Nutritionists, naturopaths, and wellness enthusiasts all see the merits in letting “food be thy medicine.” In fact, the effort to fortify our diets with health-supporting nutrients represents a growing lifestyle trend among wellness fans. A 2017 Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) consumer survey found that 76% of the adults in the United States took dietary supplements, a statistic that has consistently grown across the last decade and shows no signs of slowing down.
Perhaps you already take probiotics, fiber, collagen, or magnesium to support your overall wellness, but Amla, or Indian Gooseberry, is the next ingredient for you to consider. The fruit’s historic roots can be found in ayurveda, an historic branch of alternative medicine from India. But recent studies confirm the wide-ranging benefits it poses to our guts, to our hair, and even our skin. Cited health benefits include potential anti-cancer properties, while cosmetic effects include treating unwanted dark spots, or hyper-pigmentation, on our faces. There is accordingly a strong case for making the functional superfruit Amla the newest star of your supplement shelfie.
“Amla is arguably the most important medicinal plant in the Indian traditional system of medicine, the Ayurveda,” begins Kelly McCann MD, MPH, and founder of The Spring Center. Various parts of the plant are used in the treatment of disease, but the fruit itself is key to the most significant health benefits. “It has traditionally been used to treat the common cold and fevers, but also works to help prevent peptic ulcers and dyspepsia, and as a digestive aid,” she continues, adding, “Some studies also suggest that it may be beneficial in protecting the liver, kidneys, and nervous system.”
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McCann references multiple studies attesting to the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory functions of Amla — including properties, she adds, that can aid in the prevention and treatment of cancer. As she explains, studies reveal its beneficial effects on some of the underlying causes of many chronic diseases, such as improving endothelial functions (such as the cells lining the gut), LDL cholesterol profiles, and oxidative stress levels.
As for its specific uses, Nadia Musavvir ND, Los Angeles and Chicago based naturopathic doctor, references its wide variety functions. “Medicinally, it is considered a nutritive tonic because it is a source of vitamins and nutrients, is a blood purifier, and helps to restore mucous membranes,” she says. It is also versatile, or tri-doshic, said to balance all three dosha types — Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha, which are the ayurvedic terms used to classify health profiles. It can be eaten, pickled, juiced, or even made into jam, while a powder form of the supplement — such as Bareorganics Amla Powder — can be ingested in smoothes or applied topically like a mask.
One small dose of the fruit is said to contain more vitamin C than an orange, and the nutrient is also found in triphala, which Musavvir describes as a three-ingredient, herbal panacea commonly used in the medical tradition. She goes on to explain that it aids with indigestion, inflammation, and even brain function in the elderly. Combined with other herbs and supplements, as in Ancient Nutrition Ancient Probiotics Women’s Once Daily, its benefits can be maximized.
The beauty benefits are compelling, too, for both hair and skin, and it can be found in The Nue Co.’s Skin Filter, the clean supplement company’s take on anti-aging, ingestible retinol for improving skin-tone and elasticity. Because of its role in blocking DHT, it can also reduce hair loss, premature graying,dandruff and flaking, and aid with the remedy of scalp infections.
Dermatopathologist Michelle Hure, MD of OC Skin Lab points out that its potent melanin-inhibiting and collagen-stimulating effects is what makes Amla an excellent treatment for hyper-pigmentation, or unwanted darkening of the skin (i.e. dark spots, freckles, melasma). “It inhibits melanin pigment by blocking various points along the pigmentation pathway,” Hure describes, noting that results are comparable to hydroquinone, cosmetic dermatology’s gold standard for fighting unwanted pigment on the skin — just without the same risks or toxic side effects. “As if those reasons weren’t enough, it has also been shown to inhibit bacterial growth [and] to promote collagen production in the skin.”
As you can see, Amla possesses extraordinary potential to benefit the health in myriad ways, from the medicinal to the cosmetic. Whether used alone or as part of a supplement blend, we expect to see much more of this functional superfood in the future.