Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) has been used to treat a number of conditions for thousands of years in India, China, and Indonesia. It was used to heal wounds, improve mental clarity, and treat skin conditions such as leprosy and psoriasis. Some people use it to treat respiratory infections such as colds, and it was used for that in the past in China. It has been called "the fountain of life" because legend has it that an ancient Chinese herbalist lived for more than 200 years as a result of taking gotu kola.
Historically, gotu kola has also been used to treat syphilis, hepatitis, stomach ulcers, mental fatigue, epilepsy, diarrhea, fever, and asthma. Today, in the U.S. and Europe gotu kola is most often used to treat varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency, a condition where blood pools in the legs. It's also used in ointments to treat psoriasis and help heal minor wounds.
Gotu kola is not the same as kola nut (Cola nitida). Unlike kola nut, gotu kola has no caffeine, and is not a stimulant.
Gotu kola is a perennial plant native to India, Japan, China, Indonesia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the South Pacific. A member of the parsley family, it has no taste or smell. It thrives in and around water. It has small fan-shaped green leaves with white or light purple-to-pink flowers, and it bears small oval fruit. The leaves and stems of the gotu kola plant are used for medicinal purposes.
Venous insufficiency and varicose veins
When blood vessels lose their elasticity, blood pools in the legs and fluid leaks out of the blood vessels. That causes the legs to swell (venous insufficiency). Several small studies suggest gotu kola may help reduce swelling and improve circulation. In a study of 94 people with venous insufficiency, those who took gotu kola saw their symptoms improve compared to those who took placebo. In another study of people with varicose veins, ultrasound tests showed improvements in the vascular tone -- meaning there was less leakage -- of those who took gotu kola.
Wound healing and skin lesions
Gotu kola contains chemicals called triterpenoids. In animal and lab studies, these compounds appear to help heal wounds. For example, some studies suggest that triterpenoids strengthen the skin, boost antioxidants in wounds, and increase blood supply to the area. Based on these findings, gotu kola has been applied to the skin, or topically, for minor burns, psoriasis, preventing scars after surgery, and preventing or reducing stretch marks.
You can find gotu kola in many topical preparations for wound healing. Ask your health care provider if one is right for you.
These same chemicals -- triterpenoids -- seem to decrease anxiety and increase mental function in mice. One human study found that people who took gotu kola were less likely to be startled by a new noise than those who took placebo. Since the "startle noise" response can be a way to tell if someone is anxious, researchers think that gotu kola might help reduce anxiety symptoms. But the dose used in this study was very high, so it's impossible to say how gotu kola might be used to treat anxiety.
A single study of 13 women with scleroderma found that gotu kola decreased joint pain and skin hardening, and improved finger movement.
Gotu kola acts as a sedative when given to animals in tests. Because of that, it is sometimes suggested to help people with insomnia. But no human studies have been done to see whether it works and whether it's safe.
Gotu kola is available in teas and as dried herbs, tinctures, capsules, tablets, and ointments. Products should be stored in a cool, dry place and used before the expiration date on the label.
Gotu kola is not recommended for children under 18 years old.
The adult dosage of gotu kola varies depending on the condition being treated. Your health care provider can help you choose the right dose for you.
The standard dose of gotu kola (Centella asiatica) varies depending on the preparation. Most studies have used standardized extracts:
Gotu kola has been used in some studies that lasted up to one year. However, in some people gotu kola may affect the liver. It's best not to use gotu kola for more than 6 weeks without talking to your doctor. You may need to take a 2-week break before taking the herb again.
Asiaticoside, a major component of gotu kola, has also been associated with tumor growth in mice. Anyone with a history of precancerous or cancerous skin lesions -- such as squamous cell, basal cell skin cancer, or melanoma -- should not use gotu kola.
People with liver disease, or who take medications that affect the liver, should not take gotu kola.
Side effects are rare but may include skin allergy and burning sensations with external use, headache, stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, and extreme drowsiness. These side effects tend to happen with high doses of gotu kola.
Gotu kola is not recommended for children.
People older than 65 should take gotu kola at a lower than standard dose. Your health care provider can help you determine the right dose for you, which can be increased slowly over time.
Gotu kola may interact with the following medications:
Drugs that affect the liver -- Gotu kola contains elements that may be harmful to the liver, and taking it along with some other medications that also can harm the liver may cause liver damage.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs (including statins) -- In animal studies, gotu kola increased cholesterol levels. It may also raise cholesterol levels in humans, although no studies have been done.
Diabetes medications -- In animal studies, gotu kola seems to increase blood sugar levels. People with diabetes should not take gotu kola without first talking to their doctor.
Diuretics (water pills) -- Gotu kola appears to have diuretic effects, meaning it helps the body get of excess fluid. Taking diuretic medications and gotu kola could cause your body to lose too much fluid, upsetting the balance of electrolytes you need. The same is true of taking gotu kola with herbs that have diuretic effects, such as green tea, astragalus, or gingko.
Sedatives -- Because of gotu kola's sedative effects, it might increase the effect of other medications taken to relieve anxiety or insomnia. It might also increase the effects of herbs taken for anxiety or insomnia, such as valerian.
Brahmi; Centella; Centella asiatica; Hydrocotyle; Indian pennywort; Luei gong gen; Marsh pennywort
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