Triphala is one of the most important polyherbal preparations in Ayurveda. Modern science is starting to understand why. Learn more about triphala benefits!February 04, 2021 12:22 pm July 13, 2020 9:09 am
What is triphala?
Triphala means ‘three fruits’. It is a traditional Ayurvedic polyherbal treatment made up of three medicinal fruits: amla (Indian gooseberry), bibhitaki, and haritaki. They are all native to India, and each is thought to benefit the three doshas, or life forces (more on those later on!).
Triphala benefits are thought to include everything from cavities to overall health. In Ayurvedic medicine, triphala is classed as a Rasayana, or extremely powerful rejuvenating and restorative preparation. Rasayanas are especially useful for strength and immunity.
Triphala is also linked to good digestive health and is thought to be beneficial to the gut microbiome. In Ayurveda, the gut is where all illness – and all wellness – starts. Therefore, many people consider triphala to be something of a ‘cure-all’ which can be useful in treating a wide range of ailments.
As such, triphala has gained quite the reputation among followers of Ayurveda. The wise Ayurvedic physician Charark states in a central text that triphala can help one live for a hundred years without ageing or disease. Or, how about the Indian saying; “No mother? Don’t worry, as long as you have Triphala.”? Both are great examples of just how much triphala is revered in Ayurveda!
Modern science is beginning to substantiate triphala’s benefits. However, much of the research that has been done into triphala tests each fruit on its own.
Ayurveda, on the other hand, teaches that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. What’s more, adherents believe that the proportions of the triphala mixture are absolutely crucial to its health benefits.
For these reasons and more, it may be a while before modern science has an full understanding of triphala. However, below we’ve summarised the information currently available from both traditional and scientific sources.
The makeup of triphala
Scientists have linked many of the benefits of triphala to its impressive antioxidant content.
Triphala contains ellagic acid, tannins, chebulinic acid, and gallic acid. All of these are quite potent antioxidants that boost immunomodulatory abilities.(1)
However, each fruit brings its own healing powers to the table.
Haritaki may be beneficial to the gastrointestinal tract and to the liver. Bibithaki may be a gentle laxative and detoxifying agent. Finally, amla may be helpful in bringing down inflammation. Together, they make a powerful trio.
Triphala benefits the gut microbiome
Triphala may help to balance the incredibly important community of bacteria living in our gut. Scientists believe this is down to their polyphenols, a type of micronutrient which also acts as an antioxidant.
Triphala can help encourage the growth of good bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Meanwhile, it also inhibits bad bacteria in the gut through its antimicrobial activity.
What’s more, your gut bacteria can make use of the bioactive compounds in triphala to produce several anti-inflammatory compounds.(1)
In other words, triphala supports your good bacteria, slows down your bad bacteria, and helps to make helpful new materials your body can use.
Some scientists think that taking probiotics alongside triphala may even further boost the effects of the preparation on the gut. However, further study is necessary to confirm if this is the case.
Practitioners of Ayurveda have long recommended triphala to holistically support gastrointestinal health. Recent scientific studies appear to provide evidence that triphala does indeed work to support your digestion in multiple ways.(2)
A review of studies indicated that, based on its qualities, triphala may also soothe Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBS is an ailment which produces unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, but its causes remain something of a mystery. Hence, any remedy which can offer relief is a boon to IBS sufferers.(3)
Triphala benefits the digestive system
Another way that triphala benefits the digestive system is by assisting in cleansing and elimination. The degree in which it does this depends on the strength of the preparation you take.
If you drink a mild triphala mixture, then the effect will be cumulative. That is, it will gently cleanse the body and specifically the colon of toxins, its effects gradually increasing with time. It is safe to take triphala on a long-term basis. As such, it may provide an attractive alternative to pharmaceutical laxatives, which prompt immediate relief but no long-term regularity.
However, triphala can also be a stronger, more active laxative if needed, when taken in a more concentrated dose.
Studies have suggested that triphala is a safe and efficient way to manage constipation, too.(4)
One study also noted that, in addition to easing constipation, triphala also seemed to manage hyperacidity. This is a very common problem, where the stomach produces too much acid. Antacids are commonly used, but provide only short-term relief and do not treat the root cause. In contrast, triphala does address the underlying problems and not just the symptoms.
People suffering from poor digestion or gastic issues often experience low appetite. Triphala seems to be able to help here, too, clearing and detoxifying the digestive system and returning the appetite to normal levels. Triphala’s cleansing effect can also lead to weight loss in some people.
Triphala benefits the skin
The skin is our largest organ. Environmental stresses and toxins affect our skin both from the inside and the outside. Ageing can also reduce our skin’s stores of antioxidants.
Triphala, along with other formulations containing natural phytochemicals, have been traditionally used externally in India for over 5,000 years to care for the skin, likely restoring some of these antioxidants.
A recent study examined triphala’s antioxidant capabilities. The study suggested that triphala is indeed effective not only in suppressing the effects of harmful oxidants on the skin, but also in increasing collagen, elastin, and other antioxidants. This research supports the use of triphala in skincare formulations.(5)
Triphala benefits dental health
From digestive benefits to skin health, we’re starting to see why triphala is so important in Ayurveda! But it has another surprise in store for us: it may be good for your teeth, too.
A study carried out by the International Journal of Ayurveda Research looked at 1,431 students, divided into 3 groups. One group used triphala as mouthwash; one, a commercial mouthwash; and one, distilled water.
At the end of the study, the group using triphala as a mouthwash exhibited similar results as the group using the commercial mouthwash, in all but one criterion. It turned our that both were equally effective against gingivial inflammation, microbial growth, and dental plaque. However, triphala worked better in terms of slowing the growth of Lactobacillus, a type of bad bacteria in the mouth.(6)
Not bad for a completely natural mouthwash!
Other triphala benefits
Scientists have also conducted research into some of the lesser-known potential benefits of triphala. These include its wound healing abilities, chemoprotective and radioprotective properties, ability to improve circulation, and ability to lower cholesterol.(1) We don’t yet know much about these benefits, but research continues to look into them.
"Like all adaptogens, triphala helps you regain your balance if a physical or mental stressor has knocked you off-kilter."
Triphala is also an adaptogen. Like all adaptogens, triphala has a modulating effect on several systems in the body. Essentially, it helps you regain your balance if a physical or mental stressor has knocked you off-kilter.
Adaptogens are most effective when you take them consistently over a period of time. At Erbology, we generally recommend taking adaptogens for a period of twenty days, and then stopping for a short break. This allows your body to rest and recuperate between sessions.
As such, triphala and other adaptogens work quite differently from Western pharmaceutical medicines. Generally, in the West, we only see the doctor and ask for medicine when we feel ill. Other systems of healing, however, use foods like triphala as preventative medicine. They may help you deal with the stresses of life before they are translated into illness or disease.
How to source triphala
Sourcing organically-grown and holistically-prepared food is always important, but more so with some foods than others. Triphala is one to be especially vigilant about.
Depending on where and how it is made, this preparation may contain mercury and lead. These heavy metals are quite toxic. Be aware also that not all ingredients appear on labels.
For these reasons, it is wisest to buy triphala only from highly trusted companies and sources which have been accredited. Extra caution when buying over the internet is smart.
As more Westerners learn about ayurveda and triphala, it is more widely available and more attention is given to ensuring each stage of its preparation is as clean and healthy as can be. As always, look for an organic certification and do your research on the supplier beforehand.
How to use triphala
The traditional way to take triphala is as a powder. Many people take one to two teaspoons of the powder mixed into hot or cold water, either nightly or two or three times throughout the day for general purification.
However, be aware that the flavour may be quite strong to Western taste buds! If you find it a bit overpowering, try mixing it with lemon, fresh ginger and honey for a health-boosting brew.
You can also mix it with honey and ghee, as is often done in India.
Triphala in traditional usages
Now, as promised, let’s get back to the three doshas. Also known as tridoshas, these ‘life forces’ are central to the Ayurvedic understanding of health and healing.
- Vata, or wind, harmonises with the mind and nervous system. It is stimulating, with light, dry, cold characteristics.
- Pitta signifies fire and bile, and has hot, moist and light characteristics. Like fire, it has the power to change. Pitta is involved in digestion, comprehension and reflection.
- Kapha is the water dosha. It is heavy, moist, and cold. Kapha is involved in the growth of muscle and bone.
These elements are relevant to all Ayurvedic thought, but especially important when looking at triphala. Part of the reason why triphala is thought to be so universally healing is because each of the three fruits in triphala corresponds to one dosha.
What’s more, Ayurveda teaches that there are six flavours, or rasa, within our food: astringent, spicy, bitter, sweet, salty and sour. The more of these flavours a food contains, the more healing it is. This has some scientific basis; a greater number of flavours likely correlates with a higher amount of nutrients. Triphala contains five out of six of the Ayurvedic flavours (all except salty).
Triphala side effects
In Ayurveda, triphala is also considered safe for use on young children, the unwell, and the elderly. Thus, for most people, it’s well tolerated and safe to take.
We don’t know too much about the side effects of triphala, but it’s worth noting some side effects which have been seen over the years.
As triphala can work as a laxative, it may cause stomach cramps, gas, diarrhea, or upset stomach. Doses can be highly individual, so try taking a little and then building up til you get the desired effect.
A few people should be particularly cautious about taking triphala. We know very little about triphala use in pregnant and breastfeeding women, so stay on the safe side and avoid taking it if this applies to you.
Individuals taking medication for hypertension or diabetes should also avoid triphala. Further, because liver enzymes called cytochrome, or CYP450, are necessary to process triphala, anyone taking medication that also utilises CYP450 to process them should be careful with triphala. This includes Rifampin-based drugs, some HIV drugs, some immune-suppressive drugs, some antipsychotic drugs, some antifungal drugs, and more.
As always, it is best to consult your doctor before taking triphala if you have existing health conditions or are on medication.
To summarise, here are the top six triphala benefits.
- Triphala acts as a powerful antioxidant
- Supports the gut microbiome
- May have laxative and detoxifying effects
- Supports skin health
- Supports dental health
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