The term skin aging refers to the sum of all damage caused to the skin throughout our lives. As skin ages, the breakdown and remodeling of structural proteins cause the skin to become thinner, more fragile, and to lose water more easily. Damage done to the DNA can cause cells like melanocytes (pigment cells) to grow abnormally and can lead to cancer or other atypical skin lesions. The main reason our skin begins to age is sun exposure, although diet, the environment we live in, and our lifestyle choices like smoking can also deteriorate the skin.
Botanical medicine is the use of plants in one of many different forms, for the purpose of healing or maintaining health. This form of medicine has been used traditionally and throughout indigenous cultures for centuries and is becoming extremely popular in mainstream culture as consumers continue to search for additional remedies that have beneficial effects without having dramatic side effects. One of the common plants used in botanical medicine for skin complaints is called gotu kola (Centella asiatica).
Gotu kola is a perennial plant that is native to Asia and has different applications for health. A comprehensive and systematic review of the biomedical literature found that gotu kola was one of a few herbs with good evidence to support a positive effect on burn wound healing.
Gotu kola also has several different isolated components that can be beneficial for several skin conditions. One of the components, Madecassoside, reduced inflammation in rats with a rash that is equivalent to human psoriasis. Another commonly studied therapeutic component, asiaticoside, may regulate cell death and cell toxicity in cancer cells. Understandably, gotu kola has the potential to be helpful in various skin conditions, but can it be used as an anti-aging remedy?
Gotu Kola for Anti-Aging
Several different studies have shown different ways that gotu kola can be utilized as an anti-aging herb. It has the potential to reduce skin breakdown by inhibiting the activity of some of the enzymes that can normally degrade the skin. Studies in skin cells showed that gotu kola, along with glycolic acid and vitamins A, E, and C, stimulated the cells to make collagen. Since decreases in the amount of collagen in the skin are central to skin aging, these two effects suggest that gotu kola may work as an anti-aging agent by increasing the amount of collagen in the skin. Gotu kola may also work as an effective anti-aging ingredient by protecting DNA from ultraviolet light-induced damage and reducing inflammatory cells.
After 8 weeks of using a topical combination containing the herbs gotu kola (Centella asiatica) oil, paracress (Spilanthes acmella) oil, ginger (Zingiber officinale), and ferulic acid, a study found improved skin density in women, although it did not compare the topical combination against a control. An evaluation comparing different concentrations of gotu kola extract used twice a day over a four week period showed that a 5% concentration of gotu kola had some efficacy as a moisturizer. This effect was achieved by providing skin hydration and reducing transepidermal water loss. Notably, the researchers found that gotu kola also had anti-inflammatory properties.
Is Gotu Kola Safe?
Most research done on gotu kola evaluates the use of the herb topically, but one study looked at the safety profile of the herb when given to rats in oral administration and found that it was safe and non-toxic at a dose range of 0-2000 mg/kg. It is difficult to apply this information to the safety in humans simply because it was done on rats, but research typically begins with animal studies before human trials. Given the positive outcomes of this evaluation, we can be hopeful that the safety profile in humans will be studied in the future. It is also important to mention that this study did not apply to the effects of the herb on the skin and was simply examining the safety of taking gotu kola internally.
Gotu kola has the potential for many uses in the field of dermatology. It has been used as a skin remedy for many years, and emerging modern research demonstrates few ways by which it may help to promote the growth of structural molecules in the skin, improve the tensile strength of newly formed skin, and inhibit the inflammatory phase of hypertrophic scars and keloids. All of these properties may help gotu kola become an effective anti-aging agent. Given that the herb can be helpful, large human trials are warranted to prove it is safe and effective.
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