CURE ALL JUICES – INDIAN GOOSEBERRY (AMALAKI)
From blueberries to broccoli and garlic to grapes, there are scores of foods that contain a wealth of micronutrients and phytochemicals that enhance human function, structure and physiology. Indian gooseberry is another such food. In the seldom used language Sanskrit, it is known as amalaki and is being marketed as the miracle ingredient in a new juice that features six supporting herbs including tumeric, ginger, holy basil, jujube, haritaki and schizandra.
It was immediately apparent to me that nobody would be drinking a juice that only contained those 7 extracts and I wondered what else was in it. I then looked around the website,1 found the product section, clicked ‘ingredients’, ‘nutritional information’ and then ‘formulation’. Only after surfing the web did I find out what else it contained: white grape juice concentrate, pear puree concentrate, Concord grape juice concentrate, pomegranate juice concentrate, cranberry juice concentrate, raspberry juice concentrate, lime juice concentrate, natural flavors, and (an unnamed) natural fruit and vegetable juice blend for color. During my search for the rest of the ingredients, the omission was a hot blog topic so I assume it will be corrected by the time this reaches publication.
Like the other juices in this series (see Andersen, G.D. Cure-All juices Acai & Goji, Noni and Mangosteen Dynamic Chiropractic 2008 v 26 #’s 6, 8, 10) the launch of this amalaki-based product has created quite a stir. Although it’s only in one product that I know of, I expect other companies are formulating products with Indian Gooseberry as I write this.
INDIAN GOOSEBERRY TREE:
The Indian gooseberry tree is native in the foothill regions of India. It is described as a medium-sized tree that (depending on the source) reaches a height of 18 to 60 feet. The fruit is a very pale yellow or a very light lime-green color and is oval with a 1-inch diameter and six furrows running longitudinally. The taste is described as a bitter/sour; the texture “fibrous”. In India, it is often consumed with salt to make it more palatable. Researching this berry was confusing until I realized it has quite a few names, many of which begin with the letter A. In Hindi is it known as Amla. It is also referred to as Aonla, Aola, Aawallaa and Aamvala.
Indian gooseberries are a good source of phytochemicals including flavonoids, tannins, polyphenols, ellagic acid, quercetin, gallic acid and kaempferol. It is best known for its high vitamin C content. How high is anybody’s guess. I found reports that a 100 gram serving (3.5 ounce) contains 445 mg, 463 mg, 625 mg, 700 mg, 930 mg, 1100 mg or 1700 mg. When the fruit is dehydrated, the vitamin C content is even higher with tested levels ranging from 2428 mg, to 3470 mg.
The health claims for Indian gooseberry (amalaki) are similar to other cure-all juices in that it is promoted to cure many problems. They include reduction of blood glucose, blood lipids and blood pressure; enhancement of the immune system, prevention of constipation and, in a 1988 study, reduced cholesterol levels in humans1. Other claims, some of which are rather esoteric, include:
1. Preservation of eyesight.
2. Tones heart muscle.
3. Treats rheumatism.
4. Strengthens teeth.
5. Flushes toxins.
6. Maintains lung function
7. Balances stomach acid.
8. Stimulates the liver.
9. Conditions the skin.
10. Helps the scalp (when added to shampoo).
11. Natural diuretic.
12 Improves near-sightedness.
13 Prevents gray hair.
14 Enhances vitality.
15. Slows aging.
16. Aphrodisiac properties.
Indian gooseberry has been shown to protect white blood cells when exposed to a toxic form of chromium in a lab. It can suppress coughing in cats and has reduced oxidative stress, ulcers, cataracts, cholesterol and diabetes in rats. I found a human study that was often mentioned but not referenced. It stated that 3 grams three times a day helped eliminate gastritis in 17 out of 20 people who took it for a one-week period. Unfortunately, since there was no reference I could not find out what form (raw fruit, dried fruit, paste, encapsulated powder) or what parameters (controlled, blinded, subject selection etc.) were used.
There is research on the other six ingredients the website lists (and the 7 juices it also contains). Sellers are technically correct when they say there are 1000’s of studies “on the ingredients”. The catch is, the buyer incorrectly assumes the studies pertain to the 14 ingredients mixed, bottled, stored and utilized – i.e. the product itself -- to treat/support/resolve/prevent the long list of disorders, dysfunction and diseases the marketing people imply it is good for. The truth is there are no studies in the peer recorded literature on the product. Only small % of the “1000’s of studies” are well controlled human experiments. Furthermore, none of those studies used this delivery system. For example, ginger pills may relieve arthritis pain in some people, but will a smaller dose soaked in white grape juice for 6 months have the same effect? What if we add amalaki, lime juice and holy basil to the mix?
So, is Indian gooseberry good for you? You bet. Just like acai, goji, noni, mangosteen, oranges, apples, papaya and cherries are. Is it better if it’s mixed with 13 other ingredients? We don’t know, but it is my hope that human studies will be funded by those who are making lots of money selling it. If they are sincere, I expect generous “no strings” donations to independent institutions with neutral investigators who, in turn, can perform trials and publish the results. The cynical/realistic side of me says the odds of that happening are slim and none because the odds of a study helping them are very small. This is because even a positive outcome most will likely fall well short of the hype. And that would cause the fall of what is truly important to those who sell the amalaki (Indian gooseberry) drink---their incomes.
1Jacob, A., Pandely, M.et al. Effect of Indian Gooseberry (amia) on Serum Cholesterol Levels in Men Aged 35-55 Years. Eur J Clin Nutr 1988; 42 (11):