Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Indian tree sap may lower cholesterol

Indian tree sap may lower cholesterol

Author: Msnbc News Services
Publication: MSNBC
Date: May 2, 2002
URL: http://www.msnbc.com/news/746707.asp?0si=-

Ancient remedy could lead to alternative to today's drugs

A tree resin used for 2,000 years as an Indian folk remedy for a variety of ailments works to lower cholesterol in lab animals, and in a new way that might lead to the development of improved drugs for people, U.S. researchers report.

THE TREE is known in India as guggul, or the myrrh shrub. It's been used there since at least 600 BC to battle obesity and arthritis, among other ailments.

David D. Moore, a molecular biologist at the Baylor School of Medicine in Houston, found the guggul extract lives up to its reputation.

In studies at his lab, Moore and Nancy L. Urizar showed the sap contains a compound, called guggulsterone, which blocks the action of a cell receptor, called FXR, which helps regulate a body's cholesterol level, according to their report in the journal Science.

Other researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas then tested the compound in two types of mice - one with a normal FXR receptor and one without FXR.

They found that cholesterol levels dropped in the livers of mice that had the FXR receptor, but not in the others, thus proving that guggulsterone worked by affecting the FXR receptor.

FXR helps regulate cholesterol by affecting levels of bile acids, which are produced from cholesterol and released by the liver.

"Bile acids are the only way that cholesterol has to get out of the body," Moore said. "We knew that FXR was a key regulator of cholesterol metabolism."

"Our results suggest that other compounds that could affect FXR could also control cholesterol," said Moore. "This mechanism is completely different from the action of statin drugs," which are taken by millions of Americans to control cholesterol.

Statin drugs work by blocking an enzyme that helps to make cholesterol in the liver.


Dr. Mitchell A. Lazar, an endocrinologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said the study is important because it suggests a new drug pathway for controlling cholesterol.

"We need to have multiple ways to lower lipids (cholesterol)," said Lazar.

He said the work also advances the notion that some traditional medicinal compounds may have important uses in modern medicine and emphasizes that the value of such compounds needs to be researched.

Exactly how guggulsterone affects the FXR receptor is unknown, Moore said.

"FXR regulates a number of genes and we are not sure which are the primary targets for lipid (cholesterol) control," said Moore,  "but we have shown that this is a new mechanism for controlling cholesterol."

He said finding a new way to reduce cholesterol could be very important for patients who cannot tolerate the side effects that some people experience with statins.


Guggulsterone is commonly available in health food stores, but Moore said he could not recommend people take it for cholesterol control because there is some evidence the compound affects the action of other drugs. More studies are needed to investigate this issue, Moore said.

The guggul tree, known technically as Commiphora mukul, grows in dry areas of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. For thousands of years, folk healers have tapped the trees to make medicines.

About 40 years ago, an Indian researcher found that the guggul compound also was effective in combating heart disease, a condition linked to cholesterol. Later studies in India showed that guggulsterone lowered cholesterol, and Indian health authorities approved the sale of the resin for treatment of heart disease.

Moore said more than 300 tons of the resin is used annually for medical purposes in India.

(The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.)

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