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Purported Health Benefits of Amla + Side Effects & Safety

Written by Puya Yazdi, MD | Last updated:
Evguenia Alechine
Jonathan Ritter
Medically reviewed by
Evguenia Alechine, PhD (Biochemistry), Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology) | Written by Puya Yazdi, MD | Last updated:

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Amla is an Ayurvedic plant with many purported benefits. People traditionally use it to reduce inflammation and support blood sugar control. Its high vitamin C content gives it antioxidant activity. Read on to learn about all of amla’s potential health benefits.

 

What is Amla?

An Ayurvedic Berry

Amla (Emblica officinalis), also known as Indian Gooseberry, is a popular plant that has been used in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine systems for centuries. Ayurveda is one of the oldest known medicine systems in the world, originating in India more than 3,000 years ago.

Nonetheless, few clinical trials support the notion that Ayurveda is effective. What’s more, some Ayurvedic preparations contain potentially harmful metals, minerals, or gems. Ayurvedic medicine should not be used in place of conventional healthcare for any medical problem [1].

Amla supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. In general, dietary supplements lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

Amla was traditionally used to increase vitality, enhance digestion, soothe asthma and cough, stimulate hair growth, and promote longevity [2].

Although all parts of the plant were used, the fruit was used the most and believed to have the highest medicinal power. Limited studies support this traditional stance, as the fruit has been found to contain the most active compounds [3].

The fruit is yellowish-green in color and has a globular shape. In addition to its medicinal uses, it is also commonly used to make different vegetable dishes, pickles, and chutneys (sauces) [2].

Murabba, a popular dessert in South and Central Asia, is made by keeping the amla fruit in a sugary syrup [2].

Some people think amla can help with the graying of hair. They dry the fruit and then boil it in coconut oil until solidification. The water in which the dried amla pieces are soaked is considered to be nourishing; people advise using it as the last rinse while washing the hair. Evidence is lacking to back up this practice [4].

Active Compounds

Compounds found in amla fruit include tannins, alkaloids, and phenols [4].

The main tannins in amla, which have antioxidant properties, include [4]:

  • Emblicanin A and B
  • Geraniin
  • Ellagitannins

Phenolic compounds include:

Amla fruit is also a rich source of vitamin C (478.56 mg/100 ml), containing even more than oranges, lemons, and tangerines. It also contains some minerals and amino acids [2].

Purported Health Benefits

Remember to speak with a doctor before taking amla supplements. Amla should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.

Low-Quality Evidence:

Cholesterol & Triglycerides Balance

High levels of cholesterol can play a role in causing heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes.

HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) is considered to be the good form of cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) is thought to be the bad form of cholesterol.

A study in 32 diabetic and healthy volunteers found that 2 g and 3 g of amla powder daily for 21 days increased HDL-C and decreased LDL-C and total cholesterol levels [5].

A study of 60 patients with high cholesterol levels (> 240 mg/dl) found that 500 mg amla daily for 42 days increased HDL-C and reduced LDL-C and total cholesterol levels The effects were similar to the popular statin drug Zocor (simvastatin) [6].

High levels of triglycerides (TG) fats in the blood are linked to low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), insulin resistance, obesity, and increased risk for heart disease. Amla reduced levels of TG in the blood of 60 patients. More research is needed [7, 6].

The high levels of vitamin C and fiber in amla are thought to be responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effects. Evidence is lacking to back up this viewpoint [8, 9].

Additionally, the existing clinical studies were small and had design flaws. Large-scale, high-quality studies are needed to confirm this purported benefit.

Currently, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of amla for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.

Blood Sugar Control

Three weeks of amla fruit powder supplementation reduced blood glucose levels in 12 healthy people and 12 diabetics. No studies have yet replicated these findings. Much more research is needed [5].

Indigestion

A single double-blind randomized controlled trial found that amla reduced the severity of dyspepsia, which is a pain in the upper stomach due to low stomach acid. Large-scale studies are required [10].

Traditional Uses Lacking Evidence

Below is a list of the traditional uses of amla lacking evidence. Studies do not support the use of amla for diabetes, heart disease, infections, indigestion, hair growth, memory problems, and gut and liver diseases.

Hardening of the Arteries & Heart Health

Insufficient evidence supports the traditional use of amla for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Some scientists think amla holds promise for preventing the hardening of the arteries by reducing the buildup of molecules such as LDL-C, cholesterol, and TG. This may support healthy blood flow [5, 6, 11].

Rats intentionally fattened showed increased HDL-cholesterol levels following amla fruit extract supplementation, which contributes to its antiatherogenic abilities. Many heart diseases such as coronary artery disease are prevented and treated through such antiatherogenic effects [11, 12, 6].

In animals, amla fruit extracts protected the heart from ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) injury, which is caused by the return of oxygen to tissue after a period of lack of oxygen [13].

Infections

People have traditionally used amla alone or with other herbs for respiratory and gut infections. However, its use for bacterial, viral, and yeast infections is not sufficiently backed up by research.

The studies mentioned below were mostly done in cells. Many substances have antibacterial, antiviral, or antifungal effects in cells, only to fail further animal or human studies.

Studies in Bacteria

An extract called Triphala, which includes amla and two other popular herbs, inhibited the bacteria Salmonella typhi, which is resistant to multiple antibacterial drugs [14].

The study looked at 54 different herbal extracts and Triphala had one of the strongest antibacterial effects. Its effects remain unproven in humans [14].

A cell study showed that amla had antibacterial effects against some bacterial strains studied. However, we can’t draw any conclusions from cell studies [15, 14, 16].

A cream made up of different herbs, including amla, called Basant inhibited the growth of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, which may be resistant to common antibacterial agents such as penicillin, tetracycline, nalidixic acid, and ciprofloxacin. This cream has not been investigated in humans [17].

Studies in Viruses & Yeast

Pentagalloylglucose (PGG), a compound found in amla, contains antiviral properties against the influenza A virus. Incubating the virus in PGG reduced the total level of the virus [R, R].

Basant, a cream made up of different herbs including amla, is being researched for its potential effects on HIV, human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16), and various Candida species [17, 17].

Stress Resilience

Stress can disrupt bodily balance and weaken the immune system and reduce brain function. Some Ayurvedic practitioners consider amla fruit extract an adaptogen, meaning it allegedly works to maintain balance in the body [18].

In stressed rats, amla maintained [18]:

  • Glucose tolerance
  • Sexual behavior
  • Behavioral wellness
  • Cognitive function
  • Immune system function

Skin & Hair Health

Amla is a popular beauty remedy in India. Women use a mixture of amla and various oils and other herbs, which is traditionally rubbed into the scalp, hair, or skin. However, the evidence doesn’t support this practice.

Only a couple of animal and cellular studies looked at amla’s potential effects on the hair and skin.

Amla applied topically increased hair follicle count by 91% and hair growth in rats. Amla was more effective than the popular hair growth medication Rogaine [19].

Early research is looking into amla’s potential to protect the skin against oxidative stress caused by free radicals and metals. To date, no studies back up the use of amla for skin health and protection [20].

Amla fruit extracts protected human skin cells from UV damage and increased the growth of collagen, a protein that makes up a large part of the skin. However, no conclusions can be drawn from a cell-based study [21].

Effects on the Gut & Liver

Evidence is lacking to support the herb’s traditional use for liver and gut problems.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) can cause stomach ulcers. Amla fruit extracts decreased the formation of ulcers in rats given NSAIDs. Much more research is needed [22].

Amla extract reduced damage to the liver due to arsenic. Amla reduced oxidative stress and prevented liver cells from dying (necrosis). Animal and human studies are needed [23].

Wound Healing

People traditionally used amla on wounds and cuts. Evidence does not support this use.

Amla applied topically over wounds in rats increased the rate of wound healing closing times [24].

Triphala, which includes amla and two other popular herbs, also increased wound healing in rats [25].

The extract improved the wound closing through increased levels of collagen, the protein responsible for wound closure. It also decreased the bacterial count leading to less infection [25].

Memory

Despite the lack of evidence, amla is traditionally used as a cognitive enhancer. A couple of animal studies looked into this purported benefit, but we can’t draw any conclusions from their findings yet.

Amla fruit extracts increased short term memory in rats, who were able to solve mazes at quicker rates after amla supplementation [26].

Amla also reversed amnesia in the rats [26].

Amla reduced levels of cholinesterase in the brain. Reducing cholinesterase may be able to treat disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s [26, 27].

Immune Defense, Fever & Coughing

Natural killer (NK) cells are the body’s most powerful immune cells that attack cells infected with viruses. Amla powder increases the activity of NK cells 2-fold in rats [28].

Amla fruit extract reduced fever in one rat study; the effects of the amla extract were comparable to common fever-reducing medicines such as aspirin. No research teams have replicated these findings [29].

Amla fruit extract decreased the number of cough efforts, the cough frequency, and the cough intensity in cats [30].

In rats, amla improved symptoms of a cough better than dropropizine, a common cough medicine [30].

Amla is thought to reduce coughing by increasing mucus in the airways. Mucus prevents the receptors that cause coughing from becoming irritated [30].

Inflammation & Antioxidant Defense

The vitamin C in amla accounts for 45-70% of its antioxidant activity [9].

Reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS and RNS) cause inflammation. The phenolic compounds in amla decrease both ROS and RNS [8, 31].

Amla fruit extracts decreased both acute and chronic inflammation in rats [8, 32].

Amla leaves also reduce inflammation in rats [32].

Amla decreased writhing due to pain in rats by 41.8% [29].

Amla fruit extract decreased cartilage breakdown in the cartilage cells of arthritis patients. Sustained effects were seen in up to 50% of the patients’ cells [33].

Diarrhea

Amla extracts reduced occurrences of diarrhea in mice by decreasing the buildup of fluid in the intestines [34].

Additional Research

No valid evidence supports the use of amla for any of the conditions listed below, including inflammatory disorders, kidney problems, cancer prevention, and radiation protection.

Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts.

However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit. Amla should not be used for any of the conditions described below due to the complete lack of safety and efficacy data in humans.

Kidney Health

Both inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) cause kidney dysfunction and increase blood pressure [35].

Amla fruit extracts decreased blood pressure and levels of both iNOS and COX-2 in the aorta of rats [35].

A molecule called bcl-2-like protein 4 (BAX) that causes cell death (apoptosis), was also decreased following amla consumption [35].

Amla reduced blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels. BUN is a marker of kidney filtration with higher levels indicating poor filtration [35].

Cancer Prevention

Amla is being researched in cells and animals against the following types of cancer [2]:

  • Lung
  • Liver
  • Cervix
  • Breast
  • Ovary

Extracts of Amla were toxic to cancer cells in rats. Both the amla extract and chyavanaprash, an herbal formula that is 50% amla, slowed tumor growth. Total tumor volume decreased by 60% following amla consumption [36].

The amla extract increased the lifespan of rats with tumors by 20% while chyavanaprash increased lifespan by 60.9% [36].

Cancer is commonly caused by damage to DNA that leads to suppression of anticancer genes. Mutations caused by DNA damage are also common causes of cancer [2].

Scientists think amla extracts may increase the activity of O6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase, an enzyme that removes harmful mutations in immune cells [37].

In cells, amla reduced DNA damage caused by [38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44]:

  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Aluminum
  • Nickel
  • Cesium chloride
  • Arsenic
  • Chromium
  • 3,4-benzo(a)pyrene: a compound found in tar, tobacco, and grilled meats and is caused by incomplete burning of materials
  • Benzo[a]pyrene: a compound similar to 3,4-benzo(a)pyrene
  • Cyclophosphamide: an immunosuppressive drug that can treat certain cancer (leukemia), but can also cause cancer years after treatment

Its effects on poisoning from these compounds in animals and humans remain completely unknown.

Some researchers believe cancer develops when the natural cell cycle is disrupted. Usually, cancer causes increases in cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) and cyclins, molecules that increase cell growth and division [45, 46].

Gallic acid found in amla decreases levels of CDKs and cyclins in dishes [47, 48].

Radiation

Amla is being researched for potentially radioprotective properties. Some scientists think it may protect against damage from radiation. Radiation is a common form of cancer treatment. Providing rats with fruit pulp of amla for seven days before lethal radiation increased survival rates [49].

Another study found that amla, given to animals before radiation, increased white blood cell and hemoglobin (oxygen transporters) count [2].

Limitations & Caveats

There have been few clinical trials in humans using amla, as most of the research is in test tubes or rodents.

Currently, there is insufficient evidence to support the purported health benefits of amla listed in this article. Proper, large-scale, double-blinded, randomized clinical trials need to be carried out to determine the effectiveness and safety of amla.

Amla Side Effects & Safety

One study noted that some of the users noticed a slight pain in the stomach [50].

Proper clinical trials focusing on the safety and side effects of amla are lacking.

Since amla lowers blood sugar levels, people who suffer from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) are advised not to consume amla [5].

Supplementation & Dosage

Dosage

Many of the studies above used differing amounts of amla. The fact that there are few human studies, most of which are low-quality, makes it difficult to determine a safe and effective dosage for humans.

For example, one study used amla powder, 0.5-3 grams daily (or 0.25mg-0.5mg twice daily). Another used 3 grams of amla powder [5, 50].

Different amla supplements each have capsules of either 500mg or 350mg of amla.

Reviews

Mostly amla has been used for hair. People have been generally happy with the amla oil as it helped their hair grow back. They felt they could achieve a “young and healthy look.” The oil is also inexpensive, which people appreciated.

However, many users did complain about the pungent smell. One user noted that the smell was too strong and gave her headaches, which caused her to stop using the product.

Many use amla supplements as a source of vitamin C. They say it is a good alternative to other vitamin C supplements as it is claimed to be allergy-free.

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of the users who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

Further Reading

About the Author

Puya Yazdi

Puya Yazdi

MD
Dr. Puya Yazdi is a physician-scientist with 14+ years of experience in clinical medicine, life sciences, biotechnology, and nutraceuticals.
As a physician-scientist with expertise in genomics, biotechnology, and nutraceuticals, he has made it his mission to bring precision medicine to the bedside and help transform healthcare in the 21st century.He received his undergraduate education at the University of California at Irvine, a Medical Doctorate from the University of Southern California, and was a Resident Physician at Stanford University. He then proceeded to serve as a Clinical Fellow of The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine at The University of California at Irvine, where he conducted research of stem cells, epigenetics, and genomics. He was also a Medical Director for Cyvex Nutrition before serving as president of Systomic Health, a biotechnology consulting agency, where he served as an expert on genomics and other high-throughput technologies. His previous clients include Allergan, Caladrius Biosciences, and Omega Protein. He has a history of peer-reviewed publications, intellectual property discoveries (patents, etc.), clinical trial design, and a thorough knowledge of the regulatory landscape in biotechnology.He is leading our entire scientific and medical team in order to ensure accuracy and scientific validity of our content and products.

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