Thousands of years before the Nobel Award winning-scientist Linus Pauling produced evidence for the healing powers of vitamin C, Ayurvedic doctors were using Amla — often referred to as Indian Gooseberry — as a curative. Amla is among the most antioxidant-rich foods produced in nature. The berry has been studied for myriad benefits and uses, including boosting immunity; defending against oxygen-robbing free radical cells; potentially slowing the aging process.
The plant belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family and ripens in the autumn in the wet forests and hilly areas of the Indian subcontinent. The tree that bears this remarkable fruit is considered sacred in India, where it is eaten with salt and chili powder or made into pickles or sugared candy. While Amla is sour, it leaves an aftertaste of sweetness when eaten raw. Paradoxically, this sour fruit reduces stomach acidity and is frequently for gastric issues, ulcers, heartburn, and acid reflux in Ayurvedic medicine.
Amla may help fight some systemic health conditions, and mitigate cellular damage. Herbal researcher Vidhi Bhatia wrote that the use of Amla “originates from the 5,000 year old traditional Indian medical system of Ayurveda — particularly “Rasayana” — a discipline focusing on the enhancing good health, supporting the immune system, and rejuvenating and revitalizing the body and mind.”
A hundred grams of raw Amla contains 478 mg of Vitamin C. By comparison, a lemon contains 77 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams.
She continues, “In India, Amla is also popularly used in hair oils, with advertisements screaming of its ability to make hair healthy, thick, long and shiny. Not surprisingly, it is believed to have several medicinal properties. It was, and still is used extensively not only in India, but also in Iran, Iraq, Thailand, China, Italy, Germany (et cetera) as a laxative and diuretic — the list goes on.”
As a food rich in Vitamin C, Amla supports the adrenal glands, used for cellular energy, and supports the health of skin and blood vessels. As a fibrous food, Amla has been used to relieve constipation and other abdominal health issues. It may also be beneficial in supporting liver and heart health.
Amla in Traditional Indian Medicine
Meenakshi Nagdeve, co-founder of Organic Facts online, wrote that because of its powerful antioxidant properties, Amla is often used in Ayurvedic medicine to boost skin and hair health, as well as overall immunity of the body.
As a vital ingredient of Triphala, Amla plays a role in this traditional herbal Indian formulation for supporting digestion and the immune system. Amla acts as a diuretic agent and is therefore thought to enhance food absorption, balance stomach acids, fortify the liver, and nourish the brain and mental functioning. It may also strengthen the lungs, improves skin quality, and promote healthy hair.
Herbs List, A Guide To Medicinal Herbs, reports that Amla may also be an excellent anti-inflammatory, helpful for joint pain and swelling. Unlike anti-inflammatory drugs that tend to create side effects, foods such as Amla allow the body to naturally work through the inflammatory process of healing and defense. This potent herb has also been traditionally used to reduce fevers, strengthen the heart, control blood sugar, treat urinary tract infections, and improve eyesight. It has even been prescribed for stress-reduction and relaxation, especially because of its now-known benefits to the adrenal glands that rely on Vitamin C for health and function.
The editors of Herbs List note that Amla may improve fertility, strengthen the lungs, and feed the immune system. Plus, the fruit is considered an exfoliating and astringent agent. Regular use is said to make the skin look younger and tighter. It is often used to make hair more lustrous and healthy-looking, as well as to prevent hair from turning grey.
Better Than Just Vitamin C
All of Amla’s benefits accrue from consuming the berry in its whole, untreated form, which sets it apart from the ubiquitous vitamin C (ascorbic acid) pill that is created synthetically in a laboratory. A cornerstone of Ayurvedic philosophy is holism, which recognizes that each plant, herb, and food in its natural form is preferred to parts of foods, such as vitamins or minerals. Unlike laboratory-manufactured vitamin pills, Amla contains the entire Vitamin C complex that includes synergistic vitamins, minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, and more), antioxidants, amino acids, alkaloids, tannins, flavonoids, and other nutrients that are not to be found in vitamin pills.
Vidhi Bhatia explained that, scientifically speaking, “Initially, the therapeutic properties of Amla were accounted for by the high Vitamin C content. Studies are now revealing that it is in fact a combination of all the active ingredients that confers disease treatment, disease prevention and health promotion…” Ongoing research continues to shed light onto the individual therapeutic benefits of other important active compounds of the fruit, as well.