Reviewed by Dr. Michael Kessler, DC
What Is Centella asiatica (Gotu Kola)?
Centella asiatica, more commonly known as gotu kola, is a herb with a long history that is experiencing a resurgence. The perennial plant is native to the Asian continent, and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic, traditional Chinese, and Indonesian medicine.
Called the “herb of longevity,” it is purported to be somewhat of a “cure-all,” with claims suggesting it can improve cognitive function, heal wounds and other skin conditions, and promote liver and kidney health.
Should you believe the hype, or are Gotu kola’s benefits just ancient superstition repackaged as something new and exciting?
Potential Health Benefits of Gotu Kola
Gotu kola has been used for thousands of years to treat conditions ranging from respiratory infections to mental fog. While clinical research on the efficacy of the herb has been limited, some preliminary studies have produced promising results.
Potential Effects on Nerve Function and Memory
Early research suggests that gotu kola extract can influence memory and protect brain cells from toxicity and plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. But there are some significant caveats to be considered with these results.
The studies that have shown gotu kola’s benefits for fighting plaques and toxicity were done using test tubes and animal models. The memory studies found the herb improved behavioral problems in mice with Alzheimer’s, while lab results showed a moderate decrease in amyloid beta toxicity in cell cultures.
However, no human studies have shown benefits for nerve function and Alzheimer’s treatment. At this stage, there is insufficient evidence to definitively say the extract helps with brain or nerve function.
May Improve Cognitive Function and Memory
A small-scale human trial compared the effects of folic acid and gotu kola extract to see if either could improve brain health following a stroke.
Both supplements were shown to improve overall cognition, but gotu kola had a more positive effect on delayed memory recall. A 750- or 1,000-milligram daily dose may be beneficial, but should not be taken for more than two weeks.
More rigorous randomized, controlled trials need to be done to support these results, and other research has indicated supplementation has no effect in healthy adults.
May Help Reduce Swelling in Legs
The best case for gotu kola’s benefits might be its effect on improving blood circulation in the legs of people with mild-to-moderate superficial venous conditions.
There is a decent amount of research indicating that taking gotu kola can reduce fluid retention and swelling in legs and ankles, which may be useful for people with poor blood circulation. It may also be useful for people who experience swelling during flights.
Oral supplementation of “Centellase” gotu kola for four to eight weeks may help improve circulation and reduce swelling.
Could Help Fade Stretch Marks
A review published in Advances in Dermatology and Allergology suggested that using gotu kola as a topical rub could lessen the visibility of stretch marks. It’s possible that compounds in the herbal extract called terpenoids may increase collagen production.
Centella asiatica for skin can be used as a topical application for the affected area. A topical cream with one percent gotu kola extract, applied multiple times per day, may yield results.
Whenever applying topical ointments, creams, or oils, be sure to conduct a small skin test first. Doing so can help you determine whether you will experience a negative reaction.
May Aid Wound Healing
The oldest use of gotu kola is for wound healing. A number of studies on rats have also shown that it can limit inflammation, promote collagen growth, and speed up healing for open sore wounds.
It is believed that gotu kola’s various effects on skin wounds are the result of antioxidants and an ability to stimulate collagen production. Like many other potential uses for the herb, more research is required to confirm its effectiveness for this purpose.
Could Potentially Promote Kidney and Liver Health
Some recent preliminary research has begun looking at a new potential use for gotu kola: liver health.
The 2017 study found that mice on an antibiotic called isoniazid—used to treat and prevent tuberculosis—showed less toxic side effects when given gotu kola. Furthermore, the rats that did show toxic effects in the kidney and liver returned to normal after taking gotu kola.
It is not known if the herb would have the same effects in humans, however. Further research is needed.
There is also concern that using gotu kola may put liver health at risk, so follow directions when using the extract and do not use it as a “detox” supplement.
Other Potential Uses of Gotu Kola
Like countless other herbs, gotu kola has the potential to offer treatment for a variety of ailments, including some not mentioned above. Other potential areas of exploration and interest include its use as a:
- Ulcer treatment
These benefits are largely due to organic anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties found within the herb.
Still, using gotu kola comes with a risk. While it may not be inherently dangerous or ineffective for your particular ailment, many of its reported benefits are based on animal studies, lab tests, and anecdotal evidence.
At this time, the herb simply hasn’t been researched enough to confirm its efficacy in most cases.
Gotu Kola Side Effects and Precautions
Gotu kola is generally regarded as safe, although it may lead to uncomfortable symptoms for some people. There is evidence it may lead to headaches, upset stomach, dizziness, or skin rashes/irritation in some.
One important rule worth noting if you elect to use gotu kola is to only administer (whether topically or orally) for two- to six-week intervals. Continued use is not recommended, and taking a two-week break between cycles is a good protocol to follow.
As with all herbal supplements, consulting your doctor before use is highly recommended. They can inform you of any potential negative interactions with medications you’re currently taking, as well as offer recommendations on dosing based on your specific needs.
Certain populations that should avoid using C. asiatica include:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Individuals with liver diseases (hepatitis, NAFLD, alcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis)
- Recent or future surgical patients
- Those with a history of skin cancer
Discuss Centella asiatica (Gotu Kola) with Your Doctor
Because Centella asiatica doesn’t seem to present any significant side effects for most people, there is likely little risk if you wish to try it for any of the conditions listed above.
Standard rules apply: Talk to your doctor, use as directed, and make sure you buy from a trusted source. Remember that the FDA does not regulate herbal and nutritional supplements like gotu kola for dosage, potency, or ingredients used.
Article Sources (+)
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Jin, S., et al., “Mechanical properties and in vivo healing evaluation of a novel Centella asiatica-loaded hydrocolloid wound dressing,” International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Jul. 2015; 490(1-2): 240-247; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037851731500486X?via%3Dihub, last accessed July 25, 2019.
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