Triphala is one of the most important polyherbal preparations in Ayurveda. Modern science is starting to understand why. Learn more about triphala benefits!July 16, 2020 6:31 pm
What is triphala?
Triphala means three fruits. It is a traditional Ayurvedic polyherbal treatment. Triphala benefits everything from cavities to overall health. The three medicinal fruits in the preparation are all native to India. To clarify, they are amla (Indian gooseberry), bibhitaki, and haritaki. The fruits benefit the three doshas. Don’t worry, we tell you more about the doshas later on in this article!
Moreover, triphala is a Rasayana, or extremely powerful rejuvenating and restorative preparation in Ayurvedic terms. Rasayanas are especially supportive to strength and immunity. Triphala benefits gastrointestinal care too. Further, the preparation is quite beneficial to the gut microbiome. In Ayurveda, the gut is where all illness – and all wellness – starts. Therefore, it is not surprising that triphala is imaginably seen as a solution to all disease within Ayurveda. The wise, seasoned Ayurvedic physician Charark states in a central text that triphala can help one live for a hundred years without aging or disease. That’s something!
Our favourite saying about triphala though? The Indian saying, “No mother? Do not worry so long as you have Triphala.” Modern science is beginning to substantiate the power of triphala benefits. However, much of the research that has been done into triphala tests each fruit on its own. Ayurveda believes that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. In addition, the proportions of the triphala mixture are also crucial. For these reasons and more, it may be a while before modern science has an accurate and holistic understanding of triphala. However, we can try to impart what we can, bringing together ancient and contemporary understandings, Western and Eastern healing.
The makeup of triphala
In Western terms, many of the benefits of triphala seem to be connected to the array of antioxidants that it contains. Triphala has ellagic acid, tannins, chebulinic acid, and gallic acid. All of these are quite potent antioxidants that boost immunomodulatory abilities.(1) Further, it is useful to know something about the greatest strengths that each element brings to triphala. 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 are a fantastic team!
Triphala benefits the gut microbiome
Polyphenols are micronutrients which greatly benefit us. They are a type of antioxidants. The polyphenols in triphala help balance the incredibly important community of bacteria in our gut, otherwise known as the gut microbiome. Triphala can help build up the growth of good bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Meanwhile, triphala also inhibits bad bacteria in the gut through its antimicrobial activity. And that’s not all!
Because triphala has clear effect on the body, it can be called a bioactive compound. The gut microbe can mine the bioactivity of triphala in the making of several types of anti-inflammatory compounds.(1) In other words, triphala supports the good, slows the bad, and helps to make some new types of good. All we can say is… that feels like all kinds of good to us! 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.
We are beginning to see why triphala is reputed for its abilities to holistically support gastrointestinal health in Ayurveda. Rather than attack specific symptoms, it holistically addresses the interconnected system and helps to heal it as a whole.(2) A review of studies indicated that, based on its qualities, triphala may also soothe IBS. To clarify, IBS is an ailment which is still mysterious in many ways but which affects many individuals extensively.(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 and regulate over a long period of time, the influence subtly deepening. However, triphala can also be a stronger, more active laxative if needed, when taken in a more concentrated dose. Either way, this is rejuvenating, a word that you see often in connection to triphala. In contrast, pharmaceutical laxatives often act by quickening the bowels. This prompts immediate relief, but not long-term regularity.
Studies have suggested that triphala is a safe and efficient way to manage constipation, which affects many, many people across the globe.(4) Another study which observed the same also noted that, in addition, 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. Further, it also improves appetite, which often declines in people suffering from poor digestion or other gastric issues. It has general detoxifying effects rather than just helping to clear the bowels. This detoxifying and cleansing effect has led to weight loss for some individuals. Triphala is also safe to use long-term.
Triphala benefits the skin
We have been dwelling on the gastrointestinal system, but triphala has a whole range of other benefits too, which is why it is a panacea in Ayurveda. The skin is our largest organ. It is probably normal for most of us to think of the skin as our surface. But it is also part of our insides too. 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 restore some of these antioxidants. A recent study looked to validate this in scientific terms. The study suggests that triphala is indeed effective not only in suppressing the effects of harmful oxidants on the skin, but also in increasing collagen, elastin, and antioxidants. It supports the use of triphala in skincare formulations.(5)
Triphala benefits dental health
From the gut to the skin to the mouth… No wonder triphala is seen as something of a cure-all in Ayurveda. You know how most mouthwashes you see at the drugstore taste like the artificial colours they come in? In other words, completely fake. You begin to think that that’s how mouthwashes and toothpastes should taste. Big natural food shops have changed that slightly, but learning about triphala as a mouthwash is still deeply educational in that sense.
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 criteria. To clarify, both were equally effective on 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)
Other triphala benefits
Scientists have also looked successfully into many other possible benefits of triphala. These include but are not limited to wound healing abilities, abilities against various forms of cancer, chemoprotective and radioprotective properties, improved circulation, and an ability to lower cholesterol.(1)
'The profound possibilities of the three elements of triphala when combined give rise to what seems like an endless array of healing properties.'
Thus, its Ayurvedic standing as a panacea! However, to go into each in full would require a much longer piece. We hope this one gives you a sense of triphala is, to further explore and deepen.
Further, like all adaptogens, triphala has the ability to help regain balance no matter the direction in which one is tilted. Thus, triphala should be seen in quite a different light than Western pharmaceutical medicines, to be taken only when explicit symptoms of ill health rise up and to be stopped when these symptoms cease. Like a true mother, triphala is to be turned to in any state of mind and any state of heart.
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.
How to use triphala
The traditional way to take triphala is as a powder. However, be aware that the flavour may be quite strong to Western taste buds unaccustomed to it. Many people take one to two teaspoons of the powder in some water, either hot or cold, nightly or two or three times throughout the day for general purification. It is common for families in India to take triphala weekly, for general cleansing. Does the flavour distract you to no end? You can mix with lemon, fresh ginger, and honey without fearing that the healing properties will be diluted, or with honey and ghee as often done in India.
Triphala in traditional usages
The three doshas, or tridoshas, 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 has more heat, for it signifies fire and bile. Like fire, it has the power to change. Pitta regulates processing food. It looks after comprehension and reflection too. As well as hot, pitta is moist and light. The last element is kapha, or water. It is heavy, moist, and cold. Kapha develops, and is seen in relation to the growth of muscle and bone.
These elements are relevant to all Ayurvedic thought, but especially important when looking at triphala. Why? Each of the three fruits in triphala corresponds to one dosha. This is a large part of why triphala is a panacea in Ayurveda. It is seen as able to heal all parts of us. In Ayurveda, triphala is also considered safe for use on young children, the unwell, and the elderly.
Another fascinating Ayurvedic perspective that is a wonderful context for triphala is the relation between flavour and healing. Ayurveda understands that there are six flavours, or rasa, within our food – astringent, spicy, bitter, sweet, salty, sour. There are also five natural elements in all foods, of which one or two are in control: air, water, fire, earth, space. We can say a lot about these. However, to sum up: the more flavours a single food has, the greater its healing powers are thought to be. This has Western scientific basis. Why? Well, specific nutrients are more likely to be found in particular flavours. Triphala contains all of the flavours except for the salty. Another way to explain why triphala is profoundly healing.
Triphala side effects
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. We do not know much about other side effects of triphala. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should err on the side of caution and not take triphala.
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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