Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is often called “the student herb” in Bali. Because it sharpens the mind. Gotu kola extract increases dendrite and axon growth in brain cells which helps memory.
Native to the wetlands of Asia, the ancient Ayurvedic medical system used gotu kola like a first-aid kit. It was used to treat mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, memory loss, insomnia, fever, syphilis, hepatitis, epilepsy, diarrhea and asthma.
Gotu kola even has a link to longevity. The ancients believed that elephants who ate gotu kola leaves lived longer than those that didn’t. Turns out they were onto something that was only revealed by scientists in late 2019. More on this in the next section.
In the U.S. and Europe gotu kola is typically used for varicose veins, poor blood circulation in the legs, to treat psoriasis and help heal minor skin wounds.
Gotu kola is rich in triterpene saponosides. A study in Japan showed that one of these triterpenoids called asiatic acid was able to stop the growth of cancer cells.[i]
And some of the most exciting new research on gotu kola shows it can spur growth in brain cells. Here we explore all the ways gotu kola can help your brain.
Gotu Kola helps:
- Neurogenesis. Gotu kola stimulates the growth of brain cells. It encourages dendrite branching which boosts brain plasticity and communication between neurons.
- Neuroprotection. Gotu kola protects your brain from toxins and oxidative stress. Studies show it helps protect against heavy metals and food additives which cause brain fog, mood swings and migraines. And it reduces oxidative stress by reducing free radicals in brain cells.
- Neurotransmitters. Gotu kola helps prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. Enhancing mood, cognition, memory and learning. And preventing degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Table of Contents
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is one of the most important herbs in the ancient tradition of Ayurvedic medicine. It’s a low, ground-hugging vine found throughout the wetlands of Southeast Asia. You’ll recognize gotu kola by its bright green kidney-shaped leaves growing from a reddish stem. In season, it blooms with small white flowers.
In Bali, gotu kola is called “the student herb” because it sharpens the mind. The Balinese also use it to combat senility.
It’s famous in southeast Asia as a longevity herb. The ancients were convinced that when elephants ate gotu kola, they lived longer than those that didn’t.
And we now know why these elephants lived longer. A study published in October 2019 showed that Gotu Kola extract provides an 8.8 fold increase in telomerase activity.
Other recent research shows shortened telomeres impairs DNA repair which shortens lifespan. And studies report reduced telomere length in patients suffering from mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.
The leaves of Gotu Kola have been used for thousands of years to boost cognition, improve cerebral circulation, and overall brain function.
As a nootropic, Gotu Kola has been shown to be particularly effective in elderly memory loss, slow thinking and reasoning. One study shows significant improvement in Alzheimer’s patients.[ii]
How does Gotu Kola Work in the Brain?
Gotu kola boosts brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.
- Neural dendrite and axon growth. Gotu kola helps increase the length and branches of neuron dendrites. And boosts axon growth.
Dendrites are tree-like branches extending out from neurons in the brain. They receive incoming signals from other neurons. Those signals are transmitted from axons extending out from neighboring neurons.
Dendrites and axons can change over time, and in response to environmental cues. Learning something new for example cause dendrites to lengthen.
But this natural signaling mechanism in your brain’s neurons degrade over time. And several studies have shown how Gotu kola can reverse this damage.
Scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon did their research with Sprague-Dawley rats. They put Centella ethaniloc extract, a compound in Gotu kola, in the rat’s drinking water.
The study concluded that axons grew at a faster rate. And the researchers stated that gotu kola extract was useful for accelerating repair of damaged neurons.[iii]
Another study showed rats given gotu kola leaf extract had an increase of 105% in dendrite growth.[iv]
A very recent study published at Northwestern University and published in Nature showed how dendrites are critical in memory formation.[v]
- Increase in memory and learning. Gotu kola has been revered for thousands of years for boosting memory. We know that Gotu kola extract can increase the availability of acetylcholine (ACh) in the brain. It does it by preventing ACh from breaking down.
This boost in memory may also benefit from Gotu kola’s ability to boost the growth of neuron dendrites and axons.
In one randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study done in Thailand, researchers gave 28 people Gotu kola extract for 2 months. Daily doses ranged from 250, 500 to 750 mg per day. Cognition in these subjects increased, and they experienced a boost in working memory.[vi]
How things go bad
Over the course of your life, your brain will lose 5 – 10% of its weight. It starts in your early 20’s.[vii]
The Framingham Offspring Cohort Study included 1,352 adults who did not have dementia. 7 years after the start of the study they used an MRI to measure participants brain size. And gave them tests to gauge executive function, planning, and organizational skills.
The researchers found that people with high blood pressure, diabetes, were overweight or smoked had faster brain shrinkage. They showed declines in ability to make decisions, plan, organize and remember details.[viii]
↓ Memory, cognition, learning and recall decline
↓ Neuronal cell death results in shrinking gray matter
↓ Neuroplasticity declines degrading long-term potentiation[ix]
Your brain will shrink regardless of lifestyle. But you can reduce the speed of this shrinkage by using Gotu kola.
Gotu Kola benefits
Research from hundreds of studies have shown that Gotu kola will:
- Improve memory and cognition
- Restore the availability of acetylcholine
- Improve cerebral blood flow
- Reduce stress
- Help repair brain cells
- Eliminate free radicals from within brain cells
How does Gotu Kola feel?
Gotu kola improves acetylcholine levels in your brain. It increases blood flow and helps reduce oxidative damage and toxins in brain cells. As a result, you may feel a boost in mental activity.
Many say that taking Gotu Kola is like “energizing of the brain”. Particularly during a period of high mental demand. Mental blocks or mental fatigue feel like they’re swept away.
Others report dreams seem more vivid and intense. And Gotu kola seems to have an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect as well.
Gotu Kola Clinical Studies
Ever been on your way to a party with the thought, “I hope I don’t kill too many brain cells”. Science once believed that the adult human brain could not grow new brain cells. We were born with all the brain cells we’ll ever have. Once those cells were gone, they’re gone for good.
Not too long ago a study was published in the Journal of Science. It detailed a discovery by scientists of the daily growth of new brain cells in the macaque monkey. And because of this study, we now know your brain can grow new cells.
But the reality is, your brain will lose 5 – 10% of its weight. This shrinkage starts right around your 20th birthday.
The good news is you can prevent that shrinkage. And you can do it with Gotu kola.
Gotu Kola Improves Memory
Neurons connect to other neurons at a point called a synapse. Electrical pulses carry chemical messages across this gap. These chemical messengers are neurotransmitters. Each neuron in your brain can form thousands of these links.
Dendrites extend out from each neuron to neighboring neurons to receive these messages. Your brain uses these neurons in a type of network. And as one neuron sends signals to another, the synapse between the two gets stronger.
The more signals sent between these neurons, the stronger the connection grows. With each new experience, your brain slightly rewires this physical structure. This neuroplasticity determines how your brain is organized. And how memories are formed.
Gotu kola extends these neuron dendrites. And helps improve brain neuroplasticity. A study in animal models demonstrated neurite growth using a compound from gotu kola extract.[x] And clearly showed how gotu kola works to boost memory.
Gotu Kola Improves Mood and Cognition
Gotu kola has been revered for thousands of years for its ability to enhance cognition. So researchers in Thailand worked with 28 people in a placebo-controlled, double-blind trial to put some science behind this reputation.
Each participant in this study received an extract of Gotu kola at various doses ranging 250, 500, and 750 mg once per day for 2 months. The study showed the higher dose of Gotu kola enhanced working memory and mood.[xi]
Researchers in India set out evaluate the nootropic value of Gotu kola. Three-month old Swiss albino mice were given doses of Gotu kola extract for 15 and 30 days.
The researchers found that Gotu kola increases acetylcholine activity. And increased dendrites in the mice hippocampus. Showing that Gotu kola can promote higher brain function.[xii]
Gotu Kola Recommended Dosage
Recommended dose of Gotu kola standardized extract is 50 – 250 mg taken 2 or 3 times daily. Gotu Kola powder in capsules recommended dosage is 400 – 450 mg per day.
Standardized extracts should contain 40% asiaticoside, 29 to 30% asiatic acid, 29 to 30 % madecassic acid, and 1 to 2% madecassoside. But most Gotu Kola supplements sold in the USA are capsules of dried powder and not a standardized extract. The few extracts available contain only 10% Triterpenes.
In human studies in people with venous insufficiency (poor blood circulation in the legs), 90 – 180 mg daily worked well for these patients.
As a tincture (1:2 w/v, 30% alcohol): 30 to 60 drops (equivalent to 1.5 to 3 mL, there are 5 mL in a tsp.), 3 times daily.
Gotu Kola Side Effects
Side effects are rare with Gotu kola. But may include skin allergy and burning sensations if you’re applying it on your skin. Taken internally, side effects could include headache, upset stomach, nausea, dizziness and drowsiness.
Gotu kola has been used in some studies that lasted up to one year. But please note that Gotu kola has the potential to be harmful to the liver. Some medical authorities caution that it is best not to use Gotu kola for more than 6 weeks without talking to your doctor.
Asiaticoside, a major part of Gotu kola, has also been linked with tumor growth in mice. If you have a history of precancerous or cancerous skin lesions, such as squamous cell, basal cell skin cancer, or melanoma, you should not use Gotu kola.
Some men have reported that Gotu Kola reduced libido. Animal studies show that supplementing with Gotu Kola may reduce sperm count in men, and reduce levels of testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH).
And if you have liver disease, or take medications that affect the liver, you should not take Gotu kola. Again, check with your doctor if you take any prescription medications, or often take over-the-counter pain relievers that could affect your liver.
Type of Gotu Kola to Buy
Gotu kola is available in teas, dried leaf in powder form, tinctures, capsule, tablets and ointments.
Most of the clinical studies used in this review were using Gotu Kola extracts. In the USA, most Gotu Kola supplements are not extracts but dried powder in capsules. And the few Gotu Kola extracts that are available contain at most 10% triterpenes.
You will get the most nootropic value from a standardized extract of Gotu Kola. Checking the user reviews will help narrow your choice.
Check to ensure the supplement company has a robust testing program in place. They should have a Certificate of Analysis available for the Gotu Kola supplement you are considering to verify the purity and quality of their supplement. If not, move on the next Gotu Kola supplement and run it through your verification process.
Nootropics Expert Recommendation
Gotu Kola extract up to 500 mg per day
I recommend using Gotu Kola as a nootropic supplement.
Your body does not make Gotu Kola. So you must take it as a supplement to get its effects.
This ancient herb has a long history of safe use as both an herbal remedy, and food throughout much of southeast Asia.
Here in the West, Gotu Kola is mostly used for healing varicose veins and skin conditions. But its overlooked as a nootropic.
Gotu Kola can improve your mood and memory. And protect your brain from free radicals and the toxins you’re exposed to everyday.
Gotu Kola as a nootropic has the potential to keep you mentally sharp for life. And if the ancients were right, may even help you live longer.
You can even out the stress and anxiety of your day by sipping Gotu Kola tea. Or use a supplement as a cognitive enhancer.
If you’re using Gotu Kola extract the recommend dosage is up to 500 mg per day which is 250 mg twice per day.
[i] Wang L., Xu J., Zhao C., Zhao L., Feng B. “Antiproliferative, cell-cycle dysregulation effects of novel asiatic acid derivatives on human non-small cell lung cancer cells.” Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin (Tokyo). 2013;61(10):1015-23 (source)
[ii] Orhan G., orhan I., Sener B. “Recent Developments in Natural and Synthetic Drug Research forAlzheimer’s Disease” Letter in Drug Design & Discovery 2006 (source)
[iii] Soumyanath A., Zhong Y.P., Gold S.A., Yu X., Koop D.R., Bourdette D., Gold B.G. “Centella asiatica accelerates nerve regeneration upon oral administration and contains multiple active fractions increasing neurite elongation in-vitro.” Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmacology. 2005 Sep;57(9):1221-9. (source)
[iv] Gadahad M.R., Rao M., Rao G. “Enhancement of hippocampal CA3 neuronal dendritic arborization by Centella asiatica (Linn) fresh leaf extract treatment in adult rats.” Journal of the Chinese Medical Association. 2008 Jan;71(1):6-13. (source)
[v] Sheffield M.E.J., Dombeck D.A. “Calcium transient prevalence across the dendritic arbour predicts place field properties” Nature 517, 200–204 (08 January 2015) (source)
[vi] Wattanathorn J. et. Al. “Positive modulation of cognition and mood in the healthy elderly volunteer following the administration of Centella asiatica.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2008 Mar 5;116(2):325-32. (source)
[vii] Peters R. “Ageing and the brain” Postgrad Medical Journal 2006 Feb; 82(964): 84–88. (source)
[viii] Seshadri S., Wolf P.A., Beiser A., Elias M.F., Au R., Kase C.S., D’Agostino R.B., DeCarli C. “Stroke risk profile, brain volume, and cognitive function: the Framingham Offspring Study.” Neurology. 2004 Nov 9;63(9):1591-9. (source)
[ix] Barnes C.A. “Long-term potentiation and the ageing brain.”Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B Biological Sciences. 2003 Apr 29;358(1432):765-72. (source)
[x] Wanakhachornkrai O., Pongrakhananon V., Chunhacha P., Wanasuntronwong A., Vattanajun A., Tantisira B., Chanvorachote P., Tantisira M.H. “Neuritogenic effect of standardized extract of Centella asiatica ECa233 on human neuroblastoma cells.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013 Aug 4;13:204. (source)
[xi] Wattanathorn J., Mator L., Muchimapura S., Tongun T., Pasuriwong O., Piyawatkul N., Yimtae K., Sripanidkulchai B., Singkhoraard J. “Positive modulation of cognition and mood in the healthy elderly volunteer following the administration of Centella asiatica.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2008 Mar 5;116(2):325-32. (source)
[xii] Rao S.B., Chetana M., Uma Devi P. “Centella asiatica treatment during postnatal period enhances learning and memory in mice.”Physiology and Behavior. 2005 Nov 15;86(4):449-57. (source)
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Hi David, I was wondering how long does one need to take Gotu Kola to see the effects? Are the effects/benefits immediate?
David Tomen says
Will, with herbs it depends. Some find they work right away and others say they need to use the supplement daily for 2 – 3 weeks before they get the full benefit.
I suggest following the dosage recommendations on the bottle and use the whole bottle. If you do not feel any benefit by then you know it is the wrong supplement for you.
David, My wife has extreme “brain fog” from her chemo treatments. She is now cancer free. But, really frustrated with her cognitive decline. I’m sure Gotu Kola would aid and help heal her brain functions. However, I am taken aback by your statement above about Asiaticoside. I haven’t been able to find any studies or papers to support it. I’m also aware of “mice” studies having been funded by pharmaceutical interests motivated to discredit non drug therapies. Could you please direct me to the studies relating in support of this statement?
David Tomen says
Craig, that reference about Asiaticoside likely came from Mount Sinai (https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/gotu-kola). But other studies say the exact opposite including this one done by Kuwait University: https://bmccancer.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2407-14-220
And if you feel like reading, there are 39 asiaticoside references in this study: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2020.568032/full
I wonder if it enhances the growth of dendrites so much, then what about the rest of the components of the neurons, and how strong they are, is it possible that such a length could damage them?
David Tomen says
Dan, Gotu Kola encourages dendrite “branching” which boosts brain plasticity and communication between neurons. It does not cause dendrites to “grow longer”.
David, please re-read yor first reply. Last line.
Should it be “BDNF is NOT a NGF”. A bit confusing when reading the rest of your replies.
Another question; I can get Gotu Kola as a tincture specified to 1000 mg/ml. I don’t have access to the % values, but the herbmaker has a very good reputation.
Orally administration: mixed into water the information says 1 ml = 1000 mg. Which is typical for most tinctures.
I’m a big fan of sublingual administration and know from experince that the potency can be in general 5-10 times higher for the sublingual route than for the oral one. Do you think this could be the case for Gotu Kola?
Taking herbs sublingually instead of oral, do you think any of the non-cognitive “features” will be weaker due to the lower sublingual dose in the body? I’m thinking of for example helping issues like poor bloodcirculation in the legs.
David Tomen says
Anto, I meant what I said. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor IS a Nerve Growth Factor.
But I am not sure how effective Gotu Kola is taken sublingually. One way to find out is read the user reviews of a Gotu Kola tincture product and see what others have to say about what it did for them.
L.R Luis says
Hi, David. I’ve been following your youtube channel for a while, but didn’t know you had a website. I had a question regarding Gotu Kola, so thought I should ask you.
Does Gotu Kola helps increase NGF activity in the brain? I know that it helps with Dendrite length growth, and also axon. But, when it comes to NGF, does it have a positive effect?
I saw your video about Lion’s mane and it’s NGF properties. Lion’s mane is quite expensive where I live as it’s imported from overseas. On the other had, Gotu Kola is quite available and relatively much cheaper. Somewhere, maybe on Reddit I saw a few comments talking about Gotu Kola’s NGF increasing property. Is that true? I can’t find much info about this.
Your input is much appreciated.
David Tomen says
Gotu Kola upregulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) but not Nerve Growth Factor. BDNF is a NGF.
L.R Luis says
Oh, thanks for clearing that up for me.
If gotu kola upregulates BDNF and BDNF is a NGF, doesn’t that mean Gotu kola can upregulate NGF?
David Tomen says
Elaine, Nerve Growth Factor and BDNF are two different proteins. Gotu Kola only boosts BDNF.