What Is Guggul? Benefits and Uses

08/11/2022 | 9 min. read

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The first time I took guggul was shortly after my training in Ayurveda. Usually, I make an annual trip to India to get panchakarma treatment, which is an Ayurvedic detoxification program. (Panchakarma is a Sanskrit word that means “five actions” or “five treatments.”) But that particular year I couldn’t go. My Ayurvedic physician at the time recommended that I do a home detox and included guggul as one of the herbs in my program.

Guggul is made from the sap (gum resin) of the guggul tree, which is native to India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. This tree has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia. It’s known by the Sanskrit name “Guggulu,” which means, “protects from disease.”

Because guggul is renowned for “scraping out” toxins, it is one of the most commonly used Ayurvedic herbs for reducing cholesterol, promoting heart health, catalyzing weight loss, and supporting joint health. 

Guggul is known as a yogavahi, which means that when it is combined with another herb, it takes the second herb deep into the tissues to help promote detoxification and healing of the targeted tissue. Guggul is combined with many other herbs because of this remarkable property. For example, since guggul is particularly good at breaking up masses and combating difficult-to-treat, chronic conditions, it’s often combined with a specific herb to help treat tumors.

Benefits of Guggul

Guggul is praised for its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to clear toxins. Two attributes of guggul that make it such a potent anti-inflammatory and ama (toxin)-busting herb are:

  • Its ability to promote healthy lymphatic function: The lymphatic system is responsible for removing debris and toxins from the tissues so they can be excreted from the body. When the lymphatic system gets backed up, inflammation rises and the body struggles to detoxify.
  • Its upregulation of the cytochrome P450 system in the liver: The cytochrome P450 system is a superfamily of enzymes that are important for breaking down toxic compounds, medications, and harmful metabolites. Guggul helps to stimulate this liver enzyme system for more efficient detoxification.

Because of guggul’s overall ability to remove ama from the body, research supports these primary benefits of this amazing herb:

  • Boosts HDL cholesterol, reduces unhealthy cholesterol like LDL and triglycerides, and prevents future accumulation of cholesterol along the vessel walls (all thanks to specific plant steroids in guggul that remove excess cholesterol from the body)
  • Improves joint health
  • Promotes weight loss and management of obesity
  • Enhances thyroid function
  • Supports heart conditions—It is used in congestive heart failure and ischemic heart disease. It also clears atherosclerosis, reduces blood clots, and increases blood flow to the heart.
  • Treats gynecologic conditions—clears endometriosis, reduces polycystic ovarian syndrome, regulates the menstrual cycle, and reduces uterine fibroids
  • Reduces skin inflammation—specifically treats acne and chronic, treatment-refractory skin diseases.
  • Supports bone health—helps to heal fractures

Guggul and Detoxification

If you’re concerned about the constant exposure to environmental pollutants and chemical toxins and the long-term impact they have on your body and mind, guggul is a wonderful way to reboot, especially during an annual cleanse. It’s the powerful flush you need to remove ama that has accumulated in the tissues for decades.

Since guggul works deep, it’s common to experience some uncomfortable symptoms while toxins are being mobilized and cleared. Symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Rashes
  • Joint discomfort
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety

You might ask, “Why would I want to take an herb that makes me feel bad?” Because the temporary detoxification symptoms are the result of deeply held toxins FINALLY being dissolved and removed.

When these toxins accumulate in the body and mind, they can result in chronic illness including arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease as well as chronic psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. Once the toxins are removed, your body and mind begin to heal and conditions that may have been present for most of your life begin to melt away spontaneously. 

Guggul and the Brain-Gut Connection

Although guggul helps to remove ama throughout the entire body, the removal of ama in the mind and gut has always been the most fascinating to me. That’s because as guggul begins to open the digestive channels, there is increased mental clarity, creativity, and focus (after the initial detoxification is completed). 

And as guggul clears out the channels in the mind, people notice stronger digestion, greater tolerance for previously intolerable food groups, and fewer cravings for junk food. The connection between the brain-gut is so profound, and guggul tackles both sides of the coin simultaneously, resulting in a healthier gut and more balanced mind.

The first time I took guggul, about one week into the program, a tremendous amount of anger, frustration, and resentment came to the surface. I hadn’t experienced such intense feelings since my adolescent years. Then I realized, I am detoxing emotional ama from being a teenager—wow, guggul is a powerful herb! 

After the emotional detox, certain chronic digestive issues that had plagued me for decades were suddenly gone. Now that I understand the gut-brain relationship, it makes sense that my gut healed spontaneously following the mental detox I experienced.

How did guggul dissolve old, unprocessed emotions from my adolescence?  Guggul removes the “junk” that creates mental and physical suffering. My initial experience with guggul is similar to what many of my patients’ experience—a clearing of old, unwanted patterns in the body and mind. That is why guggul is the key detoxification herb that I use in The Prime.

How To Take Guggul

In the US, guggul is predominantly found in a powdered resin form or as a tablet. Some guggul extracts are beginning to appear on the market.

I typically recommend a starting dose of 500 mg once or twice a day.

Guggul isn’t an herb to take long term. You can take it during a cleanse, such as The Prime, or for a few weeks or months to manage a specific condition. Guggul is excellent at removing toxins from the body, and once it has boosted the detoxification process and created the desired health effect, its job is complete. 

The main side effects are typically associated with detoxification symptoms (headaches, nausea, fatigue, skin eruptions, and emotional fluctuations), which subside as toxins are more efficiently processed out of the body.

Individuals with excess Pitta can experience symptoms of excess heat if they take too much guggul (heat intolerance, rashes, irritability, and diarrhea).

These are signs that you need to reduce the dose of guggul or follow a stricter Pitta-pacifying diet. Guggul literally melts the toxins out of the body, which is why it can increase Pitta in an already Pitta-predominant individual.

Who Should Take Guggul?

Guggul is tridoshic, supporting all three doshas (mind-body types)—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—making it good for everyone. But as I just mentioned, guggul is heating, so if you have excess Pitta, monitor for symptoms mentioned earlier.

Guggul is ideal for anyone who wants to reduce excess Kapha, which can present itself as weight gain, fatigue, hypothyroidism, unwanted growths, elevated cholesterol, atherosclerosis, etc.

Is Guggul Safe?

For most people, guggul is safe. However, it is contraindicated in pregnancy and during breastfeeding.

Additionally, since guggul reduces blood clotting and promotes healthy blood flow, individuals with bleeding disorders or who are taking medications that slow clotting should use it cautiously and with the guidance of a health practitioner. Guggul also boosts thyroid function, so it should be used with care in hyperthyroidism. 

As I mentioned earlier, guggul upregulates the cytochrome P450 system in the liver, so medications that are metabolized by the liver through this system may have reduced effects. This has been specifically noted with certain antihypertensive medications such as propranolol and diltiazem.

What I’ve noticed working with patients taking medications that are metabolized by the cytochrome P450 system is that we initially had to slightly increase the dose of the medications when they first started taking guggul. But after using guggul for the complete prescription period, we were able to reduce the overall dose of the medications and at times even discontinue the medications because the underlying condition had resolved. That’s why it’s so important to work closely with your prescribing physician when taking guggul simultaneously with these medications. 

Seeds of Wisdom

Guggul is not a superficial, weekend detox—it removes the deep gunk that keeps us from living our best lives. That’s why it is introduced in stage 3 of The Prime, after your body and mind have been prepared for a deep detoxification process in stages 1 and 2.

I approach guggul with tremendous respect for its potency to help remove the physical and mental obstacles that feel stuck.

Whenever I take guggul, I make sure I’m getting enough rest and providing my body with the nutrients it needs to fuel the detoxification work it’s doing. That’s why guggul is part of my annual cleanse, when I invest my energy into a reboot. The physical and mental purge that comes from guggul feels like a rebirth into a lighter body and clearer mind.

Think of guggul as an herbal bulldozer that can push through some of the biggest walls that keep us from healing. Just like when we remodel our homes, some initial debris is created during the transformation, but the new space we create is ultimately more comfortable and harmonious.

Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary

Meet Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary

Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary is an integrative neurologist, Ayurvedic practitioner, and author of The Prime and Sound Medicine. Her combined expertise in both modern neurology and the ancient science of health known as Ayurveda gives her a truly unique perspective that has helped thousands of people to feel better and achieve health goals they never thought possible.

More About Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary