Amla is one of the most important foods in Ayurvedic medicine with an incredible list of health benefits. A whole book could be written on all of the potential uses of the Indian gooseberry, also known as amalaki.
For a short summary, amla has been primarily used as a rejuvenator of many of the body’s organs and functions, to boost the immune system, slow down the aging process and promote good general health and longevity.
It is considered especially beneficial for the digestive system, improving the absorption and assimilation of the food you eat. It is believed to improve liver function, help remove toxins, reduce inflammation and have a cooling effect throughout the body.
Amla is also said to be good for your appearance, improving skin tone, protecting the eyes, preventing hair loss and gray hairs and aiding in weight loss.
Many more benefits of amla have been written about and I’m sure a good practitioner of Ayurveda could advise on more specific uses.
While I have great respect for amalaki’s important place in thousands of years of Ayurvedic tradition, this page will focus on some of the most interesting recent scientific research on this wonderful superfood.
Antioxidant Levels in Amla
Powdered amla fruit is something I personally use most days (sometimes several times a day) ever since reading about the beneficial effects it can have on our health.
My research has shown that these benefits come primarily from its rich array of antioxidants, rather than an unusually high vitamin C content which some websites list (and which may not be the case – see What Is Amla for details).
These antioxidants, so far identified, including ellagic and gallic acid, emblicanin A and B, punigluconin, pedunculagin, chebulinic and chebulagic acid, quercetin, corilagin, isostrictiniin and the list goes on and on with even harder scientific names to spell.
I think the important thing to note here is not so much the individual antioxidants names, but rather just how many of them there are in this one amazing berry.
Free radicals, or reactive oxygen species as they are known in scientific circles, such as superoxide, singlet oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, DPPH, hydroxyl, nitric oxide and many others are strongly implicated as a factor in many debilitating diseases and are proposed as one of, if not the main cause of aging of our bodies.
Detailed scientific analysis of the free radical scavenging properties of amla showed it to provide powerful antioxidant protection against these damaging compounds (1).
In fact, in another recent study of the antioxidant potential of approximately a thousand different kinds of herbal extracts, Indian gooseberry was one of only four chosen for their ‘prominently potent ability to scavenge superoxide radical’, and hydroxyl radical (another damaging reactive oxygen species) as well as displaying resistance to being damaged by heat (2).
Taking amla as a supplement can help to protect your skin against external factors like ultraviolet light and environmental pollution that age it. Now a new scientific study has shown that an extract of Phyllanthus Emblica (amla) can provide significant protection against free radicals from the UVB radiation in sunlight that breaks down skin’s connective collagen and leads to wrinkles and sagging skin (3).
One of the most interesting and important areas of amla research is in the field of cancer prevention. Alongside its powerful antioxidant effects, the fruit of Emblica Officinalis has been reported to possess anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, chemopreventive, antiproliferative and immunomodulatory properties that are beneficial in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Studies have also shown that, along with being an exceptional free radical scavenger, Amla can protect your DNA against damage from certain carcinogens and dangerous heavy metals (4).
While there are many compounds in amla likely to work synergistically against diseases like cancer, one called pyrogallol was shown specifically to have antiproliferative effects (prevents cancer cells spreading) on lung cancer cells in both in vitro and in vivo studies (5).
Other scientific research has also found pyrogallol effective against different types of cancer and suggested it be studied further with a view to using it as a cancer treatment (though whether this will be considered potentially profitable enough remains to be seen).
Other superfood with recognized anticancer properties include turmeric, pumpkins, goji berries and papaya. There is also a valuable article at the GHC website on the truth about cancer.
Diabetes and Amla
Type 2 diabetes is a rapidly increasing health problem related to our increasingly poor modern diets. Blood glucose levels are particularly important for diabetics to keep under control. To this end pharmaceutical drugs are usually prescribed.
A recent scientific study compared the effects on fasting blood sugar of powdered amla versus a leading diabetic drug designed to bring down blood sugar. In the study just 3 grams of powdered amla a day was shown to be even more effective than the prescription drug at controlling fasting blood sugar levels (6).
It’s important to note at this point but I’m not advising anyone to go off drugs given to them by their doctor. Diabetes is a serious, often life-threatening disease and needs to be treated as such.
In fact, if amla is this powerful, taking it might be cautioned for diabetics also taking prescription drugs for blood glucose, in case it actually drops levels too far. It would be best to discuss taking it with your physician if you are currently being treated for diabetes.
There may though be a case to be made for daily amla supplementation to help prevent the damage that leads to the diabetic condition in the first place.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that is increasing in our society at an alarming rate. Even children are now being diagnosed. If you’d like to know more about how to protect yourself against it Dr. Jacob Swilling has written a book on preventing and even curing diabetes with natural food. Replacing processed supermarket junk with natural superfoods would be a great start.
Cholesterol Reduction and Heart Disease
Heart disease, still the biggest killer of Americans, is a disease of oxidation and inflammation. Given that, it’s not surprising that a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory like amla would have a positive effect against it.
Research so far points to the Indian gooseberry having multifaceted protective properties against developing cardiovascular problems later in life.
In the same study listed above concerning diabetes and blood glucose, researchers were surprised to see the volunteers tested also significantly improved their high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (the beneficial type of cholesterol) and reduced their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the bad kind).
Doctors can give you drugs (with side effects) to lower your LDL cholesterol. But it’s not often that a substance will also raise your HDL cholesterol at the same time, without reported side effects. These valuable health benefits were observed with just 3 grams of amla powder a day.
Extracts from amla fruit have been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation, a significant factor in developing cardiovascular disease (7).
Other studies have demonstrated its effectiveness at inhibiting the creation of advanced glycation end products that contribute to endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis. It has also been shown to prevent blood cells from sticking to endothelial linings and thickening blood vessel walls – usually the first step toward heart disease (8).
Prevention is Better Than a Cure
Scientific research like this is interesting but it is unlikely to ever tell the true story of all the benefits of amla. Individual isolated compounds may show great potential in studies, but it makes far more sense that the full spectrum of antioxidants and other beneficial substances found in it work together inside our bodies in ways too complex to replicate in the lab.
I also feel that there is far too much emphasis on finding a miracle cure for diseases that are already in late stages of development. Surely a more important use for potentially anticarcinogenic, blood sugar controlling and heart protecting superfoods such as amla is in helping to prevent diseases like cancer, diabetes and atherosclerosis from ever developing in the first place.
To this end I’d recommend reading How to Take Amla coming up next for some suggestions on how to add it to your daily diet, as well as dosage and side effects information.
Powdered Indian gooseberry is inexpensive, easy to take and, as this page has hopefully shown, may help enhance your health and protect you against some of the most serious diseases.
- (1) – Comparative study of the antioxidant and reactive oxygen species scavenging properties in the extracts of the fruits of Terminalia chebula, Terminalia belerica and Emblica officinalis
- (2) -Extensive screening for herbal extracts with potent antioxidant properties
- (3) – Inhibition of UV-induced ROS and collagen damage by Phyllanthus emblica extract in normal human dermal fibroblasts
- (4) – Amla (Emblica officinalis Gaertn), a wonder berry in the treatment and prevention of cancer
- (5) – Pyrogallol induces G2-M arrest in human lung cancer cells and inhibits tumor growth in an animal model
- (6) – Effect of Amla fruit (Emblica officinalis Gaertn.) on blood glucose and lipid profile of normal subjects and type 2 diabetic patients
- (7) – Medicinal plants from Nepal; II. Evaluation as inhibitors of lipid peroxidation in biological membranes
- (8) – Preventing Cardiovascular Disease Naturally
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