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Myrrh is a rust-colored resin of certain trees of the Middle East and best known as one of the gifts of the Magi offered to the infant Jesus, along with gold and frankincense (Mt 2:11). A new study published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health has studied the plant material and found it to have cholesterol-lowering properties.
Scientists from King Abd Al-Aziz University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia studied myrrh, already known to have medicinal properties, including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Historically, the plant resin has been used as a natural remedy for halitosis (bad breath), for treating sore throats and bronchial congestion, as an antiseptic astringent, and for embalming. Even today, it is an ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash.
Nadia Saleh Al-Amoudi fed laboratory rats a combination of a variety of plant materials, including Commiphara myrrh and measured lipid levels, including total cholesterol, LDL, VLDL, triglycerides and HDL. Similar studies have found that myrrh may reduce total cholesterol from 11 to 32% and triglycerides by 17 to 30%. It may also raise HDL cholesterol.
Myrrh is used frequently in the practice of Ayurveda. The plant, called Daindhava, yields guggulsterones, named after the Indian myrrh, guggul. Guggulsterones are thought to lower blood lipids, including cholesterol. According to animal research, guggulsterone inhibits a gene in liver cells called famesoid X receptor (FXR). This receptor responds to bile acids and affects the absorption of cholesterol. The use of myrrh may inhibit this receptor, causing intestinal cholesterol to be less absorbed, lowering the amount released into the bloodstream.
Myrrh has also been studied as an herbal formula to lower blood sugar levels. Researchers in Kuwait studied myrrh and aloe gums in 1987 and found that they improved glucose tolerance in both normal and diabetic rats.
Scientists from the University of Florence in Italy also tested myrrh on mice as shown to produce analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. The terpene in myrrh affected opioid receptors in the mouse’s brain which influenced pain perception.
Myrrh is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat the heart, liver, and spleen meridians. It is classified as bitter, spicy and neutral in temperature. It is used, along with frankincense, in arthritic conditions. It is also used in the treatment of menstrual problems, as it is thought to be “blood-moving”.
According to the German Commission E, 5-10 drops of the undiluted tincture of myrrh can be used in water as a gargle up to three times daily. Capsules, containing up to 1 gram of resin, or 25 milligrams of guggulsterones, can be taken three times a day for twelve to twenty-four weeks.
The supplement, which can be purchased in the United States either as myrrh extract or guggulipid, should be used under doctor supervision. Raw resin can be toxic and should never be used as a treatment. Common side effects are diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. It is believed safe in pregnancy, but should not be used by persons with liver disease or those with inflammatory bowel disease.