Commonly called Bai Bua Bok in Thai, its scientific name is Centella asiatica. Some also call it spadeleaf, Jal Bahmi, Asiatic pennywort, Indian pennywort, or hydrocotyle. Still, its most popular name is gotu kola.
Belonging to the family of carrots, gotu kola is a perennial creeping herb, growing in dark and moist climates of Thailand ,South Africa, Indonesia, Australia, China, and Japan. Before it gained a much wider, global popularity, the gotu kola plant was traditionally used as a versatile cooking ingredient and a calming natural remedy in Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, and Ayurvedic medicine. Among these nations, gotu kola is also called “a herb of longevity” and is used to prolong the lifespan.
In Southeast Asia, gotu kola is used as much for food as for medicinal purposes. A member of the parsley family, gotu kola is an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain optimal health.
According to a review in the International Food Research Journal
, 100 grams of fresh gotu kola delivers the following nutrients and meets the following recommended dietary intake (RDI) needs:
Calcium: 171 milligrams (17% of the RDI)
Iron: 5.6 milligrams (31% of the RDI)
Potassium: 391 milligrams (11% of the RDI)
Vitamin A: 442 micrograms (49% of the RDI)
Vitamin C: 48.5 milligrams (81% of the RDI)
Vitamin B2: 0.19 milligrams (9% of the RDI)
Gotu kola is also a good source of dietary fiber, providing 8 percent of the RDI for women and 5 percent of the RDI for men.
Gotu Kola Phytochemical Constituents
Gotu Kola contains:
centellasaponins A, B, C, and D
asiaticoside A, B, C, D, E, and F
madecassic acid (brahmic acid)
Gotu Kola Interactions
Gotu Kola inhibits CYP2C9, CYP2D6, and CYP3A4, which are a part of many drug-drug interactions
This increases the potency of ibuprofen, THC, ketamine, and others. It produces an action similar to St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo Biloba, and Modafinil (CYP2C9)
It increases the potency of opioids, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, amphetamines, and others, which is similar to cannabis and cocaine (CYP2D6)
Also, it increases the potency of sex hormones, benzodiazepines, statins, chemotherapy, caffeine, cocaine, and others, which acts similarly to grapefruit juice (CYP3A4)
The Benefits of Gotu Kola for Brain Health
The soothing effects of gotu kola are particularly popular among yogis, who believe that it creates a harmony between the right and left hemisphere of the brain. Recently, numerous scientific studies have been conducted to test the effects of this herbal supplement on mental health and have proven that it may act as a powerful cognitive enhancer. Here are some of its benefits for our cognition.
1. Enhancing the growth of new brain cells
Gotu kola triggers the release of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a fundamental role in neurogenesis. Namely, BDNF improves the creation of new brain cells and prevents the health of existing ones by boosting brain plasticity, improving communication between brain cells, and enhancing dendrite branching.
2. Having anti-oxidant effects on the brain
Every day, our brain cells get attacked by numerous neurotoxins like lead, arsenic, aluminium, and monosodium glutamate that may cause migraines, brain fog, and mood swings. Gotu kola has antioxidant effects and is used to minimize the effect of free radicals. Its antioxidants neutralize the damage of free radicals, preventing them from harming our brain cells.
3. Treating anxiety and boosting mood
Caused by the stressful, fast-paced lives we live, anxiety has become some of the most common maladies affecting modern society. And, this is where gotu kola comes to shine, as it can reduce both chronic and acute stress. While it can improve calmness and alertness by 100%, gotu kola reduces anxiety by 50%. More proof that it can be used for reducing anxiety symptoms is the fact that it can minimize the acoustic startle reflex reaction, which is one of the major indicators that someone is stressed.
4. Improving the quality of sleep
We cannot stress how important quality sleep is for brain health. In one of our previous articles, we’ve already mentioned that the lack of sleep can cause mental fatigue and short-term memory loss, and hurt your concentration and attention span. This is why sleep problems like insomnia need to be taken seriously and treated adequately.
Usually caused by anxiety, stress, and depression, insomnia is treated with sleeping pills and similar remedies. Unfortunately, this is not an optimal solution for the patient’s well-being, as these pills can affect their memory and even their overall health (like in the case of Ambien). On the other hand, gotu kola is a natural and safe remedy that’s been used to improve sleep for centuries. In Traditional Thai medicine, for example, gotu kola tea was mixed with honey to produce a calming effect on our body and improve the quality of sleep.
5. Sharpening memory and cognitive abilities
Gotu kola helps with boosting the overall cognitive function, one study from 2016 says. The researchers compared the benefits of the gotu kola extract and the benefits of folic acid for improving cognitive function in patients that suffered a stroke. The results were amazing. While both supplements were equally useful in enhancing the overall cognitive abilities of those patients, gotu kola was more powerful in boosting memory.
6. Serving as a strong antidepressant
Another common mental disorder gotu kola can help with is depression. According to a 2016 report, patients who were taking it for 2 months experienced significantly lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. A separate animal study also claims that gotu kola improved some of the most common symptoms of chronic depression.
7. Boosting the effectiveness of vitamin E
Vitamin E is one of the most important vitamins for our heart health, but it is also significant for our brain functions. Combined with vitamin C, vitamin E has been proven to prevent age-related cognitive decline. It also enhances our cognitive functions, minimizes memory loss and, more importantly – it significantly reduces the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Furthermore, the supplements combining gotu kola and vitamin E also serve as incredibly powerful antioxidants and brain supplements.
8. Preventing and treating Alzheimer’s
According recent research, gotu kola is an outstanding remedy for improving mood and cognitive abilities in both healthy seniors and those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Patients with this neurodegenerative disease generally have a much lower level of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that impacts memory and learning. To prevent the breakdown of this substance, numerous strong drugs like Aricept are prescribed.
This is where gotu kola can also help. Namely, it contains triterpenes, chemical compounds, which can also prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. They protect brain cells from high toxicity levels by reducing the accumulation of amyloid plaques that appear in patients with Alzheimer’s.
What else is Gotu Kola Good for?
Apart from treating numerous cognition-related problems, the gotu kola herb is also used in traditional medicine for treating a wide range of physical health problems, like asthma, hepatitis, diarrhea, and fever. Scientific research has proven most of these uses true. Here are some of the most important gotu kola health benefits.
9. Serving as a powerful antioxidant
Consuming gotu kola reduces liver and kidney toxicity. A recent study from 2017 claims that this plant can be used to minimize the toxic side effects of isoniazid, an aggressive antibiotic used in the treatment of tuberculosis. During this animal study, the rats that consumed 100 mg of gotu kola before they were given isoniazid – experienced significantly lower levels of toxicity. Given the fact that this is still a relatively new theory, additional research is needed to confirm these findings.
10. Lessening joint pain
According to a 2014 animal study, gotu kola has incredible anti-inflammatory features and can be used to cure rheumatoid arthritis. This research proved that the consumption of gotu kola decreases joint inflammation, as well as cartilage and bone erosion. The study also concluded that this natural supplement improved the overall metabolic functions in the rats tested.
11. Using gotu kola for skin
As we’ve already mentioned above, the major active ingredients of gotu kola are triterpenes. Apart from preventing Alzheimer’s, these compounds also improve the strength and volume of collagen, the most important structural protein in our skin, muscles, bones, cartilage, ligaments, and blood. According to a wide array of scientific studies done so far, there are numerous gotu kola benefits for the skin. Some of them are:
Improving wound healing
. Researchers were recently testing its healing benefits on different sorts of wounds, such as infected tissue and cuts by sharp objects, and concluded that this plant can support the healing process.
Reducing stretch marks. The 2013 research found that triterpenes can prevent the appearance of new stretch marks and minimize the existing ones
According to a recent report, using gotu kola can help with treating eczema, psoriasis, varicose ulcers, amenorrhea, and similar skin diseases.
12. Improving circulation
Gotu kola can improve numerous circulation problems, such as fluid retention, ankle swelling, varicose veins, preventing blood clots in the legs, and mitigating the damage of small blood vessels in people suffering from diabetes. Recently, scientists tested a group of patients with diabetes and concluded that, after 6 months of consuming gotu kola – the risk of microangiopathy was significantly reduced in those patients.
13. Disease Prevention
Claims that gotu kola can treat diseases from leprosy to cancer are largely exaggerated. These "cure-all" claims often shroud the actual benefits gotu kola may have in reducing disease risk.
Gotu kola is known to have potent antioxidant effects, neutralizing many of the free radicals that cause cell damage at the molecular level. It has been theorized that these properties may provide protection against stomach ulcers and certain cancers.
An early study Jadavpur University in India reported that a gotu kola extract was just as effective in preventing stomach ulcers as the H2 blocker Pepcid (famotidine).
Similarly, asiatic acid has been shown in research to induce apoptosis(spontaneous cell death) in certain types of cancer cells, particularly breast cancer. Although this effect has only been seen in test tube studies, it hints at a potential avenue for cancer drug development.
Further research would be needed to substantiate these effects.
How to Consume Gotu Kola?
Gotu kola has a mild taste and scent, similar to the one of parsley. This is exactly why it is used as a popular culinary ingredient in various salads and curry dishes. The only problem with consuming gotu kola as food is the fact that it is difficult to find it at the local market or grocery stores. Still, you can buy gotu kola seeds and grow it on your own. In moist and shady climates, gotu kola can be grown as a perennial groundcover, but, just like with any other herb, you can also grow it in a pot.
Apart from being used as food, gotu kola can also be bought in form of a tea. A single-ingredient gotu kola tea is said to have a bitter-sweet taste. This is why it is usually combined with other popular herbs to improve its aroma. Of course, these combinations depend on your specific needs. For example, to get the most out of its memory-boosting effects, you could combine gotu kola with ginkgo biloba. When blended with chamomile and lavender, it may also reduce anxiety.
Still, gotu kola is the most powerful when used as a supplement. It can be found in different forms, from capsules and tablets to tinctures, oils and creams.
Even though it has proven to be generally safe and well-tolerated when consumed as food or a beverage, when using a gotu kola supplement, you need to be careful. Its use and dosage depend on the symptoms treated.
Here are a few rules on how you should consume it:
Always start with a lower dose and then gradually increase it to avoid experiencing side effects like dizziness or upset stomach.
Don’t use it for more than 6 weeks at a time. A break of at least 2 weeks needs to be taken before you decide to use gotu kola supplements again.
When using gotu kola skin oil and extracts, make sure you buy the products from trusted manufacturers and do the patch test regularly. Sometimes, when grown in contaminated areas, gotu kola and similar herbs can contain high levels of dangerous metals and cause skin inflammation.
If you suffer from diabetes, use sedatives, or have high cholesterol, you should consult your doctor before taking gotu kola.
Possible Side Effects
Although side effects are rare, some people taking gotu kola may experience upset stomach, headache, and drowsiness. Because gotu kola can increase your sensitivity to the sun, it's important to limit your sun exposure and use sunscreen whenever outdoors.
Gotu kola is metabolized by the liver. If you have liver disease, it is best to avoid gotu kola supplements to prevent further injury or damage. Long-term use may also induce liver toxicity.
Also, be aware that gotu kola's calming effect may be amplified when taking sedatives or alcohol.
Avoid taking gotu kola with Ambien (zolpidem), Ativan (lorazepam), Donnatal (phenobarbital), Klonopin (clonazepam), or other sedatives as this can lead to extreme drowsiness.
Due to the lack of research, gotu kola supplements should be avoided in children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. It is not known what other drugs gotu kola may interact with.
Don’t use gotu kola if you have skin cancer, or have a scheduled surgery. Persons under the age of 18 should also not consume gotu kola supplements
Now, as you can conclude from these examples, there are many users for gotu kola. Most importantly, as a brain-boosting supplement, it can be combined with other medications.
Still, you should keep in mind that it isn’t supposed to replace the treatment prescribed by your doctor.
Even though it is a 100% herbal remedy and it’s generally safe to consume, you should ask for professional help before you start consuming it. Once you get the right dosage and start using it either as food or a supplement, you need to pay attention to any potential side effects. If you notice any, make sure you check in with your doctor to identify the sources of these unwanted reactions.