Guggul is gum resin that can be used to lower cholesterol and boost your liver function, though it has been used for thousands of years in India to treat a number of diseases and conditions. However, its mode of action is completely different to that of most other cholesterol lowering agents.

The active ingredient is known as guggulsterone, which is a plant sterol that increases the amount of body cholesterol into bile acids by the liver. Bile acids are an essential part of our digestion system, working to emulsify the oils and fats we eat and covert them into a form suitable for transferring to the blood and use elsewhere in the body. They also help the body make use of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A and E.

The resin used in this Ayurvedic remedy comes from the stem of a tree called Mukul myrrh that grows throughout India. Ayurvedic medicine is said to have originated from ancient Hindu texts, but is now thought to have evolved over thousands of years. The basis of the medicine is contained in two Sanskrit texts written on palm leaves and form the basis of modern Ayurvedic training. Guggul has been used for millennia in the treatment of skin conditions, rheumatism, arthritis, cardiovascular problems and high cholesterol.

Being an oily fat, cholesterol is not soluble in blood plasma and hence cannot be carried around the body without a carrier. These carriers are known as low density lipoproteins and high density lipoproteins. The LDL carries cholesterol to where it is needed by the body, and is a sticky substance that can also deposit cholesterol in the arteries that are carrying it. This can form a hard coating on the inside of the arteries called plaque, and effectively narrow them and harden them up.

This atherosclerosis, as it is called, is a dangerous condition, and if a blood clot encounters the narrow part of an artery so affected it can be blocked. If in the heart, then this can cause a heart attack, and if in the brain it can give rise to a stroke, both potentially fatal conditions.

HDL, on the other hand, carries excess cholesterol back to the liver for destruction or conversion to bile, and is a free flowing liquid material known as ‘good cholesterol’. Cholesterol is needed by the body and so cannot be eliminated completely. That would be even more dangerous. One of the major functions of cholesterol in the liver is in the production of bile that is used by your digestive process to emulsify fats. Any compound that could also carry out this vital function would mean that liver would have less cholesterol to manufacture.

Your body receives a dietary supply of cholesterol from fatty animal sources such as meat, fats, eggs and dairy products such as cheese and butter. There is no cholesterol in purely vegetable foods. However, that does not mean that vegans have no cholesterol, since as stated earlier, it is an essential substance in the body’s metabolism. In fact, the liver is able to generate all the cholesterol you need, and that which is taken in your diet is superfluous.

The liver can manufacture cholesterol from the trans and saturated fats in your diet, and there are several sources of these. Included among them are popcorn, vegetable shortening such as found in cookies and donuts and other manufactured bakery products made from hydrogenated margarines and oils widely used in the bakery industry. Also from rapeseed and palm oils and coconuts. Saturated fats are also contained in French fries and similar fried foods using certain vegetable oils, and also potato chips. Even vegetarians and vegans can suffer from high cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and taken up by LDL for distribution by the blood. However, a large proportion of that cholesterol is used by the liver to manufacture bile, essential for digestion of fats. This bile is stored in the gall bladder, and released into the upper intestine on the ingestion of fatty food. The bile acids and fats pass down the intestine, where the fats are emulsified into a form suitable for absorption by the body.

The bile acids are then absorbed in the final part of the ileum by proteins that carry them back to the liver where they are recirculated into the bile. Once the level of bile acids in the body reaches a certain level, a chemical known as the Farnesoid X Receptor (FXR) stops the liver from converting cholesterol into bile. Although only 5% of the bile is excreted from the body and needs replaced, this still accounts for 50% of the body’s usage of cholesterol.

The production of bile from cholesterol operates on a closed loop system, with a feedback that maintains a constant level of bile acids. The feedback is controlled by FXR that detects the current level of bile acids and represses the enzyme (CYP7A1) that stimulates bile manufacture until a minimum level has been reached when the CYP7A1 is re-activated.

By blocking the action of FXR, the guggulsterone in guggul continues the conversion of cholesterol to bile acids by the liver without interruption. The liver has to use more LDL cholesterol for this and so reduces the overall amount of cholesterol in the body, specifically the LDL type.

A double blind study in India showed a total cholesterol reduction of 11.7%, including a 12.7% reduction in LDL and a 12% reduction in blood fat (triglyceride) levels, and other studies have indicated a total cholesterol reduction of up to 27% and triglycerides of up to 30%. The Indians believe guggul to be so effective that is has been approved as a treatment for high cholesterol by the Indian government. The connection with FXR has been confirmed by testing with mice with and without FXR.

Another factor in high cholesterol levels is that an under-active thyroid can interfere with the liver’s ability to process cholesterol. Guggul stimulates then production of thyroid hormones, and so can help to reduce excessive LDL cholesterol in the blood cause through a low level of thyroid hormone production.

Overall, then, this Ayurvedic remedy for many ills can help anyone who needs to reduce the level of cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood. Recommended dosages are about 1500 mg twice daily, though if you are also taking statins or are under treatment for cancer you should first consult your doctor, as you should with all natural remedies that are new to you.

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