The extract from a tree in the fabled myrrh family is being investigated by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine for properties that may lower cholesterol.
Dr. Philippe Szapary, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Penn who writes frequently about the use of alternative medicine in treating cardiovascular disease, is in the midst of a study of the dietary supplement gugulipid, an extract from the gummy resin of the thorny mukul myrrh bush of western India that has made its way into American health-food stores.
The bitter-tasting, fragrant myrrh is used in incense and perfumes – in the Christian tradition, a form of sweet-scented myrrh was presented by the three wise men to the infant Jesus – and the mukul myrrh, specifically, has a 2,000-year history in traditional Indian medicine. Ayurvedic health practitioners, who combine meditation, yoga and diet to address physical illness, use the resin extract in treating artherosclerosis, obesity and arthritis.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, Indian scientists were able to identify two properties of the extract – which, combined, they named gugulipid -- that appeared to aid in lowering cholesterol.
“This is something that’s been around for thousands of years, and when some scientists looked into it, they actually found a scientific basis for its effectiveness,” said Szapary. “But there’s still not enough documentation. We’re trying, in a methodical way, to establish that basis.” His work has been recognized by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which recently awarded him a five-year research grant of about $150,000 for each year.
“In this country, supplements such as gugulipid are regarded as ‘herbs’ rather than drugs, which means they aren’t currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” Szapary said. “My interest is to gather enough evidence to demonstrate whether a gugulipid extract is safe and effective, in the short term, for use by Americans with mild-to-moderately elevated cholesterol.” His work with gugulipid, which began last spring, is designed to assess the drug through a simple, randomized study using 90 subjects.
Participants are divided into three groups; the first is administered a placebo, the second a standard dosage of gugulipid, and the third a higher dosage of the supplement. Each participant remains on the regimen for two months while blood tests indicate its effectiveness. Thus far 60 people have taken part.
“The participants have uniformly felt like they’ve been able to tolerate the medicine with few side effects,” he said. The study -- which began prior to Szapary’s grant from the NCCAM -- is funded in part by the General Clinical Research Center at Penn, which, in turn, is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and by the Sabinsa Corp., a manufacturer of gugulipid.
Editor’s note: Dr. Szapary has no financial interest in the Sabinsa corporation.
The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Pennsylvania Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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