With our fast-paced lives and health problems growing by the minute, wouldn’t it be nice to find a wonder-herb that does the heavy-duty work for us and is a one-stop solution to our health woes? Nah. Sounds too good to be true, right? But what if I tell you this wonder herb does exist?!
Ayurveda is a treasure trove of well-preserved health and wellness secrets that have been passed down from one generation to another. And in the heart of this trove is the miraculous Triphala.
Triphala, which translates to “three-fruits”, is an equal combination of three indigenous fruits found in the Indian subcontinent. Haritaki, Amalaki and Bibhitaki are the three components, each of which corresponds to the three humors or doshas of the body. Each of these fruits is known to have a positive effect on its corresponding dosha and maintain the equilibrium, thus eliminating ama (toxins) and disease.
Triphala is an integral part of Ayurvedic medicine and healing. Its benefits and healing properties have been documented in the ancient Ayurvedic scriptures. It is a potent herbal formulation or Rasayana that promotes healing and rejuvenation by creating Ojas or the essence of our being. This ojas is the substance that rejuvenates both body and mind and promotes longevity.
Triphala has a profound effect on digestive health as it balances the Apana Vata, which resides in the lower abdomen and governs all functions of the colon and menstrual cycle. It also enhances the digestive fire or Agni, which regulates the digestive processes and is known to pacify the Pitta and Kapha doshas. It goes deep into the tissues to clean out the ama or toxins and has an overall purifying effect on the body.
Triphala also has an immensely positive effect on cardiovascular health as it draws out toxins from the blood and improves circulation. It also promotes good vision and skin by warding off infections and diseases. It is also hailed as the secret to youthful skin as its antioxidant properties prevent premature aging and hyperpigmentation. Its multifaceted approach to bestowing good health has genuinely made it an irreplaceable component of the Ayurvedic system of healing.
Properties of the Three Components
Haritaki or Harada, scientifically known as Terminalia chebula, is a bitter-tasting fruit native to the Indian subcontinent. It is associated with the Vata dosha and is used to treat imbalances and diseases related to it. It possesses laxative, astringent and lubricative properties that alleviate the dryness and heaviness of the Vata dosha. It is used to treat chronic constipation, anxiety, nervous disorders, and feelings of physical heaviness. It also helps in the prevention and treatment of eye and skin diseases.
Amalaki or Amla, scientifically known as Emblica officinalis, is the second component of Triphala, which is also native to the country. It possesses sour, sweet, bitter, astringent and pungent tastes or rasas. Because of the presence of these five tastes or rasas, it can balance all three doshas. The sweet and sour flavors pacify the Pitta and Vata doshas, whereas the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes pacify the Kapha dosha. Amla also possesses cooling, astringent, mildly laxative and antipyretic properties which are used to treat mainly Pitta imbalances such as constipation, ulcers, inflammation, diarrhea, and burning sensations in the body.
Amla is also a powerhouse of vitamin C and holds the record for containing the highest amount of vitamin C in the plant kingdom (20 times more than an orange!). This vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
Bibhitaki or Bihara, scientifically known as Terminalia bellerica, is the final component of this miracle herb formulation. It corresponds to the Kapha dosha and is used to treat its imbalances. Its primary taste or rasa is astringent, and the secondary is bitter, sweet and pungent. It’s heating, digestive and antispasmodic properties treat and clear out the excess mucus present in the body and aid in the alleviation of respiratory disorders and allergies.
Phytochemicals present and their Therapeutic effects
Phytochemicals are the different classes of organic compounds or chemicals present in plants that are synthesized and secreted by the plant cells. Phytochemicals are an integral part of the plant body as they have specific roles to play. Most of them are involved in repair and defense mechanisms as they promote wound-healing and protect the plant from predators such as microorganisms, insects and herbivores. They play a significant role in keeping the plant disease-free.
Apart from being beneficial to the plants which synthesize them, phytochemicals are immensely crucial to humans as they possess potent antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These phytochemicals are often ingested by consuming different parts of the plant or are extracted from the plant to manufacture other medicines and supplements for human consumption.
Triphala is rich in phytochemicals; amongst which tannins, phenolics, flavonoids, anthraquinones, saponins, gallic acid, chebulic acid, amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates are the most prominent ones. These are different classes of organic compounds that are present in the three components of Triphala. Each of these compounds has specific beneficial or therapeutic effects on the human body, which make Triphala the one-stop solution to a multitude of health problems.
- Antioxidant properties
Triphala is rich in vitamin C and flavonoids, and so acts as a potent antioxidant. An antioxidant is a chemical compound that prevents the oxidation process in the body. This oxidation process is what leads to the formation and buildup of toxic compounds (scientifically known as free radicals) in the body. These poisonous compounds or free radicals are the precursors of aging, cancer and many other illnesses. Thus, antioxidants are a must-have as they combat this oxidation (and prevent the formation of free radicals) to promote longevity.
The high dosage of vitamin C and flavonoids found in Triphala boost the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes that convert the toxic compounds or free radicals into harmless forms, and thus, reduce the risk of oxidative damage.
- Antimicrobial properties
Due to the presence of large amounts of phenolics and tannins, Triphala also possesses antimicrobial properties. Its consumption prevents the growth of a wide variety of pathogenic and disease-causing bacterial and viral species in the human body. These phytochemicals (mainly phenolics and tannins) alter the genomic structures (the genetic material which may be DNA or RNA) of the bacteria and virus and prevent them from multiplying and causing disease in humans. They render the microbe harmless by neutralizing its pathogenicity (i.e. its disease-causing ability).
- Anticancer properties
Cancer can be simply defined as the uncontrollable division of abnormal cells in the body. These cancerous cells can spread through the entire body, causing significant damage to tissues and organs. According to some studies, the phytochemicals present in Triphala have shown to control the spread of cancerous cells by triggering the destruction of these cells while keeping the healthy cells intact. These studies suggest that Triphala might be used as an anticancer drug in the future, but more research needs to be done in this respect.
- Anti-inflammatory properties
Inflammation is the body’s response to an invasion in which it goes into alert mode and produces many toxic substances to fight the foreign body. The invader may be a microorganism or any other biological agent that may cause an infection. The body recognizes this intruder/invader as a threat and starts producing many immune cells and substances to destroy it. The problem arises when the inflammation reaction continues, and the immune substances produced as a result start attacking the healthy cells of the body. This results in pain, swelling, discomfort, fever, etc. Chebulic acid and gallic acid, amongst other phytochemical constituents of Triphala, are mainly involved in calming inflammation and prevent the formation of toxic substances as a result of inflammation. They neutralize the effects of the immune cells or render their products harmless.
- Immunomodulatory properties
Immunomodulation can be defined as the process of altering the host’s immune system either by immunostimulation or immunosuppression, to regulate the immune response. The various phytochemicals present in Triphala have this immunomodulatory effect on a person’s immune system and the defense mechanism of the person. The different amino acids, glycosides (a type of carbohydrate), fatty acids, and the other phytochemicals strengthen the immune system by regulating the production of the immune cells and help in warding off infections and diseases.
Triphala for Gut Health
Triphala has been known to improve and promote gut health since the Vedic ages. Its potent phytochemicals and their therapeutic effects help in maintaining and enhancing the health of the digestive organs and their functions.
- Improving digestive health
The antioxidant property of Triphala reduces oxidative stress. It has an enteroprotective effect on the gut, meaning that it protects the lining of the gut and related organs from the damaging effects of oxidative stress. This ensures their proper functioning and reduces the build-up of toxins. Fewer toxins, in turn, promote the smooth functioning of the organs and seamless digestion.
The anti-inflammatory effects of Triphala also ensure that there is no swelling or infection in the gut and prevents the release of unnecessary immune compounds that harm the healthy cells of the gut. It also calms the inflammation caused during gastritis, IBS, etc., and reduces the discomfort associated with them, while ensuring proper digestion.
The antimicrobial property is of prime importance in improving digestive health as it prevents the growth of harmful and pathogenic microbes, like Helicobacter pylori, which disrupts the gut microbiome and leads to excess gas production, inflammation, and other gastrointestinal ailments.
- In treating Constipation
Triphala works wonders when it comes to constipation! It is super effective in treating constipation because it has the combined properties of a purgative and a lubricating bulk laxative. On the one hand, as a purgative, it consists of anthraquinones ( a class of phytochemicals possessing bitter-taste) that stimulate the peristalsis ( a wave-like muscle contraction of the digestive tract that moves food from one point to another in the gut) of the intestinal tract either directly or through the stimulation of the liver and gallbladder to secrete more bile (alkaline digestive juice). On the other hand, as a lubricating bulk laxative, it adds more mass to the stool and retains water to soften the stool and enable its smooth release from the body.
- In promoting Good Bacteria
The phytochemicals present in Triphala, mainly gallic acid and quercetin( a type of flavonoid), promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut ( like Lactobacillus sp.) and inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria (like Escherichia coli). This results in a healthy gut microbiome that facilitates healthy digestion and the production of essential vitamins. Also, the increase in the number of good bacteria, particularly Lactobacillus sp., enhances the enzymatic degradation of the phytochemicals present in Triphala (mainly tannins and phenolics) to give rise to metabolites such as urolithins which have antioxidant properties and can prevent oxidative stress and damage.
Word of Caution
Due to Triphala’s laxative properties, it may sometimes trigger diarrhea and abdominal pain in some instances. It is advisable to start with smaller doses initially and to build on that in due course of time. When experiencing diarrhea and abdominal pain, it is advisable to either lessen the dosage of consumption or stop consumption altogether for some time.
It is also essential to consult with your physician or an Ayurvedic practitioner before consuming Triphala if you take drugs for chronic ailments such as hypertension and diabetes because the phytochemicals present in Triphala may either reduce the efficacy of the medications or increase their concentration in the blood and enhance their side-effects.
Triphala is generally not administered to pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children as a cautionary measure to avoid any unwanted reactions and side-effects. Research needs to be done to check for its safety amongst these groups of people.
Like any other health supplement, it is always best to determine the dosage of Triphala by an Ayurvedic practitioner to ensure proper safety, zero side-effects and to yield the maximum benefits of this wonder herb.