Amla (Amalaki)

There’s more to amla (Phyllanthus emblica) than a rich reserve of vitamin C. It helps your body balance its blood glucose levels by blocking the breakdown of carbs and by releasing more insulin so that the extra glucose is removed from the blood. It maintains your cholesterol balance by preventing cholesterol synthesis in the body. It also modulates your immune response, on the one hand, activating immune cells and reducing immune cell death, and on the other, reining in inflammation.

Often considered the “best among the sour fruits,” the amla fruit (also known as amalaki) has earned a spot in go-to ayurvedic concoctions like chyawanprash and triphala. It finds its footing in all five tastes – sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent – and promises to make you feel a lot more upbeat.

The fruit’s USP is its rich reserve of vitamin C (720 mg/100 gm or 1 gm in 100 ml juice) along with other antioxidants, particularly tannins.

One study in fruits flies showed an 83% increase in longevity due to amla. Though it cannot be considered concrete evidence, it does hint at amla’s potential to improve your overall health.

Why It’s So Great

1. Helps Manage Blood Glucose

A lot of people, otherwise healthy, wake up feeling tired or feel low on energy at different points of time in the day. While there may be many different explanations for feeling that way, an oft-overlooked one is fluctuations in blood glucose. Amla can extend a helping hand to your body. Here’s what it does:

  • It inhibits carb-degrading enzymes (α-glucosidase and α-amylase) in the small intestine. These enzymes break complex carbs into simple sugars like glucose. With less glucose for the intestine to absorb, the blood glucose level also comes down.
  • It increases insulin production by the pancreas while also sensitizing fat cells to insulin. This helps ensure more glucose is stored in cells and not wandering in your bloodstream.
  • It inhibits aldose reductase, an enzyme that converts glucose to sorbitol. While depleting glucose in this way may seem like the need of the hour, too much sorbitol inside cells makes them soak in surrounding fluids, swell, and rupture. Amla’s compound β-glucogallin prevents this damage.
  • It also inhibits the formation of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) that can wreak havoc in your body. AGEs are formed when fats and protein in food (both found in red meat) attach to sugar molecules. Naturally, if the blood glucose level is high, the number of AGEs increases.

2. Helps Protect the Heart

Here’s something you need to know: every cell in the body needs cholesterol, and every cell produces free radicals in the course of normal life processes. So, the presence of both cholesterol and free radicals is normal.

Usually, your body has enough antioxidants to take care of the free radicals. But as you grow old or when you eat unhealthily, don’t get enough sleep, or fall ill, cholesterol and free radical levels can rise.

When LDL cholesterol is oxidized (modified) by free radicals, it can dock on the walls of blood vessels and block the flow of blood.

Amla works along with your body to prevent free radicals from interacting with LDL.

  • Its flavonoids and pectin reduce blood lipids, including cholesterol. They interfere with cholesterol absorption in the small intestine and inhibit cholesterol synthesis by the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase.
  • Its antioxidant compounds like gallic acid remove free radicals so less damage is done.

3. Helps Regulate the Immune System

Your immune system can be a double-edged sword. Always on the alert to fight diseases, it can sometimes become overzealous and attack harmless cells in your body. Your body needs to maintain a fine balance round the clock when it comes to immune responses. Amla can step up to the challenge:

Boosts Immunity:
  • Amla activates different types of immune cells: those that work at a more superficial level (like macrophages and NK cells) as well as those that are more targeted in their approach (like B cells and T cells).
  • It also reduces immune cell death that tends to become commonplace in the presence of disease-causing agents like bacteria and viruses.
Limits Inflammation:
  • The immune system uses inflammation as a tool to wall off infections and tissue injury. However, it may at times fail to draw a line, causing damage to your body’s own cells. That’s when amla can intervene.
  • The fruit decreases the production of pro-inflammatory signaling chemicals called chemokines and cytokines.
  • It prevents the infiltration of immune cells to the site of infection or injury.
  • It also promotes the generation of immunoprotective cytokines to accelerate the body’s repair process.

4. Helps Protect the Liver

Your liver is quite an impressive organ. From deciding what to do with the energy you get from carbs and figuring out when to break down or store fat to processing proteins and cleansing your blood of unwanted substances and toxins – it does it all! But it bears the brunt of the detox process. As your body tries to detox the liver, you could lend it a hand too. Eat amla and other foods rich in antioxidants, like leafy greens, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and berries.

  • Several compounds in amla – quercetin, corilagin, ellagic acid, gallic acid, furosin, emblicanin A and B, methyl gallate, and geraniin – shield liver cell membranes from damage by free radicals.

A second layer of protection stems from the fruit’s anti-inflammatory power.

Lifestyle Tip

As you now know, the benefits of regularly consuming amla are manifold. The modern diet doesn’t typically perceive amla as a fruit, strangely classifying it as something strictly medicinal. But it is one of the more powerful fruits that need to find their way back to everyone’s diet.

How much amla you should have depends on various factors like your age, health, and body constitution. That said, you can start with any of the following as your daily intake:

  • 1 fresh amla (whole fruit)
  • 3–6 gms of the dried fruit powder
  • 5–10 ml fruit juice (or the juice of one fruit)