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Amla benefits, uses and side effects

Amla benefits, uses and side effects

Team ErbologyErbology

Amla is an important medicinal plant in Ayurveda. A powerful antioxidant, amla benefits are numerous. We tell you more about some.

July 22, 2020 4:32 pm

What is amla?

Amla (Phyllanthus emblica) is also known as Indian Gooseberry. A straightforward translation of the word amla is ‘sour’. Guess why! Amla is the most important medicinal fruit in traditional Indian medicine. Further, it is also the most powerful anti-aging fruit in this practice. That is quite a benediction! These bright green fruits are about the same size as plums. 

Amla was historically sourced from amalaki trees growing wild, but these trees are now cultivated across India. Powder made from the ground leaves of this tree is another form. Furthermore, amla oil is used widely. However, in Ayurveda all parts of the tree are healing. 

Finally, do not confuse amla with the cape gooseberry. This is a completely different fruit. Moreover, it grows in a completely different part of the world. 

 

amla benefits

Amla benefits are numerous and profound.

The Ayurvedic saying “Ek amla, anek faydey,” meaning one fruit, many benefits, sums up the way that amla is seen in its origin culture. Another saying is sarvadosha hara, or remover of all diseases. Moreover, other healing traditions including Sri Lankan, Unani, Siddha, Tibetan and Chinese medicine make use of amla.

And oh, the richness of stories told and celebrations celebrated around amla! In Hindu culture, the amalaki tree is home to no less than Visnhu. Amalaka Ekadashi is a holiday all about celebrating and worshipping the amalaki tree. Further, for Hindus, bubbles of immortality fell to the ground during a fight between the gods and demons. Amla was born of these bubbles and from these forces come all its medicinal properties. Amla is also sacred within Buddhism. We could go on and on, but we do want to tell you a little bit about amla benefits and how scientists see it! 

What does amla do for you and how?

These bitter, strongly flavored fruits contain a wealth of nutrients. They include fiber, 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 did this. However, recently there has been some discussion among scientists about this and the nature of the extremely powerful antioxidants within the fruit. The traditional Ayurvedic method of preparing amla is in its own juice. This may increase the vitamin C and antioxidant content rather than their being completely inherent to the fruit.(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 tell us some things.

Also consider these words from Manjeshwar Shrinath Baliga, PhD. Baliga is a widely published authority on medicinal plants. He teaches at Father Muller Medical College, India.  “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. In the meantime, more knowledge about this plant and its fruits!

1. Amla is anti-inflammatory

There are antioxidants and then there are antioxidants! 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

Science is now beginning to back that up. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are messenger molecules in inflammatory reactions. 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. In other words, we are blaming the messenger this time around!(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 conditions.  

3. Amla benefits hair and skin

Remember that saying, ek amla, anek faydey, one fruit, many benefits? From inflammation we go to hair and skin. In a study observing how four different herbal oils worked for hair growth in terms of time taken for initiation of growth and number of hair follicles, amla performed the best. 7% to 8% of growth was seen in a period of 8-9 days. Amla benefits for hair are thought to be due to tannins, vitamin C, and minerals.(4)

In terms of natural skin care, the natural antioxidants in amla are protective of dermal firoblasts. These cells help create connective tissue between skin layers. Another study found that amla benefits firoblast growth. It also spurred 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 regain balance, no matter which way we happen to be off-balance. Amla is an adaptogen, and one of the ways in which amla may help liver health is in keeping balance within this organ. A 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 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. As in the previously mentioned study, in this study the positive effect that amla has on lipid metabolism comes to attention again.(7) 

5. Amla benefits cholesterol health

Many people value amla benefits for cholesterol. There have been interesting studies carried out. For instance, one 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, amla was given to both men and women. A significant reduction in cholesterol was observed again, along with a reduction in blood pressure.(9) This mirrors traditional usage of amla in Ayurveda. It is seen to benefit blood vessels and the circulatory system. In addition, the Vitamin C within amla is essential in enzymatic functions including blood vessel formation. The anti-inflammatory capacities of amla are beneficial for blood vessels also.

6. Amla may be anti-carcinogenic

Some studies highlight the extending of the anti-oxidant and free-radical scavenger properties of amla to cancer. In Ayurveda, Amla is used to fight chemically induced carcinogenesis. Further, these studies take in several different forms of cancer. Pyrogallol, which is a compound found in amla, showed real potential in taking on human lung cancer lines. (10) Another study looked at four human tumor cell lines. This study tested amla and other herbs. Again, amla proved the most powerful.(11) 

Finally, a study looked at the response of several different markers and enzymes to amla. It found that every marker and enzyme was reduced. It sums up, “these extracts offered protection against chemical carcinogenesis.”(12)

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How to source amla

Raw amla fruit, traditionally eaten with red chili 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. Further, if looking to use amla oil on 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! Further, ground amla powder should be the only ingredient on the label.

How to use amla in your kitchen

Let food be medicine and medicine be food, in the true spirit of Ayurveda. Make amla a regular part of your larder. Heal through daily life and daily rituals. Amla powder does not carry a strong flavor. You can use it in anything and everything, from smoothies, soups, pasta, stews, to salads, dips, and so on. 

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 in raw honey.

Here is one last study we absolutely cannot resist telling you about, and which may apply to your kitchen. Some scientists have determined through extensive testing that adding amla to ice cream ensures that it melts at a slower rate. Amla also makes ice cream healthier!(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. Further, amla is also a main ingredient in another important Ayurvedic preparation, triphala. Amla helps to treat autoimmune conditions and any disorders targeting connective tissue. It is also a gentle laxative. Further, it nurtures the heart and makes it stronger.

Would you like one last origin story? Amla was the first tree on earth, and Brahma’s tears while meditating gave sprout to amla. How do you like that?

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. Even the sacred is ultimately earthbound!  

Amla benefits summary

In conclusion, here are the top six amla benefits for health:

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

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  • (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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