April 9, 2015

Triphala is an ancient and revered Ayurvedic formula consisting of three fruits (amla, haritaki, and bahera). It is considered a rasayana, or adaptogen, and is a balanced tonic appropriate for all constitutions. In North America triphala is known primarily for its beneficial effects on the digestive tract. However, a growing body of research supports the increasing use of this formula for cardiovascular health.

Triphala has many beneficial effects on lipid metabolism in the human body. It has been shown to aid in reducing the weight of obese individuals.[1] In a study in which mice were fed a high fat diet, triphala administration was effective in decreasing weight gain as well as inhibiting elevation of LDL, VLDL and blood glucose levels.  It also increased HDL levels[2] and protecting liver function.[3] Triphala has also been shown to decrease lipid peroxidation[4] which is a major factor in the development of atherosclerosis.

Amla (Phyllanthus emblica) is the most widely known of the triphala fruits and has many diverse effects that make it very beneficial for healthy cholesterol levels. It has been shown to decrease triglyceride synthesis while increasing the synthesis of HDL. Amla also promotes the absorption of cholesterol into cells, where it performs many critical functions, by increasing expression of the LDL receptor on cell surfaces.[5] Amla also decreases HMG CoA reductase activity and thus the synthesis of cholesterol.[6] True to its reputation as a digestive tonic, it also decreased the absorption of fats and cholesterol.[7] Through these diverse factors amla provides natural support for healthy cholesterol levels.

Current understandings of cardiovascular disease have expanded the focus from simply looking at cholesterol levels. Endothelial dysfunction is understood to be a major factor in the development of heart disease. Studies have suggested that the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects of amla are beneficial in decreasing this dysfunction. A recent study on diabetic humans found that “P. emblica significantly improved endothelial function and reduced biomarkers of oxidative stress and systemic inflammation in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, without any significant changes in laboratory safety parameters.”[8] A new study performed on obese adults found that in addition to the above mentioned effects amla was able to decrease platelet aggregation. The authors concluded that amla “supplementation may provide beneficial effects in overweight/Class-1 obese adults by lowering multiple global CVD risk factors.”[9] These beneficial effects are compounded by the fact that another study found amla reduces CRP levels. 7 It has also been shown to increase the antioxidant capacity of epithelial cells[10] and promote nitric oxide production.[11]   An in-vitro study found that amla’s anti-oxidant effects were due at least in part to amla’s tannin content and were capable of preventing oxidative damage that leads to the progression of atherosclerosis.[12]  All of these findings taken together demonstrate the powerful benefits of using amla for inflammatory cardiovascular issues.

Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) has very similar properties to amla in regards to heart health. Multiple studies demonstrate that it can increase HDL levels as well as lower triglycerides and LDL level.[13],[14] Another study looked at haritaki’s ability to address the cardiovascular complications of diabetes. The study found it able to reduce glycation and the endothelial dysfunction that glycation promotes. Haritaki also decreased reactive oxygen species formation in blood vessels and monocyte adhesion to the endothelia.[15] The authors found that these activities were largely attributable to the phenolic compound chebulic acid[16] Haritaki’s antioxidant activities have also been shown to decrease lipid oxidation.[17]

The research on amla and haritaki supports the results of studies looking at the entire triphala combination. Triphala shows great promise in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Science is providing exciting validation for the ancient wisdom that created triphala and extolled to as a primary intervention in healthcare.