Amla, also known as amalika or Indian gooseberry, is an Indian Ayurvedic remedy that is gaining popularity in the Western world. It is also recognized under the names of Emblica officinalis and Phyllanthus emblica.
Amla enjoys a mythical reputation in India, due to a belief in that it originated from drops of Amrit, the nectar of immortality.
It is thus asserted to confer longevity and to cure nearly every disease, hence its designation as a rasayana or rejuvenator in Ayurveda. While these claims lie within the realm of myth, has modern science validated any of amla’s benefits?
Amla Is Really Healthy
Amla fruit has been found to contain a high amount of the antioxidant vitamin C, and its tannins were shown to possess vitamin C-like properties.1,2 An article that calls amla “the Ayurvedic wonder” notes that the plant also contains phenolic compounds, phyllembelic acid, phyllembelin, rutin, curcuminoids and emblicol.3
A review published in 2011 in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention titled, “Amla (Emblia officinalis Gaertn), a wonder berry in the treatment and prevention of cancer,” provides a long list of properties attributed to amla.4
The authors observe that “The fruit is used either alone or in combination with other plants to treat many ailments such as common cold and fever; as a diuretic, laxative, liver tonic, to manage cholesterol, support heart health, ease inflammation, as a hair tonic; to prevent peptic ulcer and dyspepsia, and as a digestive aid.
Amla’s Case for Cholesterol
Early research found an association between supplementation with amla and protection against elevated serum cholesterol in rabbits given a cholesterol-rich diet.5 In humans, 28 days of amla supplementation lowered cholesterol in those with normal and elevated levels, which returned to near pretreatment levels two weeks after amla was discontinued.6
In human umbilical vein endothelial cells, it was shown that the amla compound corilagin and its analog Dgg16 decrease malondialdehyde, a marker of oxidative stress, while preventing the adherence of monocytes to the cells, indicating an inhibitory effect on atherosclerosis progression.7 In rat vascular smooth muscle cells, both compounds inhibited proliferation activated by oxidized low density lipoprotein (LDL).
A clinical trial of amla in overweight and obese adults resulted in lower LDL-cholesterol, total cholesterol to high density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP, a marker of inflammation) and platelet aggregation after 12 weeks of supplementation, suggesting that amla could benefit overweight or obese individuals by reducing several cardiovascular disease risk factors.8
In a trial that included diabetics and nondiabetics, amla lowered fasting and post-meal blood glucose levels, total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while improving HDL cholesterol.9
Amla Supports Liver Health
In addition to the cardiovascular system, amla has been shown to benefit the liver. According to a recent review that noted that over 10% of the world’s population is affected by liver diseases, “Scientific studies have shown amla to be effective in preventing/ameliorating the toxic effects of hepatotoxic agents like ethanol, paracetamol, carbon tetrachloride, heavy metals, ochratoxins, hexachlorocyclohexane, antitubercular drugs, and hepatotoxicity resulting from iron overload.
Amla is also reported to impart beneficial effects on liver function and to mitigate hyperlipidemia and metabolic syndrome. Amla possesses protective effects against chemical-induced hepatocarcinogenesis in animal models of study.” 10
Amla May Offer Environmental Protection
Other research has found a protective effect for amla against chromosomal damage caused by lead and aluminum.11,12
Amla also appears to have a cosmetic benefit. In one experiment, amla stimulated fibroblast proliferation and induced procollagen production, while decreasing matrix metalloproteinase-1, which breaks down collagen.13
Amla was also shown to inhibit ultraviolet B (UVB)-induced photoaging in human skin fibroblasts through its ability to scavenge reactive oxygen species.14 Its ability to protect against reactive oxygen species induced by UVB appears to be stronger than that of vitamin C.15
The Bottom Line
It appears that some of amla’s mythologic properties may indeed be valid. While there’s no evidence that it will confer immortality, one interesting study conducted in 2014 found that turmeric, from which curcumin is derived, as well as amla fruit increased the life span of Drosophila melanogaster, a fruit fly that is the subject of a fair amount of gerontologic research.16
The authors concluded that “the results support the free radical theory of aging as both these plant derivatives show high reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenging activities.”
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