|By Jonathan Roseland||Connect|
Another Eastern historical Nootropic, best used in combination with Bacopa. It's a medium term Biohack that after a few weeks of dosing enhances cognition, attention and memory along with an anti-anxiety effect that imbues modicum of spiritual enlightenment.
This article is mostly going to focus on decoding what the human studies are saying about Gotu Kola and how this squares up with the anecdotal experiences of Biohackers online. For more of my own personal experiences, thoughts and comparisons please see the written and video reviews in the sidebar.
It's been studied world wide and has been the subject of 15 articles of human research that can be found on Pubmed. From the book Adaptogens:
In clinical practice, gotu kola can be used for people with poor memory, head trauma injuries, anxiety, mental fatigue, and irritability. In animal studies, gotu kola has been shown to promote nerve development and has shown some mild adaptogenic effects by preventing the increase of cortisol and adrenaline levels.
From an exhaustive 2010 pharmacological review of Gotu Kola published by researchers at Nima University in India
"...it has been used as a medicine in the Ayurvedic tradition of India for thousands of years and listed in the historic ‘Sushruta Samhita’, an ancient Indian medical text...
The herb is also used by the people of Java and other Indonesian islands. In China, known as gotu kola, it is one of the reported “miracle elixirs of life” known over 2000 years ago"
It can be found in
"...India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and South Africa and South pacific and Eastern Europe."
The plant was originally confused with the Kola plant which contains caffeine and was used in Coca Cola, Gotu Kola does not contain caffeine and is not a stimulant.
It was a favorite of the legendary herbalist Li Ching-Yuen who claimed to have lived over 250 years. To quote the (cleverly self promotional) old man himself
"I think the reason that I have lived this long and am still perpetually healthy is because nothing has irritated me since I was 40 years old. Because of that, my heart is very calm, peaceful and divinely tranquil. That is why I am free from any illness, and always healthy and happy."
According to the Indian review
"[Centella asiatica] was described to possess [central nervous system] effects in Indian literature such as stimulatory-nervine tonic, rejuvenant, sedative, tranquilizer and intelligence promoting property"
From a gold standard double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized 2008 Thai study
Centella asiatica has a reputation to restore decline cognitive function in traditional medicine and in animal model.
Cognitive performance was assessed using the computerized test battery and event-related potential whereas mood was assessed using Bond-Lader visual analogue scales prior to the trial and after single, 1 and 2 months after treatment.
The results showed that the high dose of the plant extract enhanced working memory and increased N100 component amplitude of event-related potential. Improvements of self-rated mood were also found following the Centella asiatica treatment.
...the present findings suggest the potential of Centella asiatica to attenuate the age-related decline in cognitive function and mood disorder in the healthy elderly.
A follow up study from the same University was published in 2011 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
"Based on its reputation to improve both psychological and physical performances, and its antioxidant properties, the hypothesis that C. asiatica extract would have a positive effect on the physical strength and health-related quality of life, for the healthy elderly, was properly focused."
From the Indian review
[Gotu Kola] is known to re-vitalize the brain and nervous system, increase attention span and concentration and combat aging...
In the study, after 2 months, cognitive function (as assessed by event-related potential and the computerized assessment battery test) and mood (using Bond-Lader visual analogue) was determined. The greatest improvements in mood and cognitive function were detected in those receiving the 750 mg dose of [Gotu Kola] extract.
To quote a Biohacker on Longecity
"I usually take it once a day, I find that to be enough. Biggest effect I notice from it is more energy, a flushed/healthy looking face and much less anxiety. I generally feel sharper as well."
From a 2010 double blind, clinical study done at the Ayurvedic Medical College in Kolkata, India that gave 1000 milligrams daily to 33 adults with generalized anxiety disorder:
The present investigation was undertaken to evaluate the role of 70% hydro-ethanolic extract of Centella asiatica (CA) on generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in man...
The observations revealed that, [Centella asiatica] not only significantly (p<0.01) attenuated anxiety related disorders but it also significantly (p<0.01) reduced stress phenomenon and its correlated depression. [Centella asiatica] further significantly (p<0.01) improved the willingness for adjustment and cognition.
Results indicated that Centella asiatica may be useful in the treatment of [generalized anxiety disorder] and may be used as a promising anxiolytic agent in near future.
However, this is not exactly a gold standard study; it wasn't placebo controlled and it came out of an Ayurvedic school, so there's likely some bias inherent.
From the Indian review
Asian [Gotu Kola] increases the cerebral levels of GABA, which explains its traditional use as anxiolytic and anticonvulsant...
Also the purported anxiolytic activity of [Gotu Kola] is intriguing in view of the proposed involvement of cholecystokinin (CCK) in the pathophysiology of fear and anxiety.
Interestingly, animal studies suggest that Gotu Kola at higher dosages is an alternative to the pharmaceutical drug diazepam thanks to it's anxiolytic effect.
Alertness vs Attention
Interestingly it lowers alertness and reaction times while paradoxically improving attention.
A Canadian placebo controlled study measured startle response, giving otherwise healthy adults a relatively high dose of 12 grams of Gotu Kola. From the study
The results revealed that compared with placebo, Gotu Kola significantly attenuated the peak [acoustic startle response] amplitude 30 and 60 minutes after treatment.
What it's saying is that it actually decreased the sensitivity to the startle response. People were less startled by random loud noises. So it would maybe make you less jumpy while watching a scary movie, but at the same time it might not be a great Nootropic for someone who relied on their split second reactions, like
- Race car drivers
- UFC fighters
- Rodeo cowboys
But it's also been demonstrated as a medium term biohack that increases attention after dosing 1 gram for between 30-60 days.
These two findings might seem to be a little contradictory; but they underly an important point about personality and productivity.
For many personalities, alertness works against our productivity and happiness. In our high stimulus world, peak alertness to everything means our attention will frenetically jump from...
- Smart phone notifications
- To checking social media
- To a sexy advertisement that appears on television
- To worrying about an unpaid bill
...And we will end up getting nothing done and will be quiet unhappy about it.
Many will actually end up being more happy if their alertness is a little dulled, they'll find it easier to focus on the work, book or person in front of them. However, if you are a person with strong focus skills (either naturally or ingrained with a mindfulness practice) you'll probably find Gotu Kola less effective as a Nootropic, I'd wager.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled 2010 Israeli study treated 120 ADHD children with an herbal stack combining Gotu Kola, Ashwagandha, Bacopa Monnieri, and Lemon Balm along with some other herbs. From the abstract of the 4 month study:
The treatment group showed substantial, statistically significant improvement in the 4 subscales and overall [Test of Variables of Attention] scores, compared with no improvement in the control group, which persisted in an intention-to-treat analysis...
The well-tolerated [compound herbal preparation] demonstrated improved attention, cognition, and impulse control in the intervention group, indicating promise for ADHD treatment in children.
A Bacopa Cofactor
It shares the name Brahmi with Bacopa because the two together are such a beloved herbal combination.
Many traditional medicine men along with modern day Biohackers regard this as a stack that enables spiritual enlightenment.
To ground this in reality consider the none-metaphysical definition of spiritual that I came up with in my review of Waking Up:
Seeking to understand our minds, the nature of self and our relation to the world more deeply by way of reaching for extraordinary states of consciousness.
- Gotu Kola and Bacopa enable this state of relaxed focus. We are able to overcome fleeting distractions to come to a deeper understanding of things.
- The anxiolytic effect of the Adaptogens allows you to get out of your own head somewhat and not believe everything that you might think. So that we think more objectively about ourselves and our place in the world.
- Nootropics turn on an altered state of consciousness.
A double blind, placebo controlled 2010 Canadian study concluded that while it's an effective anxiolytic, it doesn't help mood.
Gotu Kola had no significant effect on self-rated mood, heart rate, or blood pressure. These preliminary findings suggest that Gotu Kola has anxiolytic activity in humans as revealed by the [acoustic startle response]. It remains to be seen whether this herb has therapeutic efficacy in the treatment of anxiety syndromes.
However, the Canadian study was done on a relatively small sample size over a short period, so take it's conclusions with a grain of maple syrup.
Another double blind study reached a different conclusion...
Improvements of self-rated mood were also found following the Centella asiatica treatment.
However, this study was done with an elderly group of people, whereas the Canadian study was done with otherwise healthy young people.
If you're really looking for a Nootropic to hack your mood I would recommend Rhodiola, 5-HTP, liquid Nicotine or Phenibut much higher than Gotu Kola.
There's evidence that Gotu Kola aids your short term working memory.
Working memory is frequently alluded to as the 'scratch pad' of the mind, a temporary repository for your memories, experiences, newly acquired skill sets and of course a place for brain storming and finding of solutions.
If you think of your mind as a computer (which is a pretty accurate metaphor) your working memory is the RAM.
From a 2008 double blind study of 28 elderly Thais
"The results showed that the high dose of the plant extract enhanced working memory and increased N100 component amplitude of event-related potential."
Memory and Learning
Gotu Kola has a reputation as a memory enhancing herb but the scientific evidence of it's helpful effect in that regard is a bit thin. Limited to in vitro or animal studies.
From the Indian review
"The antidepressant effects of total triterpenes from [Gotu Kola] on the immobility time in forced swimming mice and concentration of amino acid in mice brain tissue was observed."
"The findings suggested the potential of aqueous [Gotu Kola extracts] as adjuvant to antiepileptic drugs with an added advantage of preventing cognitive impairment."
"Previous studies have suggested that [Gotu Kola] could be useful in preventing radiation-induced behavioural changes during clinical radiotherapy"
The present review is indicative of multiple useful clinical effects of Centella asiatica especially in the age-related cognitive decline...
A favourable improvement is observed in depression and other age related conditions like Hypertension, peripheral neuritis, insomnia, loss of appetite, constipation indicative of multiple useful clinical effects of [Gotu Kola] especially in the age-related cognitive decline in elderly...
Another current study assessed the antioxidant property in elderly subjects and confirmed the beneficial effects of [Gotu Kola extract] (at doses of 500 and 750 mg per day) in elderly patients for 90 days, where, the [Gotu Kola extract] improved the strength especially in the lower extremities of the elderly... The study also proved the role of [Gotu Kola extract] as a natural resource for vigor and strength increase, in healthy elderly persons.
Vs Benzo Withdrawal
Apparently Gotu Kola provides some relief for those suffering from benzodiazepines
withdrawal. However, this is actually counter intuitive to the goals of the addict as ScienceGuy on Longecity clarified:
GOTU KOLA is a GABA RECEPTOR AGONIST it will prolong your withdrawal and recovery from BENZODIAZEPINES and hence should be avoided. The reason you felt good and relief is because the GOTU KOLA would have been hitting your GABA RECEPTORS...
An American undergoing a lengthy withdrawal confirmed this
"Gotu kola gave me profound relief, but afterward my symptoms worsened. I believe that my sporadic use of gotu kola, holy basil, and other GABA-A agonists prolonged the overall process of withdrawing. They would clear up obsessive/fearful/repetitive thinking for a couple days, only to plunge me into a worsened schizoid state of mind after wearing off."
According to research out of Seoul National University in Korea
"These results showed that these derivatives of asiatic acid exerted significant neuroprotective effects on cultured cortical cells by their potentiation of the cellular oxidative defense mechanism. Therefore, these agents may prove to be efficacious in protecting neurons from the oxidative damage caused by exposure to excess glutamate."
Mechanism of Action
- Asiatic acid
- Madecassic acid
- Madasiatic acid
- Rosmarinic acid
- Vitamin C
It's mechanisms include
- It improves blood flow (particularly in people with poor circulation), delivering more blood and oxygen to the brain.
- Increases dendritic arborization and expression of neurogenesis.
- It has a modest hippocampal acetylcholinesterase action.
- Neuroprotective because of it's effect on BDNF.
- Increasing MCP-1 induced release of the macrophage-derived cytokine.
- Protects from glutamate induced cell death.
Gotu Kola is a wonderful herb. I've been using it time-to-time since 2012. It provides anxiolysis, almost comparable to a benzodiazepine, yet it keeps your mind sharp. The most useful quality for me was this herb's ability to provide positive outlook - I mean it's almost impossible to not feel positive when taking it. I played poker in quite high stakes back in 2013, and we poker players are prone to "tilt", meaning that for example when facing extremely bad luck it leads to frustration and the poker player starts playing impulsively or otherwise non-optimally. Gotu Kola prevents that, so in a sense it can give the player an extra edge.
Gotu Kola is also good if one likes to have some fun with recreational substances. It soothes out alcohol hangovers, helps with rebound anxiety from Phenibut if it's taken too often and Gotu is even used for opium detox in Thailand.
It's beneficial for social anxiety too, an actual shyness-killer for some. Approach anxiety is significantly lessened in my experience.
Tolerance slooowly developes eventually, takes many months. I've read someone had been taking it for over a year and the therapeutic effects still had remained.
Now this may start to sound like some wonder herb, which it can be, but some do not experience much effect from it... so it's definitely worth a try to just about anyone.
A Thai Longecity user makes a good point
It does grows in moist places, along canals and ditches (as well as mountain streams and even on lawns provided the atmospheric and soil conditions are right), and it is like an environmental cleaner, as it soaks up pathogens and heavy metals, which do end up in the plant.
But such concerns are not valid with organically grown gotu kola. Of course, given the lack of regulation of the supplement industry, even a claim from a brand to be organic may not necessarily withstand scrutiny, since there is so little such scrutiny actually performed, and many herbs are bought in bulk from India and China where business is unregulated and the desire to make a quick buck is huge.
So I would advice caution, unless you have good knowledge of the ultimate source. If you're in the right climate zone, grow your own like I do!
This is why I recommend getting your Gotu Kola from a source that provides
- Certificate of Analysis
- Heavy Metals and Minerals Report
- Microbiological Reports
The best value source I've been able find that makes these product quality audits publicly available is Lost Empire Herbs, they sell Powdered Organic Gotu Kola for $35.
Vs Male Vitality
A 2012 Iranian study has (perhaps) a little bit of bad news about Gotu Kola for men. In this animal study it lowered serum testosterone and sperm count. From the study
"It is concluded that Centella asiatica has toxicological effects on the reproductive system in male rats and, therefore, it is suggested that leaf extracts of Centella asiatica possess antifertility effects in the male rat."
Safe During Pregnancy
"A placebo-controlled study of 100 pregnant women compared application of a cream containing a [Gotu Kola extract], vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), and collagen-elastin hydrolysates to placebo... Application of the compounded cream was associated with fewer women developing stretch marks than in placebo."
It seems to me to be a general purpose Nootropic that aids the domains of performance enhancement that concern Biohackers...
Long term memory
However, in none of these dimension does it really shine or would I call it a best in class Nootropic. If people want to use Gotu Kola, do so in the way it has been consumed since time immemorial, as Brahmi, in combination with Bacopa.
Usage and Dosage
Use it two to three times daily. It has a dosage half life of 2 - 4.5 hours.
As a drinkFrom the book Adaptogens:
Fresh gotu kola leaves are sold in markets in Thailand as a stimulant and afternoon “pick-me-up.” A drink called water pennywort juice, made with gotu kola juice, sugar, and water, also is used to enhance energy and concentration.
From the Indian review
"The use of [Gotu Kola] for more than 6 weeks is not recommended in the literature. People taking the herb for an extended period of time (up to 6 weeks) should take a 2-week break before taking the herb again."
500 milligrams Reduce Anxiety
750 milligrams Enhancing Mood
1200 milligrams Working Memory
In human studies it's been used in dosages as high as 12 grams.
The traditional medicinal wisdom most thorough studies and enthusiastic Biohacker reports recommend it with Bacopa. From the book Adaptogens:
The first, neurofort tea blend, combined nervines such as skullcap, blue vervain, St. John’s wort, chamomile, and fresh milky oat with nootropic and inflammatory herbs such as rosemary and gotu kola.
If you're going to use Gotu Kola I strongly recommend also picking up 30 grams of COA verified powdered Bacopa for $30, which is a 3-month supply.
A 2013 Universiti Putra Malaysia in vitro study noted an Antioxidant synergism between the two.
A human study and an animal study administered Gotu Kola in quiet high doses and no toxicity or negative effects where observed. It would seem that this is a Nootropic that you can safely mega dose if you want.
From the Indian review
"[Gotu kola] has no known toxicity in recommended doses. Side effects are rare but may include skin allergy and burning sensations (with external use), headache, stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, and extreme drowsiness which tend to occur with high doses of the herb."
"Use gotu kola cautiously during pregnancy. In high doses, it can cause headaches and palpitations. In sensitive people, the fresh leaf may cause contact dermatitis (skin rash)."
To quote a Thai Biohacker
"Here in Thailand, many people drink freshly blended gotu kola juice daily, the dried leaves are used as a herbal tea, and it is sometimes eaten as a side vegetable...
Last year I used it daily (about 3 glasses daily of freshly blended juice) for four months straight. I've not experienced any indications that it would cause physiological or psychological dependence. There was no come-down, nor any negative effects from quitting. Any tendencies toward addiction would have been observed long ago given the plant's long term use in traditional medicine."
"There have been no reports documenting negative interactions between [Gotu Kola] and medications to date. Since high doses of [Gotu Kola] can cause sedation, it was warned that individuals should refrain from taking this herb with medications that promote sleep or reduce anxiety"
A possible negative interaction with lymecycline.