Amalaki goes by many names (including amla and Indian gooseberry). It’s a traditional remedy that has also lots of potential medicinal uses. Here’s what modern research has uncovered about amalaki’s benefits.
Ayurveda is an ancient practice of medicine used by 240,000 American adults today. It’s a traditional Indian health care system combining diet, exercise, lifestyle, and primarily plant-based medications.
Amalaki rasayana is an Ayurvedic medicine made from a plant called Phyllanthus emblica (aka Emblica officinalis). Here are some fast facts about the fruit of the plant, known commonly as amla or Indian gooseberry:
Literature on the practice of Ayurveda claims that amalaki can help with cancer, diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, gastric ulcers, cough, pain, inflammation, and immunity. A common herbal combination called triphala (“three fruits”) is made from amalaki and two other plants: Bibhitaki and haritaki.
Triphala is used to treat constipation, poor appetite, excess stomach acid, inflammation, and high blood sugar. It’s also thought to protect against the effects of chemotherapy, radiation, help prevent dental cavities, and promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria while inhibiting harmful gut bacteria.
Ayurvedic tradition has millennia of anecdotal evidence to support the use of amalaki, but what does modern scientific research have to say about its effects?
Slows signs of aging
“Rasayana” drugs like amalaki are intended to prevent aging and disease. Several studies have looked at amalaki’s impact on the aging process.
- One study of 116 adults between the ages of 45 and 60 found that amalaki increased telomerase activity. Translation? Telomeres are like the ends of chromosomes, and they get shorter as you age. Telomerase activity helps maintain telomere length, which can theoretically improve signs of aging.
- Results of a 2017 study of mice suggests amalaki may improve memory and cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease.
- Triphala (containing amalaki) may improve skin appearance by increasing collagen and elastin and decreasing dark spots.
Improves heart health
Keeping your heart healthy is kind of a big deal when it comes to wellness. That’s why many studies have looked at how amalaki may benefit cardiovascular health.
- In a 12-week study of 98 people, researchers measured participants’ cholesterol levels. They found total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol for people given amalaki extract were significantly lower than in participants given a placebo.
- Additionally, animal studies of amalaki have also resulted in lowered cholesterol levels.
- In a study on rats, amalaki had a beneficial effect on how well the heart uses energy, how well it contracts, and how much exercise the rats could tolerate.
After a review of 19 articles from 1966 to 2017 on the cardiovascular effects of amla fruit, researchers concluded that studies show amalaki impacts cardiovascular factors, but there’s not enough evidence to prove it can effectively treat or prevent cardiovascular disease.
Supports your digestive system
Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea… Amalaki may not replace your Pepto Bismol, but there’s some evidence it can help with digestion problems.
- In a study of 68 people with gastroesophageal reflux disease, participants who took amalaki had less frequent heartburn and regurgitation and less severe heartburn and regurgitation than participants given a placebo.
- In a small study (only 25 participants) of people with iron deficient anemia, patients who took amalaki had improvement in weakness, headache, and other symptoms. Researchers concluded that while conventional treatment with supplemental iron will treat anemia, amalaki addresses the underlying problem of poor iron absorption. They advocate for longer term studies of its effects on iron deficiency.
- Amalaki has also been studied as a remedy for gastrointestinal ailments, mostly in rat studies and one human trial. In a 2006 study of 160 people, participants given amalaki had less constipation, abdominal pain, stomach acid, and gas. They also had stools with better frequency, consistency, and size.
Lower blood sugar
Ayurvedic practitioners believe amalaki can lower blood sugar. If that’s accurate, it means this medicine could be useful in treating and preventing diabetes. Here’s what the research says.
- In a large study of about 3,000 people, researchers gave participants a preparation of amalaki along with two other medicines, mamajjaka and guduchi. The Ayurvedic medicines along with lifestyle changes and yoga helped control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Research shows amalaki may also help lower fasting glucose and insulin levels. It may decrease how much glucose folks absorb from food by altering digestive enzymes. It may protect against some complications of diabetes like nerve damage and vision changes, too.
You’ve probably heard that stress is hard on your body. It can lower immunity, increase inflammation, and impact your mental health. Here’s the good news. There’s some evidence (in animal studies) that amalaki can help relieve this stress.
- Animal studies show amalaki may protect against stress caused by cold temperatures and noise. It reversed changes in behavior due to stress, oxidation, and corticosterone levels. Researchers think the benefits may be thanks to amalaki’s antioxidant properties.
- In another study of fruit flies, amalaki improved stress tolerance, thereby improving lifespan and quality of life.
So what do you do? Should you eat a handful of sour gooseberries or pop a capsule or two? Here a rundown of how amalaki was administered in some of the human studies mentioned above.
- For skin improvements, researchers used a mixture with equal parts of amalaki, haritaki, and vibhitaki.
- To lower cholesterol, participants took a capsule containing 500 milligrams (mg) of amla extract twice a day for 12 weeks.
- For improving heartburn, participants took two 500 mg amla tablets twice a day for 4 weeks.
- To counteract anemia, participants were given 2 grams of an amalaki/honey/ghee mixture three times a day for 45 days.
You can see the form, dosing, and use of amalaki varies widely just among studies. The best way to determine whether and how you should try amalaki is to consult an Ayurvedic practitioner.
PSA: Supplements like Ayurvedic herbal remedies that you’ll find in the grocery store or online are not evaluated by a government organization to prove they’re effective or safe. Do your research on a brand and vendor before trying a supplement, and always keep your healthcare team up to date on what you’re taking.
If you’re currently taking a medication to control blood sugar, remember that amalaki is thought to have a hypoglycemic effect. Know the signs of low blood sugar in case it drops too low.
Avoid amalaki if you’re pregnant or nursing because it’s not clear if it’s safe to use.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Ayurvedic medicine is unregulated in the United States. That means you can’t look to licensing and certification to choose a practitioner or remedy.
So you want to give this ancient remedy a try, but you’re not sure where to start?
- Do some research and find an Ayurvedic practitioner you trust. They will be the best resource for advice on what and how much to use.
- Check out what packaged preparations of amalaki are available from reputable supplement brands and retailers. Pay careful attention to dosing and warnings on the package. (Always inform your doctor when starting a new supplement, especially if you take prescription drugs that may interact with it.)
- Amalaki can be found in many forms, from fresh gooseberries (depending on where you live) to dried fruit to capsules. Remember, amalaki may also be an ingredient in compound medicines like triphala. You may find a wide range of amalaki products in Indian markets, grocery stores, Ayurvedic practices, and online.
Though there’s not a lot of human studies on the benefits of amalaki, it has been used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic practitioners. It’s believed to help with aging, cardiovascular health, digestive ailments, diabetes, and many other factors affecting health.
While a few studies support these claims, most of the research is on a small scale or only in animal models. Use caution and consult with both a professional Ayurvedic practitioner and your healthcare team for advice on taking amalaki.