Amla, or Indian gooseberry, is immensely important in Ayurvedic medicine and has also attracted modern research. Find out about amla benefits.April 27, 2022 4:52 pm June 29, 2020 1:39 pm
What is amla?
Amla (Phyllanthus emblica) is also known as Indian Gooseberry. Much like our English gooseberries, they’re bright green in colour, but a bit larger than the ones you might find in the garden. They are about the size of a plum.
Make sure not to confuse them with the cape gooseberry, which is a completely different fruit (and grows in a different part of the world).
Amla is the most important medicinal fruit in traditional Indian medicine. It is also the most powerful fruit used for anti-ageing purposes. In terms of its flavour, we can look to its name for a hint; a straightforward translation of the word ‘amla’ is ‘sour’!
It was historically sourced from amalaki trees growing wild, but these trees are now cultivated across India. Practitioners of Ayurveda believe that each part of the tree has healing properties; you can consume a powder made from the leaves, and amla oil is also very popular.
One fruit, many benefits
The Ayurvedic saying ‘Ek amla, anek faydey,’ meaning ‘one fruit, many benefits’, sums up the way that amla is seen in its origin culture.
It is also referred to as ‘sarvadosha hara’, or ‘remover of all diseases’.
But it isn’t just Ayurveda that makes use of amla. Other healing traditions including Sri Lankan, Unani, Siddha, Tibetan and Chinese medicine use it, too. In Buddhism, it is considered sacred.
There are some truly amazing stories and celebrations focussing on amla, especially in Hindu culture. Here, the amalaki tree is home to none other than Vishnu. Legend has it that, during a fight between the gods and the demons, bubbles of immortality fell to the ground. From them the amalaki tree sprouted, and its fruit contains astonishing medicinal properties as a result.
Alternatively, another origin story has it that Brahma began to shed tears while meditating, and the tree sprouted where his teardrops fell. Either way, few trees can claim such impressive origins. It even has its own day of celebration!
But how about the modern day? Let’s look at what scientists have discovered about amla and its near-magical powers.
What does amla do for you and how?
These bitter, strongly flavoured fruits contain a wealth of nutrients. They include fibre, polyphenols, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, iron, and more.
Valuable phytochemicals in amla include quercetin, furosin, gallic acid, and corilagin. It may be these phytochemicals that give amla its vaunted healing abilities and profound protective capacities.
For a long time people thought the high amount of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, in amla were responsible for its healing benefits. However, recently there has been some discussion among scientists about this and the nature of the extremely powerful antioxidants within the fruit.
Part of the reason for this is that the traditional Ayurvedic method of preparing amla is to serve it in its own juice. As a result, the vitamin C and antioxidant content of the mixture might be higher than that found in the fruit itself.(1)
Like many other indigenous healing plants which are now of more interest to scientists and Western medicine, there needs to be further research done into amla. However, there is currently enough research to give us some interesting insights, which we’ll get into below.
‘The most important medicinal plant’
However, we can also take inspiration from authorities in the health field who know and understand amla. Manjeshwar Shrinath Baliga, PhD is a widely published authority on medicinal plants. He teaches at Father Muller Medical College, India, and has this to say about amla:
“Amla is the most important medicinal plant in the Indian traditional system of medicine. Its fruits possess multiple benefits and are of immense use in folk medicine. And yet this sour, tasty berry, about the size of a plum, is still largely unknown outside the Indian subcontinent.”
That is beginning to change now, but there is still a way to go before Western medicine and Western people fully incorporate amla. Here’s what we know so far.
1. Amla is a powerful antioxidant
All antioxidants help us to fight off free radicals and protect ourselves from oxidative stress, but some are particularly special.
In a study which looked at one thousand different herb extracts through cutting-edge electron spin technology, amla emerged as a clear leader.
It was one of only four herbs out of the entire thousand that had both superoxide radical scavenging activity and heat resistance.(2) In other words, it works like a real superherb against oxidants.
Its antioxidant capacities can also withstand heat, which means that it is resilient and easy to take.
A further study looked at thirty plants used to treat diabetes in traditional Thai medicine. Of these thirty, amla had the most remarkable antioxidant strength and the largest content of tannins and polyphenols.(3)
'Ayurveda tradition uses amla fruit to treat inflammation in both preventive and curative ways.'
2. Amla is anti-inflammatory
When we experience inflammation, tiny messenger molecules called pro-inflammatory cytokines are at work passing vital signals. They are also involved in pathological pain.
A 2013 study looking at amla as anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant found that amla fruit extract significantly reduced the presence of pro-inflammatory cytokines.(2)
Another study, published in the International Journal of Inflammation, also observes that amla acts on inflammation by “inhibiting the synthesis, release, or action of inflammatory mediators.”
This second study points out that the effects of amla on inflammation could be compared to the standard anti-inflammation pharmaceutical drugs. Unlike amla, these drugs often have adverse side effects.
Further, the study finds that amla may be effective on both acute and chronic inflammation. In other words, it works both short-term and long-term.(3)
Inflammation is a standard and necessary response by the immune system. However, sometimes the body wrongly sets off an inflammatory response. Inflammation of this type may lead to very serious health conditions.
3. Amla benefits hair and skin
Remember that saying, ‘ek amla, anek faydey, one fruit, many benefits’? Amla’s benefits range from preventing oxidative stress and fighting inflammation to caring for our skin and hair.
One study observed how four different herbal oils worked for hair growth. The researchers measured how long it took for the hairs to start growing, and how many follicles produced growing h