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Take Heart

Fight heart disease with guggul, an Ayurvedic herbal remedy that lowers cholesterol.

By Miriam Hospodar

Concern about the possible side effects of prescription medications has many seeking wellness in natural cures. For some of the 57 million Americans with moderately high cholesterol, this has meant skipping pharmaceuticals in favor of guggul (or guggulu), a shrub native to India. Combined with other herbs that enhance its action, this botanical alternative comes with virtually no side effects—and even offers a few side benefits.

Part of a botanical family that includes myrrh, the unusual resin of this shrub reduces both vata, the element that governs the body's moving parts and functions, and kapha, which governs structure. (Normally, any substance that reduces kapha automatically increases vata, and vice versa.) Guggul also targets and removes ama, an ayurveda">Ayurvedic term used to describe a variety of toxic accumulations, from calcium deposits in the joints to plaque in the arteries.

This cleansing effect makes guggul a natural for tempering fats in the blood. Brian Rees, M.D., author of Heal Yourself, Heal Your World (Manu Publishing), describes guggul as "probably the most effective known herb for aiding in the reduction of cholesterol." The reason may lie in the unique saponins, or guggulipids, the resin contains. "Guggulipid can boost the levels of good HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease," explains Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D., author and professor of nutrition at Pacific Western University in Los Angeles, "while cutting the amount of bad LDL cholesterol, which promotes heart disease." Indeed, research published in India found guggul can lower triglyceride levels by up to 30 percent.

Guggul's action on cholesterol extends to related benefits as well. It lessens the stickiness of platelets and the clumping together of red blood cells, thereby mitigating the risk of stroke. An ancient Ayurvedic text, the Sushrita Samhita, describes guggul's effectiveness in treating a condition called medoroga, whose description closely resembles atherosclerosis. Because of these qualities, the Indian Materia Medica also advises that guggul's drying action makes it a good choice for weight loss.

Guggul is considered safe for most, although contraindicated for those with acute liver disorders and inflammatory bowel disease. About one percent of users experience a mild skin reaction.

Purchase a guggul formula at your health food store and take it according to the manufacturer's directions.

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