Oxidation in the body is a natural process caused when wandering electrons called free radicals react with other molecules. Oxidation has both positive and negative consequences. A positive aspect of oxidation is that the process disrupts the cell wall of bacteria, which stops them from functioning. Humans have special immune cells (macrophages) that use oxidation to kill bacteria.
Unfortunately, the negative reaction called oxidative stress is also common. It occurs when there are not enough antioxidants produced within the body and from nutrients to keep the oxidative process in check. As a result, structures inside the cell such as enzymes and DNA are damaged.
Oxidative stress has been linked to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, respiratory diseases, immune deficiency, emphysema, Parkinson’s disease, and other inflammatory or ischemic conditions. Activities and processes that cause oxidative stress include:
- Mitochondrial activity
- excessive exercise
- traumatic injuries and inflammation
- ischemia and reperfusion damage
- consumption of certain foods, especially refined and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and certain dyes and additives
- exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides and drugs, including chemotherapy and radiation
- industrial solvents
- excessive sun exposure
- lack of sleep
Any or all of these activities and exposures can result in cell damage especially, as already stated, when there are insufficient antioxidants to counteract them.
Thus, antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals in our bodies, promote longevity and boost overall health.
Vitamins, especially beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E are antioxidants. However, the most potent antioxidants are polyphenols, mainly found in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Amla: Polyphenol Powerhouse
The fruit most loaded with polyphenols is amla (also known as amlaki, or Indian gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica or Emblica officinalis). It has 20 times the antioxidant properties comparable to the Vitamin C in a single orange. It is one of the most important botanical food-herbs and has enjoyed long and frequent use as a folk health aid and tonic medicine tonic in India. Amla contains a variety of anti-inflammatory properties in the form of polyphenols including bioflavonoids and tannins that make it useful for treating and preventing a wide range diseases, superior to Vitamin C used alone. Furthermore, the tannins in amla stabilize its antioxidant and Vitamin C content, making these long lasting and considerably resistant to the effects of aging and exposure to light, and viable even after cooking.
As an antioxidant, amla has:
- 2 times the antioxidant power of ground turmeric
- 5 times the antioxidant power of acai
- 13 times the antioxidant power of raspberries
- 50 times the antioxidant power of raw blueberries
- 60 times the antioxidant power of pomegranate
- 75 times the antioxidant power of goji berries 
Amla is the fruit of Phyllanthus emblica which belongs to the family Euphorbiaceae. It grows in tropical deciduous forests of Southeast Asia rarely attaining a height of 60 feet. It is one of the most revered botanicals of India, widely used in Ayurveda for over 2,000 years, and is mentioned in all the ancient scriptures of Ayurveda including the Rigveda, Purana, Samhita and the Ramayana. Often I have found fresh amla shipped from India and sold in import markets in port cities such as Seattle.
Amla alleviate the excesses of all three Ayurvedic doshas (humours), which encompass all aspects of human physiology, nervous system, metabolism, solid and fluidic systems (the latter two considered as one). Amla works through the liver and especially normalizes pitta (fire). Hence it is very useful for all inflammatory diseases, reducing burning sensation on the skin and inflammation throughout the body. It strengthens the hair follicles and reduces inflammation of the scalp skin, preventing hair loss. As such, it is prepared and sold as “amla hair oil.” Amla boosts skin immunity and helps to prevent acne and pimples.
Other properties and uses of amla:
- Amla reduces burning sensation of the eyes and helps maintain eye health.
- Ancient Ayurvedic texts describe amla as strengthening the nervous system , enhancing memory and sensitivity of the senses.
- It normalizes digestion, reduces acidity, rejuvenates the liver, and relieves constipation. It is one of the three botanicals in triphala
- Amla is also a cardiac tonic and helps anemia
- It clears the respiratory system of excess mucus.
- It acts as an aphrodisiac, increasing sperm count and motility, and rejuvenates the male reproductive system. Thus it is the main botanical in the most famous Ayurvedic tonic compound called Chyavanprash
- Amla soothes the inner layers of the bladder and helps to reduce urinary frequency.
Ayurvedic medicine regards amla as one of the superior rasayanas (tonics) widely used alone and in Ayurvedic compounds. Despite its sour-astringent taste, East Indian people use fresh amla as part of the diet, making chutneys and other food dishes. The two most famous Ayurvedic herbal preparations that feature amla as a main ingredients are triphala and chyavanprash.
While amla berry is generally safe for all, following are some considerations and cautions to be aware of:
- While amla generally promotes healthy digestion and elimination, some may find that it is binding. Taking more water or oil may be beneficial in such cases.
- Amla is excellent for most cases of hyperacidity, but for some it can actually induce hyperacidity.
- Amla berry is a good antidote to diabetes. If you are taking insulin, it would be good to check your blood sugar levels and consult with your doctor before taking amla.
- Amla is considered a strong cardiac stimulant and those with heart conditions should consult with their physician before using it.
- Amla has a cool energy and can lower body temperature. People who are deficient in Yang or tend toward Coldness should keep this in mind before taking amla.
All of the above precautions are ameliorated when amla is taken in triphala because each of the three herbs counterbalance each other.
The above precautions should not dissuade any relatively normal person from integrating amla as part of their diet or as a supplement.
Many claim a deficit of research on medicinal herbs such as amla. While this is generally true, especially when it involves human trials, a recent study was a thoroughly credible double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter clinical trial assessing the efficacy and safety of Emblica officinalis extract in patients with dyslipidemia. Amla extract was shown to significantly reduce the levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides as well lipid fractions. Furthermore, unlike statins, the most widely prescribed drug class, cholesterol reduction was achieved without a concomitant reduction of CoQ10. This should make amla a viable alternative to statins.