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Potential Gotu Kola Health Benefits + Side Effects

Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Brain

Gotu Kola (Pennywort or Centella asiatica) is claimed to possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Evidence suggests it helps heal burns and improves blood flow. Does it have any other health benefits and side effects? Read on to see what the science says.

What is the Gotu Kola Plant?

Overview

Gotu Kola (Centella Asiatica) is one of the alleged longevity herbs used in the Tai-Chi tradition. This herb is also used in Ayurvedic and Chinese Traditional Medicine.

The plant itself may soak up heavy metals from the soil. As such, ensuring the source you are consuming is organic, or at least doesn’t contain dangerous heavy metals, is important. Copper accumulates in its roots; manganese and lead accumulate in the leaves [1].

Gotu kola supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

Constituents

Gotu Kola contains [2, 3, 4]:

  • centellasaponins A, B, C, and D
  • madecassoside (brahminoside)
  • asiaticoside A, B, C, D, E, and F
  • sceffoleoside A
  • asiatic acid
  • madecassic acid (brahmic acid)
  • isothankunic acid
  • alpha-humulene
  • germacrene B/D
  • beta-caryophyllene
  • centellin
  • asiaticin
  • cenetellicin

Alleged Health Benefits of Gotu Kola

Possibly Effective:

1) Burns

According to some evidence, applying gotu kola to second-degree burns may decrease the time that it takes for burns to heal [5].

Asiaticasoide, found in Gotu Kola, increased skin strength and skin collagen to better heal wounds in pigs and rats [6].

It also increased SOD, catalase, glutathione, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C in skin damage in rats [7, 8].

Asiatic acid, also in Gotu Kola, increased collagen production, further benefiting the healing of wounds [9].

Similar results have been found for Gotu Kola in regards to improving the healing of burns [10, 5].

Further, Gotu Kola has been traditionally used for stretch marks, raised scars, inflammation (phlebitis and cellulite), and leprosy. Evidence does not back up this practice [11].

2) Poor Circulation

Oral gotu kola supplements and extracts (Centellase) may improve blood flow and reduce swelling in people with poor blood circulation in the legs after 4-8 weeks, according to a recent systematic review of eight clinical studies [12].

The terpenes in Gotu Kola may increase collagen production, which might lower blood pressure and help with swelling (edema) [13].

Insufficient Evidence/Lacking Evidence for:

No valid clinical evidence supports the use of gotu kola for any of the conditions listed in this section.

Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

1) Anxiety

There is insufficient evidence to support the use of gotu kola for anxiety.

In one small human study, gotu kola reduced the startle response to abrupt sounds in healthy people 30 and 60 minutes after treatment. This study suggests gotu kola has some anti-anxiety potential that should be further researched [14].

Gotu Kola also improved anxiety in one rat study [15].

2) Hair Loss

Gotu Kola increased hair growth in rats, increasing the number of hairs per area and the length of each hair. Its combinations with the following herbs were also researched: Aloe Vera, Eclipta alba (false daisy), Ocimum sanctum (holy basil), and Emblica officinalis (Amla) [16].

Gotu Kola also lowered free radicals and stress in mice, both of which are suspected to cause hair loss [17, 15, 18].

3) Psoriasis

Evidence is lacking to support this traditional use. Gotu Kola has only been studied in cells (inhibits skin cell reproduction) [19].

4) Stomach Ulcers

No evidence backs up this use. Gotu Kola was only studied in rats. It increased ulcer healing and reduced the size of ulcers in rats (by reducing myeloperoxidase and increasing bFGF) [20, 21, 22].

5) cAMP Response (CREB)

Gotu Kola leaf increased the cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) [23].

CREB is increased by antidepressants and is involved in forming long-term memories [24, 25].

6) Inflammation & Free Radicals

Asiatic acid and madecassic acid, found in Gotu Kola, inhibited IL-1 beta, IL-6, and TNF-alpha (as well as inhibiting iNOS and COX-2) in bacteria-infected cells [26, 27].

The phenols in Gotu Kola had antioxidant properties in mouse cells [17].

7) Effects on the Brain

In rats, Gotu Kola lowered their version of cortisol (corticosterone) and increased serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine [28].

Lower cortisol levels are hypothesized to improve long-term memory and lowers aggression; normal cortisol levels might also support healthy sleep patterns [29, 30].

Gotu Kola prevented nerve cell death in test tube models of Alzheimer’s by reducing the negative effects of amyloid beta [31].

Gotu Kola reduced signs of despair in rats. Since it may reduce inflammation, researchers are studying whether it could affect schizophrenia and depression [32, 26, 33].

8) Thrombosis

A component in Gotu Kola prevented thrombosis by inhibiting blood clotting in rat models [34, 35].

9) Cancer Research

Gotu kola is being researched in tumor cells. It inhibited human melanoma and breast cancer cells in test tubes [36, 37, 38].

However, many substances have anti-cancer effects in cells, including downright toxic chemicals like bleach. This doesn’t mean that they have any medical value. On the contrary, most substances (natural or synthetic) that are researched in cancer cells fail to pass further animal studies or clinical trials due to a lack of safety or efficacy.

10) Herpes

Gotu Kola was active against herpes by inhibiting the virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2) in test tube cultures. The effect was stronger when combined with mango [39, 40].

Supplementing with Gotu Kola

Dosage

The following doses were used in clinical trials:

  • 60-180 mg of gotu kola extract daily for poor circulation and vein problems
  • 3% gotu kola cream, to be applied to the burns daily until they heal
  • 5% gotu kola, 2.5% aloe vera gauze dressing wrapped around the burns, to be changed every 3 days until the burns heal

No dosage of gotu kola has been established for other uses due to a lack of clinical data.

Anecdotally, people take around 1,000 mg of Gotu Kola per day in capsules. Other people drink gotu kola tea, 1-5 cups per day (1 g of the herb per cup).

Side Effects

No side effects of gotu kola extract dosed at 300 mg per day for 21 days in humans were reported [41].

Orally, gotu kola may cause:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Liver problems (rare)

Applied on the skin, some people have reported itchiness, redness, or burning.

Drug Interactions

Gotu kola should not be used with sedative medications (CNS depressants) and any medications that can harm the liver (Hepatotoxic drugs).

Gotu Kola inhibits CYP2C9, CYP2D6, and CYP3A4. All three enzymes are involved in drug metabolism, therefore the use of Gotu Kola can increase the potency and effect duration of many drugs [42].

CYP2C9 inhibition decreases the metabolism and increases the effects of ibuprofen, THC, ketamine, and others [43].

CYP2D6 inhibition decreases the metabolism and increases the effects of opioids, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, amphetamines, and others [43].

CYP3A4 inhibition decreases the metabolism and increases the effects of sex hormones, benzodiazepines, statins, chemotherapy, caffeine, cocaine, and others [43].

About the Author

Ana Aleksic

Ana Aleksic

MSc (Pharmacy)
Ana received her MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade.
Ana has many years of experience in clinical research and health advising. She loves communicating science and empowering people to achieve their optimal health. Ana spent years working with patients who suffer from various mental health issues and chronic health problems. She is a strong advocate of integrating scientific knowledge and holistic medicine.

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