A plant used in traditional medicine
Gotu kola, or Cantella asiatica, is a plant from the parsley family that is commonly used in traditional Chinese, African and Ayurvedic medicine.
This perennial creeping plant thrives in and around water and is native to India, Japan, China, Indonesia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the South Pacific.
Traditionally used as a tonic for the brain to improve mental clarity, its small green leaves are said to resemble the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
The gotu kola plant has white or light purple-to-pink flowers and small oval fruit, but the leaves and the stems are the parts of the plant that are used medicinally.
It has been called “the fountain of life” because legend has it that an ancient Chinese herbalist lived for more than 200 years as a result of taking gotu kola daily.
A powerful, multi-use plant
The primary active constituents in Gotu kola are triterpenoid compounds, specifically asiaticoside, madecassoside, and madasiatic acid.
It was traditionally used to heal wounds, improve mental clarity and treat respiratory infections, venereal diseases and skin conditions, such as leprosy.
Gotu kola is useful in treating chronic skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and acne.
It is also effective as a treatment for anxiety and other nervous disorders, fever, immune dysfunction, edema and inflammatory conditions like arthritis and scleroderma.
Today, in the U.S. and Europe, gotu kola is most often used to treat varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency, a condition where blood pools in the legs.
Click here for a comprehensive list of conditions that may benefit from the use of gotu kola.
5 Reasons why I love gotu kola for interstitial cystitis
1. Promotes wound and tissue healing
The triterpenoid compounds in gotu kola have been proven to promote wound and tissue healing, when applied externally or taken orally. These compounds send antioxidants to the wounded area, as well as increase blood supply to the area.
Gotu kola increases collagen in connective tissue, which inhibits the production of hyperactive scar tissue. Over time, from chronic inflammation the bladder can begin to scar and shrink. Gotu kola may play a role in inhibiting this process.
Another way gotu kola enhances the integrity of the connective tissue is by stimulating the production of glycosaminoglycans, which are an integral component of the protective mucous layer in the bladder.
Although there have been no scientific studies done on the effects of gotu kola in interstitial cystitis, I was able to find anecdotal evidence online from women who believe gotu kola played a role in healing their bladder.
It makes sense that if the components in gotu kola aid in healing ulcers and wounds, even when taken internally, that this plant would have a positive effect on healing a wounded and inflamed IC bladder.
2. Clears out heat and acidity
In Chinese medicine, interstitial cystitis usually involves an excess of “damp heat,” leading to stagnation and inflammation in the body.
In Western alternative medicine, interstitial cystitis involves excess acidity in the body. This can occur due to prolonged stress, an acidifying diet consisting of excess processed foods, refined flours and meat, toxins and parasitic and bacterial infections.
Gotu kola has a cooling effect on the body according to both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and can help to rid the body of excess heat.
It is also high in minerals, such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, as well as trace minerals like zinc, silica, chromium, selenium and cobalt (a component of vitamin b12). Minerals help to alkalize the body and rid the body of excess acids.
3. Reduces anxiety
Gotu kola has demonstrated mild tranquilizing, anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects. It has a calming effect on the body and is chiefly used to support the central nervous system.
It is used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and stress are common amongst those with IC. It can be both a causative factor and an outcome of the condition.
Not knowing when or how you will heal can be extremely terrifying and living with chronic pain that also negatively impacts sleep is a recipe for a sensitive and anxiety-prone nervous system.
Some studies have shown that gotu kola extract increases concentration of GABA levels in the brain, which protects against stress. GABA serves to control the fear and anxiety experienced when neurons are overexcited.
One human study found that people who took gotu kola were less likely to be startled by new noise than those who took placebo. The “startle noise” response can be a way to tell if someone is anxious.
Gotu kola strengthens the adrenal glands — an important organ in our endocrine system that is responsible for regulating stress hormones during situations of fight or flight. With IC and in any chronic condition, the adrenal glands are often weak. Weak adrenal glands cannot produce enough cortisol to keep inflammation in check.
4. Improves mental clarity and circulation
Gotu kola is known as “food for the brain” and one of its most common uses is the for the improvement of cognitive functioning, learning and memory.
Gotu kola improves circulation throughout the body (think more blood flow everywhere, including to the bladder where healing nutrients are needed) and especially to the brain.
Anyone with IC knows what it is like to have a foggy brain and lack mental clarity. There are several factors contributing to this, including lack of sleep and lack of physical activity and movement due to chronic pain.
The brain is our main control center and the more blood flow and nutrients it receives, the better it can function and the better we can function in our daily lives.
5. Strengthens the immune system
Lastly, gotu kola strengthens the immune system by stimulating the formation of new blood cells and by coating certain bacteria so the immune system can more easily remove them. It also helps to clean the blood and lymph tissue of impurities.
With IC, you tend to see people without of whack immune systems — either too weak and susceptible to infection or too aggressive and confused, resulting in an autoimmune response whereby the immune system attacks healthy tissue while trying to fight off a bacterial or viral infection. The inappropriate immune response continues even after the infection has been cleared.
Gotu kola will help to tonify the immune system and bring it back into balance.
How to take gotu kola
The standard dose of gotu kola is different depending on what kind you use and what you use it for. Your health care provider can help you choose the right dose for you. Most studies have used standardized extracts:
Dried herb — you can make a tea of the dried leaf, three times daily.
Powdered herb, available in capsules – 1,000 – 4,000 mg, three times a day
Tincture (1:2 w/v, 30% alcohol) 30 – 60 drops (equivalent to 1.5 – 3 mL — there are 5 mL in a teaspoon), three times daily.
Standardized extract – 50 – 250 mg, two to three times daily. Standardized extracts should contain 40% asiaticoside, 29 – 30% asiatic acid, 29 – 30% madecassic acid, and 1 – 2% madecassoside.
And there you have it, another herbal profile for a plant that may be useful in the treatment of interstitial cystitis!
If you have another herbal remedy you would like me to profile on the Healing IC blog, get in touch.