Erbology
Amla benefits, uses and side effects

Amla benefits, uses and side effects

Team ErbologyErbology

Amla, or Indian gooseberry, is immensely important in Ayurvedic medicine and has also attracted modern research. Find out about amla benefits.

February 02, 2021 11:02 am

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. 

 

amla benefits

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)

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'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 hairs. Amla performed the best: 7% to 8% of growth was seen in a period of 8-9 days.

Amla’s benefits for your hair are thought to be due to the tannins, vitamin C, and minerals it contains.(4)

When it comes to our skin, the natural antioxidants in amla protect special cells called dermal fibroblasts. These cells help create connective tissue between skin layers.

Another study found that amla benefits fibroblast growth.

The study also found that amla spurred the growth of procollagen, which helps with the production of collagen. This is the protein which acts as natural plumping agent in the skin.

The study found that amla benefits skin in complementary ways. Not only does it reduce damage to the skin, it also helps to heal already-present damage and beautify.(5)

4. Amla benefits liver health

One of the most remarkable characteristics of adaptogens is the way that they help us to regain balance in a wide variety of ways.

Amla is an adaptogen, and may be able to help keep our liver health in balance. 

One study looking at liver health in regards to diabetes found that amla extract lessened oxidative damage to lipids in the liver. Alongside this, amla increased the antioxidant parameters in disrupted liver tissues.(6)  

The general hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) properties of amla were also noted in a 2013 review. It observed that amla could relieve toxic effects on the liver from environmental agents, medication, and many other sources. (7) 

5. Amla benefits your cholesterol levels

Many people value amla benefits for cholesterol. This goes right back to its use in Ayurveda, where it was thought to benefit the blood vessels and circulatory system. 

Modern-day scientists have found amla’s cholesterol-busting abilities worthy of investigation, too.

One study looked at amla given to men aged between 35 and 55 for a period of 28 days. Subjects showed a decrease in cholesterol – but that level went back up within weeks of stopping amla.(8)

In another study, the researchers gave both men and women amla. Once again, they noticed a significant reduction in cholesterol, along with a reduction in blood pressure.(9)

In addition to its ability to fight cholesterol, amla is useful for the circulatory system in other ways. The vitamin C it contains is essential for enzymatic functions, including the formation of blood vessels. Meanwhile, its anti-inflammatory effects help protect the health of blood vessels as well.

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How to source amla

Raw amla fruit, traditionally eaten with red chilli powder and salt in India, may be difficult to source. If you do get your hands on some, look out for the sweet aftertaste. in Ayurveda, this aftertaste is called vipaka. It is seen as a sign of the healing powers of amla.

However, Indian specialty stores often have frozen amla. Dried amla may also be available.

If you’re looking to use amla oil on your hair and skin, be aware that it comes in varied concentrations. A study found that a 7.5% concentration oil, mixed with water, is most effective on hair.(13)

Finally, if sourcing amla powder, make sure to buy certified organic from a trusted, verified source.

Many small-scale amla farmers in India are now seeking organic certification for their amla. The tree is naturally resistant to pest and disease, which helps!

Remember: ‘ground amla powder’ should be the only ingredient on the label.

How to use amla in your kitchen

Amla powder does not carry a strong flavour. You can use it in anything and everything, from smoothies, soups, pasta, stews, to salads and dips.

Amla is used in everything from daal to pickles and chutneys traditionally. The juice is sometimes sweetened with honey or has fresh ginger added in.

The classic way to prepare amla though, is amla murabba, or preserved amla. This often features refined sugar. However, you can also preserve it in raw honey (check out our recipe below!).

There is one last study that we can’t resist telling you about – proof, if ever you needed it, that amla is a worthy addition to your pantry! Scientists have determined through extensive testing that adding amla to ice cream makes it melt at a slower rate. Longer-lasting ice cream? Sign us up!(14)

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kitchen

Preserved amla recipe

Ingredients: Amla, saffron, raw honey.

Firstly, deseed the amla. This fruit can be hard to stone, so you may want to grate it instead. You could also try tapping the top of the amla with something hard before cutting it open.

Cut the amla into wedges if not grating. Then, distribute amla across the bottom of the airtight glass jars you are using. Be sure to leave enough room to saturate these fruits in luscious honey!

Finally, layer saffron and honey on top. Repeat!

Don’t fill to the brim. Screw on lids. Store for a week before sampling. Put the jars, with some cheesecloth across the tops, in the sun. Some people also use cardamom in preserved amla. 

Amla in traditional usages

Amla is ‘dhatri’, or mother, in Ayurveda. This gives a sense of how deeply nourishing amla is in the eyes of Ayurveda.

Golden Preserve, or chywanaprash, is an important elixir tonic jam in Ayurveda. This bracing, invigorating substance stimulates the immune system. Amla is a main ingredient.

Golden Preserve is especially supportive to the reproductive system, lungs, and the three doshas (body forces).

Further, amla is also a main ingredient in another important Ayurvedic preparation, triphala.

In Ayurveda, amla helps to treat autoimmune conditions and any disorders targeting connective tissue. It is also a gentle laxative and nutures the heart.

Amla side effects

Ayurvedic formulations containing amla have been linked to liver damage. We do not know if amla has this effect on its own.

Anyone with diabetes or bleeding disorders should take care. In addition, anyone who is undergoing surgery within two weeks should not take amla. As there is still a lot unknown, pregnant and breastfeeding women should err on the side of caution and consume only as food rather than in medicinal amounts.

Further, amla has also caused excess acidity in some people. Some experience constipation. As with all foods, even miracle fruits born of Brahma’s tears or bubbles of immortality, moderation is best exercised. 

Amla benefits summary

Here are the top five amla benefits for health:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Powerful antioxidant
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Benefits hair and skin
  • Benefits cholesterol levels

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  • References

    (1) Scartezzini et al, “Vitamin C Content and Antioxidant Activity of the Fruit and of the Ayurvedic Preparation of Emblica Officinalis Gaertn”, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2006. 

    (2) Niwano et al, “Extensive Screening for Herbal Extracts With Potent Antioxidant Properties”, Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, 2011. 

    (3) Kusirin et al, “Antioxidative Activity… Thai Medicinal Plants Traditionally Used in Diabetic Patients”, Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 2009. 

    (2) Rao et al, “Amla… Extract Inhibits Lipopolysaccharide-Induced Procoagulant and Pro-Inflammatory Factors in…”, British Journal of Nutrition, 2013.

    (3) Golecchha et al, “Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Emblica officinalis in Rodent Models of Acute and Chronic Inflammation…”, International Journal of Inflammation, 2014. 

    (4) Banerjee et al, “Preparation, evaluation and hair growth stimulating activity of herbal hair oil”, Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, 2009.

    (5) Fujii et al, “Amla… Promotes Procollagen Production…”, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2008.

    (6) Patel et al, “Experimental study on effect of hydroalcoholic extract of Emblica officinalis fruits on glucose homeostasis and metabolic parameters”, Ayu, 2013. 

    (7) Thilakchand et al, “Hepatoprotective Properties of the Indian Gooseberry…”, Food & Function, 2013.

    (8) Jacob et al, “Effect of… Amla… on Serum Cholesterol Levels in Men…”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1988.

    (9) Gopa et al, “A comparative clinical study of hypolipidemic efficacy of Amla…”. 

    (10) Yang et al, “Pyrogallol Induces G2-M Arrest in Human Lung Cancer Cells and Inhibits Tumor Growth…”, Lung Cancer, 2009.

    (11) Khan et al, “Identification of Pyrogallol as an Antiproliferative Compound Present in… Emblica Officinalis…”, International Journal of Oncology, 2002.

    (12) Jeena et al, “Effect of Emblica Officinalis, Phyllanthus Amarus and Picrorrhiza Kurroa…”, Cancer Letters, 1999.

    (13) Purwal et al, “Development and Evaluation of Herbal Formulations for Hair Growth”, Journal of Chemistry, 2008.

    (14) Goraya, Rajpreet Kaur and Bajwa, Usha, “Enhancing the functional properties and…”, Journal of Food, Science and Technology, 2015.

    Photo credits: Rajesh BalouriaBishnu SarangiEdgar CastrejonChinh Le Duc

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