October 25, 2021

Nutra Health

The Ideal Health

What Is Giloy? Nutrients, Benefits, Downsides, and More

No matter what ails you, chances are there’s an herbal remedy for it. However, what if one herb could treat nearly every condition?

Giloy might be one to consider. It’s a climbing shrub and an essential herb in Ayurvedic medicine. People take it to support general wellness and treat a wide range of conditions, including fever, infections, and diabetes.

Here’s a look at the research behind this herbal supplement and our recommendations about whether it’s worth taking.

Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia) is a climbing shrub that grows on other trees, from the botanical family Menispermaceae. The plant is native to India but also found in China and tropical areas of Australia and Africa (1, 2, 3).

It’s considered an essential herbal plant in Ayurvedic and folk medicine, where people use it as a treatment for a wide range of health conditions (1, 2).

All parts of the plant are used in Ayurvedic medicine. However, the stem is thought to have the most beneficial compounds. The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India has approved the plant’s stem for use in medicine (1).

Giloy is also called giloe, guduchi, and amrita, among other names. The word “giloe” is a Hindu mythological term. It refers to a mythical heavenly elixir that keeps celestial beings eternally young (1).

In Sanskrit, “guduchi” means something that protects the whole body, and “amrita” means immortality (1).

Traditionally, giloy is used to treat (1, 3):

  • fever
  • urinary problems
  • asthma
  • dysentery
  • diarrhea
  • skin infections
  • Hansen’s disease (formerly called leprosy)
  • diabetes
  • gout
  • jaundice
  • anorexia
  • eye conditions

Summary

Giloy (T. cordifolia) is a climbing shrub and an essential herb in Ayurvedic medicine. All parts of this plant are thought to have health benefits. People have long used it to treat a wide range of issues, including fever, infections, diarrhea, and diabetes.

The wide range of uses and potential health benefits from giloy come from numerous beneficial plant compounds found throughout the plant.

Researchers have identified four major classes of compounds in giloy (3):

  • terpenoids
  • alkaloids
  • lignans
  • steroids

Terpenoids are one of the largest classes of active compounds found in plants. They often contribute to plants’ fragrance, taste, and color. Lab tests on terpenoid compounds show they have antimicrobial, antiviral, anticancer, and antidiabetic properties (4).

Alkaloids are compounds that give some plants their bitter taste. Plant alkaloids are used as a model to make many types of prescription medicines.

They’re known to have therapeutic benefits for (5):

  • blood pressure
  • pain relief
  • cancer
  • malaria
  • intestinal spasms

At the right doses, alkaloids are powerful chemicals. Interestingly, since ancient times, people have used plant alkaloids as remedies for illnesses and as poisons (5).

Lignans are compounds found mostly in fibrous plants. They’re known to prevent the growth of viruses, fungi, and other microbes (6).

Research also suggests they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which means they might protect cells from oxidative damage (6).

Lignans are especially interesting because research has found they can slow the growth of or even kill some types of cancer cells in lab tests (6).

Steroid compounds in plants may also have potential benefits for (7):

  • skin health
  • wound healing
  • cardiovascular health

Some have a similar chemical structure to cholesterol. As such, they may compete with cholesterol for absorption in your intestine. This may help reduce cholesterol levels in your blood (8).

Summary

Giloy is a source of many important plant compounds, namely terpenoids, alkaloids, lignans, and steroids. Lab studies suggest these compounds have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antidiabetic properties, among other benefits.

Research on giloy suggests that it might have health benefits. However, it’s important to note that most research measured the effects of giloy in rats or cells in a lab. There are few human studies, so it’s not clear whether the benefits would apply to people (3).

Metabolic benefits

Giloy might be helpful for those with diabetes or who are at risk of heart disease.

Several studies done on animals and on cells in the lab show that giloy reduces blood sugar by making cells less insulin resistant. It also may reduce cholesterol levels in lab animals (3, 9, 10, 11, 12).

However, it’s important to note that the animal study used a multi-herb formula that included seven other herbs in addition to giloy. Because of this, it’s unclear whether the potential benefits came from giloy or another herb.

One of the alkaloid compounds in giloy is berberine. It’s a traditional herbal remedy that human studies have shown reduces blood sugar. Berberine works in a similar way to the diabetes medication metformin (13, 14).

Berberine may be as effective as some medications at helping reduce not only blood sugar but also LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure (13).

Berberine and other alkaloids in giloy might account for some of the results seen in lab tests.

Immune system benefits

Lab studies on giloy show that it has antioxidant effects, which means that it can help protect cells from oxidative damage (11, 15).

When tested on breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer cells in the lab, certain compounds from giloy show anticancer potential (15).

Taking giloy might help boost your immune system against allergies, too. A study including 75 people with hay fever allergies found that giloy helped alleviate their symptoms, including runny and stuffy nose (16).

Notably, 83% of people said they experienced complete relief from sneezing after taking giloy (16).

Certain compounds in giloy can also stimulate your immune system and protect you from bacteria and other pathogens (15, 17, 18).

It’s able to prevent the growth of Klebsiella pneumoniae, E. coli, Pseudomonas spp., and Proteus spp. (16).

It seems to kill larger pathogens, too. One study compared a T. cordifolia lotion with permethrin, a medication to treat scabies, which is an itchy rash caused by tiny mites that infest your skin. The study found that both treatments worked equally well to kill the scabies and clear the rash (18).

Summary

Studies show giloy can be helpful for seasonal allergies and to treat a skin rash called scabies. It might have benefits for diabetes and high cholesterol, but there aren’t any studies in humans that show if it works, or if so, how well.

There don’t seem to be any risks associated with giloy in healthy people, as long as you take it at the dose recommended on the product label or by a health professional. However, it may not be a good choice for certain people.

Because it has the potential to lower blood sugar, you should be cautious with this herb if you take medications to lower your glucose. You might have a low blood sugar (hypoglycemic) reaction.

Giloy could also potentially cause problems if you have an autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or Crohn’s disease. This is because of its stimulating effects on the immune system (17).

With autoimmunity, your immune system is already overstimulated. That causes it to attack certain healthy cells instead of harmful pathogens.

Finally, giloy isn’t recommended for pregnant or lactating people. This is because not enough is known about how it works in humans. Talk with a healthcare professional if you’re considering taking it.

We always recommend being cautious with herbal remedies. Just because they’re natural doesn’t always make them safe. Some can interact with certain medications or have unwanted side effects.

Before taking giloy or any other over-the-counter treatment, it’s best to check with a doctor.

Summary

Giloy isn’t known to have any safety issues in healthy people, but be aware it might interact with some medications or certain health conditions, like autoimmune diseases. You should avoid giloy if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Stores sell giloy as a supplement in pill or capsule form. Because each manufacturer’s preparation can differ, you should take it according to the directions on the label.

You can also buy dried giloy powder as well as a tincture or juice made from the roots and stems. To use it, mix the recommended amount with water.

If your dermatologist has diagnosed you with a scabies rash and prescribed permethrin cream, you can ask about substituting this with a giloy or Tinospora cordifolia lotion, cream, or ointment.

Keep in mind that, as a supplement, giloy isn’t regulated the same way as a medication, so there’s no guarantee you’re getting the amount of active ingredient you might need.

Summary

You can take giloy as a pill, capsule, powder, or tincture. For skin conditions like scabies, look for it in a cream or lotion. Because different brands can vary, take it according to the directions on the container.

People have used giloy for many years in traditional medicine, including Ayurvedic medicine in India. It might be helpful if you want to support your immune system, fight off hay fever symptoms, or maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many studies to show if or how well it works in people. Some small studies in humans have focused on treating allergy symptoms or an itchy scabies rash.

It’s probably safe for most people to take giloy, as long as you follow the directions on the product label.

We don’t recommend it for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Be aware that if you take medicine to lower your blood sugar or if you have an autoimmune disease, giloy might cause an unwanted reaction.

It’s always a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional before taking any herbal supplements.