is suspected that chronic treatment may prevent women from becoming pregnant by causing spontaneous abortion.
You should not take it if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
Is Gotu Kola Bad For Your Liver
There is some evidence that extended use of Gotu kola may have adverse effects on the liver.
For this reason, using Gotu for more than 6 weeks at a time is not recommended. You should take a 2-week break before taking the herb again.
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