Gotu Kola Extract Can Be Potent
If you believe in reincarnation, you could do worse than to come back as an elephant. They are the real king of the beasts (sorry, lions), and they do whatever they want. Elephants supposedly have good memories, and they are certainly long-lived animals. Of course, they eat a lot, including whole trees. One of their favorite foods, though, is a red-flowered herb that grows abundantly in hot, swampy areas of Southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Africa, Australia, South America, and the southern United States. Its botanical name is Centella asiatica, but it's commonly called gotu kola.
Sounds like an ad slogan, doesn't it? "Gotu kola! Drink up and feel sexy!" Well, that's not quite what gotu kola is about, even though the people of Southeast Asia have long regarded it as a rejuvenating herb. First of all, this kola has nothing to do with the kola (or cola) nut from which Coke and Pepsi are made. The kola nut contains caffeine and is a stimulant. Gotu kola, however, has no caffeine and is a very mild sedative. Ah, but there is much more to it than that. Gotu kola has marvelous effects on the health of our veins, as we will soon see. (See also the sidebar "What Are Gotu Kola's Other Benefits?")
In addition to improving venous tone, gotu kola has long been recognized for its ability to help with other aspects of human health. "Long" in this case means several thousand years, because gotu kola has been in use for that long in southern Asia, where it became incorporated into the ancient Indian system of medical knowledge and practice called Ayurveda. (For a brief discussion of Ayurveda, see Life Enhancement, October 2001)
Mental acuity is one benefit long attributed to gotu kola, which has been used to improve learning ability, boost memory, and even counteract the memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease. Improved circulation in the brain might account for these effects, and it has also been suggested that gotu kola may enhance memory by improving the transmission of nerve impulses. In addition, the herb's mild sedative action has a calming effect on those who take it.
Heals Burns and Wounds
Also well known is gotu kola's ability to help heal burns and wounds, as well as to alleviate some skin disorders, such as psoriasis and leprosy. It even helps control the growth of scar tissue, especially keloids. These effects are attributed to gotu kola's action in stimulating the development of blood vessels in connective tissue, which consists primarily of the protein collagen. When blood flow to the site of an injury is improved, the healing process is enhanced. This is especially valuable in people with diabetes, many of whom heal poorly because of impaired circulation and tissue damage.
Gotu kola's role in promoting healthy connective tissue also makes it beneficial in the treatment of cellulite, which affects women almost exclusively, especially in their thighs. Contrary to popular belief, cellulite is not a substance - in that sense, there's no such "thing" as cellulite. It's an unsightly condition caused by a progressive disruption, with aging, of the skin's subcutaneous tissue, which consists of several layers of fat cells and connective tissue. As the structure of the subcutaneous tissue (which is different in women and men) progressively changes, the characteristic, dimpled "mattress effect" of cellulite becomes increasingly apparent on the skin.
By a curious coincidence, cellulite is also helped by an extract of that other kola, the kola nut, because of its high content of caffeine and similar compounds, which aid in fat breakdown. It works best when applied directly to the skin.
Beware of Varicose Veins and Hemorrhoids - Gotu Kola Can Help
When we ingest an extract of gotu kola leaves, certain molecules in the extract called triterpenes go to work on our veins, improving their tone and making them less susceptible to the degenerative processes that can lead to varicosity and other problems.1 Varicose veins are those bulging, snaky, bluish blood vessels that pop up on the legs (or in the anus, where they're called hemorrhoids) as we age, particularly if we don't exercise enough. They're unsightly, and they can be painful.
Worse than that, however, varicose veins and hemorrhoids can be a symptom of a more serious problem called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). This is a deterioration in the function of our veins - including the deep veins that we can't see but on whose good health our overall health, and even our lives, may depend. It results in poor circulation of the blood back to the heart.
Among all the natural supplements that help combat the insidious effects of CVI, scientists believe that gotu kola is the most effective, mainly because of its action in promoting healthy connective tissue, a key structural component of veins (as well as arteries and many other body parts). The principal substance in connective tissue is collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body.
Veins Too Can Suffer from High Blood Pressure
Veins and arteries are very much alike in structure and function. They both consist of the same four layers of tissue, albeit with different thicknesses: an outer layer of connective tissue, then a layer of muscle tissue, then another layer of connective tissue, and finally, as the inner lining, a layer of smooth cells called the endothelium. There are some significant differences between arteries and veins, however. Arteries are thick-walled vessels that carry blood rapidly at relatively high pressure (it's the arterial pressure that standard blood pressure devices measure). The pressure fluctuates with our heartbeat, which is the driving force in arterial flow.
By contrast, veins are thin-walled vessels that carry blood slowly at relatively low pressure - so low that it drops to virtually zero by the time the blood returns to the heart. There is no pressure fluctuation in the veins, because venous blood flow is not driven by the heart. Instead, the blood is pushed along gently by rhythmic contractions of the surrounding muscles (that's one reason why maintaining good muscle tone through exercise is so important).
Thus we rarely think of hypertension (high blood pressure) as afflicting our veins. But it can, and it does, if the flow of blood back to the heart is compromised by obstructions such as blood clots or by poor venous tone, which is generally the result of degradation of the two layers of connective tissue in the vein wall. Not surprisingly, these problems occur most often in our legs, where our blood has the longest, hardest route to travel - fighting gravity all the way - to get back to the heart. Chronic venous hypertension is the primary cause of chronic venous insufficiency.
Beware of Swollen Ankles - Gotu Kola Can Help
The most common symptom of chronic venous hypertension is edema, or swelling, particularly in the ankles. This edema (which can also be a symptom of congestive heart failure, so please don't try to self-diagnose if you have it - see your doctor) is caused by the excessive leakage of fluid through the walls of our capillaries, which are extremely thin and fragile. Capillaries are the midpoint of the circulatory system: they connect the arterioles (tiny branches of arteries) to the venules (tiny branches of veins), and the blood they carry - one blood cell at a time, because they are so thin - constitutes our microcirculation.
To understand the dynamics of your blood circulation, think of the water supply to your house. Clean water comes in through the water main (the "aorta") under pressure generated by the municipal utility's pump (the "heart") or by a gravity feed from a water tower. In your house, the main splits into "arteries" that serve your kitchen, bathroom, laundry, garden, etc. When the water flows through a tap (a "capillary") to serve useful purposes (think of yourself as a giant, thirsty "cell"), the pressure drops sharply.*
Once the water has done its good work, it goes down the drain at low pressure, carrying with it the waste products of your activities. The "veins" from the various drains in your house eventually merge into one big pipe that carries the wastewater away, first to treatment facilities (think "liver" and "kidneys") and finally to Mother Nature (think "lungs"), who kindly recycles it for use all over again, sending it back to the pump. (In our bodies, the liver and kidneys actually do their work on the arterial side of the system, but let's not quibble.)
Problems with the water supply are like those in our arteries: the pressure can be too low (hypotension) or too high (hypertension). Problems with the low-pressure water drainage system don't occur unless there is an obstruction that hinders the flow, which can cause a pressure buildup and even backflow (yuck). And that can occur in our veins too. The pressure buildup is called venous hypertension, and the pooling caused by backflow can lead to varicose veins.
*Here the analogy breaks down a little, because blood does not flow out of capillaries and into cells. Nutrient molecules carried by the blood diffuse through the ultrathin capillary walls and are absorbed by the cells, whose excreted waste molecules diffuse into the capillaries and are carried away.
Capillary leakage, which scientists call filtration or perfusion, may be the result of venous hypertension (the excessive internal pressure forces the fluid out), or it may be caused by damage to the capillary walls, a condition called microangiopathy, which means "small vessel disease." A well-known form of this disorder, diabetic microangiopathy, is one of the many dire consequences of diabetes. And a common result of microangiopathies is ulceration of the skin at the affected areas. Basically, your legs are being damaged from the inside out.
Remarkably, gotu kola is effective not only at rebuilding weakened connective tissue in the veins by stimulating collagen synthesis, but also at decreasing the permeability of the capillary walls, thus inhibiting perfusion and edema and improving microcirculation.2It also helps repair damage to the venous epithelium (the innermost layer, remember?), and it helps heal skin ulcers associated with microangiopathies. As a bonus, it is well tolerated and has no significant side effects.1,2 And it's substantially less costly than prescription drugs.
Much Research Supports the Benefits of Gotu Kola
A recent supplement issue to the medical journal Angiology (angiology is the study of blood vessels and lymph vessels) is devoted entirely to research on the effects of gotu kola on certain diseases of the circulatory system, mainly chronic venous hypertension and microangiopathies caused by venous hypertension and diabetes.* The form of gotu kola used in all these studies was a standardized extract called TTFCA (total triterpenic fraction of Centella asiatica), consisting of the herb's most biologically active compounds.
*For the interested reader, the 73-page issue of Angiology in question is Volume 52, Supplement 2, October 2001. It is entitled "Centella asiatica in Vascular Diseases: New Clinical Applications in Venous, Microcirculatory, and Arterial Diseases." The guest editors were G. Belcaro, A. N. Nicolaides, M. Veller, and M. R. Cesarone.
The journal supplement contains ten original research studies, all conducted by the same group of scientists from Italy and England. The standard dosage of TTFCA used in these studies was 60 mg, administered orally either twice or thrice daily, for a total of 120 to 180 mg, for periods ranging from 4 weeks to 12 months. All the studies showed positive therapeutic results for TTFCA. These results (including the role of TTFCA in stabilizing atherosclerotic plaque in our arteries, making it less of a heart-attack threat) will be summarized in the next issue of Life Enhancement.
In an accompanying review article of previously published studies in this field, the authors wrote (recall that microangiopathy means "small vessel disease"):2
Considering these observations, TTFCA appears effective and useful in both chronic venous hypertension and diabetic microangiopathy, particularly by its action on capillary filtration and edema and, consequently, on the whole microcirculation. In conclusion, TTFCA, which is well tolerated and not associated with significant side effects, has an important action in venous hypertensive microangiopathy and in diabetic microangiopathy, particularly on the control of edema, which is the most frequent and clear sign of chronic, nonregulated, high-perfusion microangiopathy.
In plain English, TTFCA really works.
Come to think of it, the ancients who ascribed life-extending benefits to gotu kola because it was a favorite of elephants might not have been so far off the mark. If gotu kola can improve our venous health - as it assuredly can - it just might help us to live longer too. It's never too late to start taking good care of your veins. Why not start today?