Guggal faces sticky end
Ayurveda prescribes it for heart ailments; no data available on surviving plants
India is these days relying on imports to meet the demand for a plant extract valued for its medicinal properties. Guggal or Commiphora wightii grows in the wild in the arid and semi-arid regions of Pakistan and northern India; its resin, guggal-gum, is prescribed in Ayurveda for heart ailments, obesity and arthritis.
Pharma companies also use it in drugs for reducing cholestrol. But the gum’s availability in India has plummeted because guggal shrubs are disappearing from its main habitats in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Very little data is available on the shrubs left; the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) has put it in the data-deficient category. “The demand for guggal-gum has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
We are completely dependent on imports from Pakistan—about 400 tonnes a year,” said Rakesh Agarwal, a dealer of medicinal plants at Khari Baoli wholesale market in old Delhi. He said supply from Rajasthan and Gujarat is very little. As a result, the gum’s price has risen from Rs 25 to Rs 300-Rs 500 per kg in the past decade. The demand is driven by drug companies. Research shows that guggalsterones (the active compound in guggal) inhibit cholestrol synthesis, said N Srikant, assistant director with the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha under the Union health ministry (see box).
Bled for resin
Unregulated exploitation of guggal for its resin is the main reason for its disappearance, said Vineet Soni, associate professor at the Jaipur National University. Soni, a member of the IUCN, said tribals and people in villages use crude methods to extract gum; the government has not standardized tapping methods. “They make deep cuts on the stem and then apply a paste of horse urine mixed with cobalt sulphate (a toxin) around the incisions. This increases gum yield four times, but the shrub dies within a month or two,” said Soni. The resin ducts are present in the cortex region of the plant and a halfinch cut is enough to tap the gum. Deep cuts damage the vascular bundles transporting water and nutrients and inhibit metabolism, he explained.
|The gum tappers make deep cuts on the stem and apply a toxic paste of cobalt sulphate around it to increase yield —VINEET SONI
Associate professor at the Jaipur National University
Guggal lowers cholestrol
Guggal-gum extract targets the Farnesoid X Receptor (FXR) that regulates cholestrol and checks bile acids produced from cholestrol by the liver, according to a study by Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The ethyl acetate extract of the resin was found to lower lowdensity lipoprotein cholestrol and triglycerides in humans.
A study by Texas Southern University in Houston has suggested guggalsterone can suppress tumours, their growth and spread.
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