Myrrh: Background. Actions

Common Name

Myrrh

Other Names

Abyssinian myrrh, bal, bol, common myrrh, heerabol, hirabol myrrh, gum myrrh tree, gummi myrrh, Somali myrrh, Yemen myrrh

Botanical Name / Family

Commiphora molmol (family Burseraceae)

Plant Parts Used

Gum resin, stem, leaves

Historical Note

The resin that seeps out of the bark of the Commiphora plant has been considered an important medicinal product in the Middle East, China and India since biblical times. Because of its antimicrobial activity, myrrh has historically been used, alone and in combination with other herbs, to treat infections and inflammations of the oral cavity, in purification rituals, to embalm bodies, dress infected wounds and as a treatment for leprosy.

Chemical Components

Myrrh contains three main components: gum resin 30-60%; alcohol-soluble resins 20-40%; volatile oils (2-10%).

Guggul is the oleo-gum-resin exudate from Commiphora mukul, which is also used therapeutically and has been scientifically investigated. Resins are sticky, water-insoluble substances that are secreted where a plant is damaged by incision or natural causes. The viscous substance hardens shortly after secretion, but may be returned to a liquid state with heating. Resins tend to be soluble in alcohol. Guggulipid is extracted from guggul and contains plant sterols (guggulsterones E and Z) which are thought to be its main pharmacologically active constituents.

Myrrh: Main Actions

ANTISEPTIC

Antifungal and antibacterial activity has been observed in vitro against standard pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans. The oleo-gum-resin of C. mukul was shown to be comparable to kanamycin against both Gram (+) and Gram (-) bacteria in vitro.

LIPID-LOWERING EFFECTS

Several mechanisms of action are considered responsible for this effect. The guggulsterones act as antagonists of the bile-acid receptor and of the farsenoid X receptor, which are involved in bile acid regulation and cholesterol metabolism. Crude guggul contains ion-exchange resins that may remove bile from the intrahepatic circulation.

According to one review, eleven clinical studies have generally demonstrated that guggulipid from C. mukul significantly reduces triglyceride and total cholesterol levels; however, results from a recent double-blind randomised study were negative.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

Myrrhanol A, a triterpene isolated from C. mukul gum resin, produces potent anti-inflammatory activity, as observed in an animal model of inflammation. In this study, anti-inflammatory activity was more marked than that of hydrocortisone. An animal model of RA confirmed significant anti-inflammatory effects with oral administration, also resulting in decreased joint swelling. A small, uncontrolled trial of C. mukul for patients with osteoarthritis (n = 30) has shown treatment with 500 mg (3.5% guggulsterones) of the herb, three times daily for 2 months resulted in reduced joint inflammation, swelling and pain. Although this suggests the effects may be clinically significant, further investigation is required.

LOCAL ANAESTHETIC

Several compounds found within myrrh exert local anaesthetic activity, chiefly by blocking the inward sodium current across membranes.

Myrrh: Other Actions

ANTISPASMODIC

One major component, T-cadinol, and several minor components possess smooth muscle-relaxing properties according to ex vivo tests.

INCREASES GLUCOSE TOLERANCE

An extract of myrrh effectively increased glucose tolerance in both normal and diabetic rats.

LOCAL ASTRINGENT AND ENHANCED WOUND HEALING

Myrrh has astringent activity, promotes tissue granulation and enhances wound healing.