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Amla, or Indian gooseberry, is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. Now it is being hailed as a new superfood. Photo: Shutterstock

ExplainerWhat is amla? The Indian gooseberry hailed as a superfood for its apparent anticancer, anti-diabetes and anti-ageing properties

  • Amla is believed to have anticancer, anti-diabetes and anti-ageing properties – and, in Ayurveda, to boost immunity, ease coughing and relieve constipation
  • The fruit is available in various forms, from whole fruit to powder, and can be enjoyed in different ways – raw and salted, candied, in smoothies and chutneys

Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are among some of the healthiest berries around, but there’s another, little-known berry variety that’s being hailed as a new superfood.

Also known by its Sanskrit-derived name amla, the Indian gooseberry is packed with nutrients and is said to benefit human health in many ways.

Amla’s historic use in Ayurveda

Practitioners of traditional Indian medicine, or Ayurveda, have long known about the health-giving properties of amla (also called the Malacca tree). In India and Thailand, another country where the fruit is commonly used, amla is used medicinally to relieve coughing, loosen thick mucus in the airways, reduce fever and aid digestion.
Amla in their natural form and juiced, powdered and in chutney. Photo: Shutterstock

According to Sabine Schellerer, a Singapore-based pharmacist and naturopath, the fruit features in ancient Ayurvedic texts and continues to play an important role in Ayurveda.

Amla is considered one of the most important rasayana herbs,” Schellerer explains.

Rasayana refers to practices that give us ‘a long life, memory, intellect, health, youthful age, charisma, good skin colour, a strong voice, strength in body and senses, power of speech, virility and splendour’.


“In fact, Indian legend has it that the old ascetic [a sage or monk] Cyavana regained youthful strength by consuming amla paste.”

Today we would say the fruit has anti-ageing properties, thanks to its adaptogenic and antioxidant effects, she adds; adaptogens are plant products that are said to help the body resist physical, chemical and biological stressors.

A revival for adaptogens – ‘They help the body achieve balance’

Amla’s many health protective benefits

In addition to its anti-ageing properties, amla is believed to have a number of health-protective benefits.

For instance, it’s an excellent immunity booster. A study, done on mice and published in 2013 in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, found that amla has strong antioxidative potential.
Sabine Schellerer is a Singapore-based pharmacist and naturopath.

“This is credited to the fruit’s extremely high vitamin C content,” Schellerer says. “After the Barbados cherry, amla is the second-richest natural source of vitamin C, with each fruit containing between 600mg and 700mg of the potent antioxidant.

Amla is also a storehouse of tannins. Tannins are bitter and astringent compounds, or polyphenols, that protect tissues against oxidative stress and promote immunity to pathogens.”

Schellerer adds that amla is also a rich source of pectin. An important form of dietary fibre, pectin helps with regular bowel movements and has an anti-diabetic effect.
Another study, published in 2019 in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, found that amla extract improved the cholesterol and triglyceride levels of study participants who had dyslipidemia – abnormally elevated levels of cholesterol or fat (lipids) in the blood. Dyslipidemia may increase one’s risk of heart attacks and clogged arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.

Amla is also believed to have cancer-preventive and anti-tumour properties, according to a study published in 2015 in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. This may be because of its high antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory effects.

Amla can be consumed in juice form, but eating the whole fruit delivers a more nutritional punch. Photo: Shutterstock

How to consume amla

To reap the maximum benefits of amla, Schellerer recommends consuming the fruit raw.


Amla is sour and slightly astringent but it does have a sweet aftertaste. The more ripe it is, the sweeter it becomes. Slice the amla and sprinkle a bit of salt on it to balance the sourness. A dash of red chilli powder gives it a more interesting taste,” she says.

Dr Kristi Funk is a breast cancer surgeon in the United States.
Amla is also popular candied or pickled, and it’s often combined with coriander, garlic, ginger, chilli and salt to make chutney. You can also drink amla juice, which is commonly used as a laxative and an appetite stimulant.”

Dr Kristi Funk, an American breast cancer surgeon and the founder of Pink Lotus Breast Centre in California, is known for her surgical treatment of celebrities Angelina Jolie and Sheryl Crow. She describes amla as having “the highest concentration of antioxidants on earth. It also improves metabolic activity, assists with calcium absorption and with improving eyesight”.

She considers a small amount of amla powder to be a star ingredient in her antioxidant smoothies, which she makes with plant-based milk, flax seeds, aloe vera juice, green tea, spices such as black pepper, cinnamon and turmeric, dark leafy greens and various other berries.

Cautionary notes on using amla

Before including amla in your diet, Schellerer notes that there are a few things to be aware of.


While it may help reduce the frequency and severity of heartburn, if you experience hyperacidity it may actually worsen your symptoms, especially if you eat it on an empty stomach, as it can irritate the stomach lining and trigger stomach acid production.

Amla is packed with nutrients and is said to benefit human health in many ways. Photo: Shutterstock

“Second, amla may thin the blood and prevent normal blood clotting, so avoid it before or directly after surgery,” she says. “If you have a bleeding disorder, get your doctor’s advice before using amla.

“Additionally, studies suggest that amla may help lower blood sugar levels and is useful if you have diabetes. But if you have low blood sugar or take anti-diabetic medication, it might not be a good idea to consume amla. Diabetics may want to monitor their blood sugar level when taking amla with anti-diabetic drugs.”

Finally, Schellerer says that excessive consumption of the fruit may cause skin dryness, and, because of its diuretic properties, dehydration.

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