The Remarkable Qualities of Triphala — A Famous and Revered Ayurvedic Formula
In this special edition of Total Health News, our ayurvedic expert — a world-renowned ayurvedic researcher and educator — discusses the popular ayurvedic remedy Triphala.
Q: Triphala, contained in MAPI's Organic Digest Tone and a major ingredient in Cholesterol Protection, is one of the most famous herbal compounds in ayurvedic medicine. Can you tell us what it's made of?
A: Certainly. Literally it means "three fruits," with tri meaning "three" and phala meaning "fruit." The three fruits contained in Triphala are Haritaki, Amalaki and Bibhitaki. There is a saying in India that if a vaidya (ayurvedic practitioner) knows how to use Triphala properly, he can heal any disease. It is highly revered in Maharishi Ayurveda. When these three fruits I mentioned are combined as Triphala, they form a very powerful Rasayana. A Rasayana is the most highly refined and powerful herbal and fruit combination in ayurveda, and is known to promote long life and rejuvenation. A Rasayana promotes ojas, the material equivalent of bliss. Ojas is the finest product of digestion, and prevents disease, creates luster in the skin and rejuvenates the whole body.
Besides nourishing the mind and body and promoting longevity, Triphala has many specific effects. It is particularly rejuvenating for the digestive tract, and is a Rasayana for the eyes and the skin.
Triphala balances Apana Vata, the subdosha of Vata that governs the colon, lower abdomen, menstrual flow and elimination. For most people Triphala is a mild laxative, and for that reason it is excellent for clearing toxins from the digestive system. In very rare cases it has a stronger laxative effect, but usually it is an ideal bowel cleanser precisely because of its mildness. In moderate doses it is gentle, and detoxifies the body slowly.
But because it is slow, you can take it for longer periods of time, and then it has a deeply purifying effect. It goes deeper into the physiology and releases the toxins at a much deeper level.
Q: What do you mean by "going deeper" into the physiology?
A: There are seven tissues (dhatus) in the body, and they form in a sequence. Starting with Rasa (the nutrient fluid derived from food), the tissue chain progresses to Rakta (blood), Mamsa (muscle), Meda (fat), Asthi (bone), Majja (bone marrow) and Shukra (reproductive fluid) in a chain of reactions that is sequential and orderly.
Organic Digest Tone cleanses toxins up to and including the fat tissue. You can see that this is a much deeper effect than just cleansing the bowel. It cleanses toxins from the nutrient fluid, the blood, the muscle and the fat tissues if used for a long enough time.
Because it detoxifies the blood, muscle and fat tissues, it is excellent for preventing skin disease. And because it removes ama (toxins) from the fat tissue, Triphala also helps balance cholesterol.
Triphala can also repair any damage that has occurred in the intelligence of nature that governs the transformation from one tissue to the next. It is in the gap between the tissues that the intelligence of nature operates, and if there is any damage, Triphala can repair and reset the chain to enable proper transformation of one tissue to the next. That's what makes it a very great Rasayana. Also, it has two of the three major herbs contained in Maharishi Amrit Kalash, which is the most highly refined and rejuvenating Rasayana of all.
Q: What are the other benefits one can expect from taking Triphala?
A: Triphala also purifies the urine and prevents urinary tract disease (prameha). It enhances all thirteen agnis (digestive fires), especially the pachagni, the main digestive fire in the stomach. It pacifies Kapha and Pitta, and if taken regularly, is a powerful anti-aging Rasayana.
Q: That's quite a list of benefits that are reported in the classical ayurvedic texts. Does modern research support these benefits?
A: Yes, it certainly does. One study (Food Chemistry Toxicology, 2002) showed that Triphala had an antimutagenic effect in vitro. This is interesting, because as I mentioned earlier, Triphala can repair damage to the sequence of nature's intelligence in the "gaps" in the tissues, in the mechanics of transformation from one tissue to another. In other words, if a type of tissue forgets its connection to nature's intelligence, or is in some way damaged, Triphala can repair that damage before it manifests as a disease. This could have implications for fighting the growth of cancer or other aberrant cells.
Another study (Phytomedicine, 2002) showed that Triphala had a radioprotective effect in mice exposed to gamma-radiation. It delayed the onset of mortality and reduced the symptoms of radiation sickness in one group significantly more than the control group, which did not take Triphala. This demonstrates the ability of Triphala to act as a radiation-protective agent when administered in the proper doses.
A third study tested the effect of the three fruits used in Triphala on cholesterol-induced hypercholesterolaemia and atherosclerosis. Although all three fruits used in the Triphala formula were found to reduce serum cholesterol and cholesterol of both the liver and aorta, Haritaki had the greatest effect.
Of course, these studies are limited in their ability to show the true effects of Triphala, because they focus on the isolated ingredients. It may take years before modern science understands the importance of testing whole herbs and fruits that are combined in the right proportions according to traditional ayurvedic herbal methods — rather than the raw isolated ingredients or the so-called "active" components. The effects are much more balanced and holistic when the whole herb or fruit is processed properly and combined with other herbs in the traditional manner.
There is a verse in Charaka (an ancient ayurvedic text) that explains this principle: "The understanding of the total nature of the subject does not arise from a fragmentary knowledge of it." (Charaka Samhita, Vimanasthana 4.5)
But in any case, these studies do point in the right direction.
Q: Yes, that is quite an impressive list of studies. What makes Triphala, contained in MAPI's Organic Digest Tone, this powerful?
A: The ingredients that make up Triphala are powerful individually. When combined correctly, synergy enhances the healing quotient exponentially. The first ingredient is Haritaki — that is the Sanskrit name, pronounced har-ee'-tuck-ee. It's called Terminalia chebula or Chebulic Myrobalan in Latin. This fruit is mentioned in almost all ayurvedic textbooks. Charaka goes so far as to say that Haritaki is as nourishing and useful for everyone as mother's milk. He mentions that it's a Rasayana for the eyes (netra ruja apaharini), and helps prevent eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts.
Haritaki is also a Rasayana for the skin. It's known as a Twagamayagni, which means that it destroys skin disease. Sushruta Samhita, a classical ayurvedic text on surgery, says that Haritaki and Triphala are useful in cleansing wounds and promoting healing and regeneration from the inside. The famous ayurvedic surgeon Sushruta calls it branya, which means having the ability to heal an ulcer or wound.
Charaka also says that Haritaki is good for the digestive system. It helps enhance the absorption of nutrients in food. It is also a cardio-preventive, helping to promote heart health.
Another excellent quality of this fruit is that it cleanses the macro and micro circulatory channels, known as shrotas in Maharishi Ayurveda. In one verse of Charaka Samhita, it says Haritaki is shrotovishodhini, which means that it can clear the channels, both big and small. The Bhavprakash Nigantu, an ayurvedic text on herbal science that is part of my own family tradition, mentions that Haritaki is a yogavahini, which means that it cleanses the channels and is absorbed quickly by the body.
Because of the yogavahini effect, Haritaki also enhances mental clarity and memory. Haritaki is a Medhya fruit, which means that it enhances coordination among the mental functions of dhi (acquisition of knowledge), dhriti (retention of knowledge) and smriti (recall of knowledge or memory). It enhances mental clarity and memory, and the stamina of the mind and senses. The Bavprakash Nigantu also mentions that it is good for the health of the spleen and liver, and is a famous preventive for any liver problems.
In addition, the Charaka Samhita says that Haritaki is sarvah dosha prasamani (all-dosha pacifying). Very few fruits and herbs have this designation. It also supports the body's immune system. On top of everything, Haritaki has an anti-aging value. Charaka Samhita calls it vayasthapani (anti-aging).
Q: You have detailed an extremely impressive list of qualities. Is there research to support these traditional claims?
A: Yes, there is quite an extensive body of research on Haritaki by scientists in universities throughout the world. In support of its bactericidal quality, research shows that Haritaki has anti-bacterial effect (International Journal of Cardiology, 1988). In this study the researchers tested the effect of extracts of Haritaki on a bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori. The results indicated that water extracts of Haritaki contain a heat-stable agent with inhibiting effects and possible therapeutic potential for fighting Helicobacter Pylori and other bacterial species.
As for the reduction of liver disease, one study examined the effect of an herbal formula that contained Haritaki as the main ingredient along with four other herbs. The results showed that this formula enhanced the rate of recovery from hepatic amoebiasis by 73%, reducing the average degree of liver infection substantially (Journal of Ethno Pharmacology, 1996). The extract of this formula also was found to enhance cell-mediated immune response in golden hamsters with amoebic liver abscess.
So you can see that these benefits, which were known by the ayurvedic seers such as Charaka and Sushruta thousands of years ago, are now being recognized by modern science.
Q: That's amazing. Can you tell us about the second ingredient, Amalaki?
A: Yes. This fruit is called Amalaki in Sanskrit and in Latin it's called Emblica Officinalis Gaertn, Phyllanthus Emblica or Terminalia Emblica. Indian Gooseberry is the English name and Amla is what it's called in Hindi. But no matter by what name you call it, Amalaki has many remarkable qualities.
First of all, Amalaki is known as a divine plant in the ayurvedic materia medica. Amalaki is also a Rasayana, which means that it has longevity-enhancing and disease-defying qualities. Usually Rasayanas, which are the cream of ayurvedic herbal compounds, are made of more than one ingredient. It is extraordinary that this fruit all by itself is revered as one of the most powerful Rasayanas. The Charaka Samhita says, "Amalaki is the best among rejuvenative herbs."
Amalaki fruit contains the sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent tastes. The only taste missing is salty. Because it contains five out of the six tastes, it is balancing to all three doshas.
Amalaki has a sour taste initially, but when it mixes with the saliva, its aftertaste (vipaka) is sweet. Both sweet and sour tastes pacify Vata dosha. Amalaki's virya or potency is cool, so along with the sweet aftertaste, this coolness pacifies the hot Pitta. The bitter, astringent and pungent tastes of Amalaki balance Kapha. So that's how this one fruit pacifies all three doshas.
Q: Can you tell us some of the benefits of Amalaki mentioned in the ayurvedic texts?
A: There are so many excellent qualities in Amalaki that it's hard to know where to begin. Let's start first by saying that Amalaki helps purify toxins from the body. One way Amalaki does this is by enhancing food absorption. When your digestion becomes stronger, the food you eat is converted to nutrition rather than staying undigested and producing impurities. The unique thing about Amalaki is that it heightens digestion, yet is not heating. That's why it's traditionally considered one of the best herbs for balancing stomach acid. By enhancing digestion, it helps eliminate toxins from the body. Another way that Amalaki helps purify toxins is by strengthening and stimulating the liver. If someone has accumulated toxins due to eating junk foods, leading an unhealthy lifestyle or being exposed to chemicals, Amalaki helps flush out toxins.
It also helps elimination. Amalaki strengthens and purifies Apana Vata, and thus supports the evacuation of the bowel, urine, and menstrual flow. Amalaki helps relieve constipation, so you can see why Triphala also has that quality.
The urinary system in particular is supported by Amalaki. This fruit is helpful in treating symptoms such as a mild burning sensation while urinating. It also acts as a mild diuretic, helping the body eliminate excess water in a natural way that is not disruptive or harmful to the body. These actions are helpful in purifying the urine of toxins.
Q: Amazing. What are some other benefits of Amalaki?
A: In addition to the overall flushing of toxins I just mentioned, Amalaki cleanses the tissues throughout the body, and also strengthens specific organs.
Amalaki is a powerful tonic for the lungs, which are a seat of Kapha dosha in the body. The Amalaki fruit balances Shleshaka Kapha, which regulates moisture and mucus in the lungs, and helps the body fight respiratory infections. It nurtures and strengthens the lungs overall.
It also enhances fertility in both men and women by balancing Apana Vata. Regular and healthy menstruation, nurturing of the sperm and ovaries, strengthening of the uterus, and overall support for reproductive health are some of the ways Amalaki supports healthy conception, especially for women. It nourishes the brain and mental functioning, and is a Medhya herb, enhancing the coordination between acquisition, retention, and recall. This supports the development of a sharper intellect, stronger mind and heightened sensory awareness.
Amalaki also strengthens the cardiovascular system. It nurtures the heart, blood and circulation. Amalaki improves assimilation of iron, which is one way that it purifies and nourishes the blood.
This fruit is also excellent for the skin. Because it detoxifies the liver, and because it also cleanses the tissues of the skin and protects it from bacterial infection, it is very good for your complexion. It also moisturizes the skin, and is known to improve glow and luster. Muscle tone is also improved by Amalaki. Because it enhances protein synthesis, promotes a positive nitrogen balance and strengthens the muscles, it contributes to lean muscle mass.
The hair, nails, teeth, and bones also benefit from Amalaki, because it helps improve absorption of calcium and other nutrients. It also helps prevent graying and thinning of the hair.
The eyes are another organ that benefit from Amalaki. In fact, Amalaki is called chakshushya, which means "a Rasayana for strengthening the eyes." This is because Amalaki enhances both Ranjaka Pitta (the subdosha of Pitta that governs liver function and the blood plasma) and Alochaka Pitta (the subdosha that governs the eyes and vision). The fact that it enhances all three doshas also helps nourish the eyes and protect them from disease. Amalaki is an excellent source of Vitamin C, and is the most concentrated and absorbable source of the vitamin in the plant kingdom. It also contains absorbable minerals that nourish the skin, the blood and the whole body.
Because of its high content of Vitamin C, Amalaki is a powerful antioxidant. Scientific research shows that Amalaki is an extremely potent antioxidant, excellent at removing excess free radicals, which are at the basis of much degenerative disease and aging. All of these qualities make Amalaki a powerful immunity-enhancer.
Q: That sounds like a plant having an unsurpassed range of benefits! Is there modern research to support these claims?
A: Yes. There are many research studies on Amalaki. One dramatic study reported its detoxifying effect, showing that Amalaki restored cells of rats who had arsenic poisoning almost to their normal level of toxicity. (Phytotherapy Research, 1999). Other studies have shown that it reduces cholesterol (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1988; British Journal of Experimental Pathology, 1981; and Journal of Ethnopharmocology, 1996). Findings show that it helps protect the liver (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2000). Research on its antioxidant activity has been most impressive (Phytomedicine, 2000; Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 1999; and Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2000).
Q: What about the third ingredient, Bibhitaki?
A: This also is a famous fruit in Maharishi Ayurveda. Bibhitaki (pronounced Bib hee' tuck ee) is its Sanskrit name, Terminalia Bellerica is the Latin name, and Bahira is the Hindi name. There is not as much scientific research on this fruit, but it is famous in the classical ayurvedic texts for its many good qualities.
Both Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita mention Bibhitaki as a homeostatic, meaning that it helps create balance and pure blood in the body. Sushruta Samhita, a text on surgery, mentions that it is useful to staunch internal hemorrhaging.
Charaka also reports that it is ideal for pacifying both Pitta and Kapha. It is cool to the touch (pacifying Pitta) but is hot when you eat it (and thus pacifies Kapha). Charaka Samhita also says that Bibhitaki cleanses the Rasa, Rakta, Mamsa and Meda dhatus, which means the nutritive fluid, the blood, the muscle and the fat tissue. In addition, the Charaka Samhita says Bibhitaki is excellent for balancing and nurturing the vocal chords, is antibacterial, and is chakshushya (a Rasayana for the eyes).
Sushruta Samhita also mentions that Bhibitaki is dry and hot. It's excellent for nourishing the voice and the eyes, and is antibacterial. Sushruta also points out the bhedana effect of this fruit, which means that because of its heating quality it clears the clogged channels almost as if drilling them clear. The Bhavprakash Nigantu also mentions that Bibhitaki is nourishing for the eyes, and says it is netra hitam, meaning that it is beneficial for the eyes. Bibhitaki also nourishes the hair, and strengthens the hair root, color, and stability (and thus prevents thinning).
So now you can see why Organic Digest Tone is so powerful: it's because the three fruits that make up the formula have remarkable abilities to cleanse impurities, nurture the body and restore health.
Q: Truly, these ingredients appear remarkable, and because the whole is more than the sum of the parts, when these three fruits are combined the effect is even more pronounced. Can you tell us how Maharishi Ayurveda Organic Digest Tone is different from other varieties on the market — and there are so many companies that offer Triphala!
A: I'm glad you asked this question, because at Maharishi Ayurveda Products International, we are committed to using only the highest-quality ingredients, and to upholding the authenticity of the ayurvedic tradition no matter what the cost. This is the only way the full range of results indicated in the Vedic texts can be realized.
Let me give you one example of this. The Haritaki fruit comes in seven different varieties. While all are beneficial, most of them help with only one of the many benefits that the texts mention for Haritaki. One variety is good for the eyes, for instance, and another variety is good for clearing the bowels.
However, most buyers of Triphala don't realize that there is one variety, called Vijaya, that gives all of the results that we mentioned earlier. Vijaya is mentioned by all the great ayurvedic seers as the best variety to use, which in itself is rare, as not many fruits and herbs are universally acclaimed by all the seers.
Vijaya is the only variety that is used in Maharishi Ayurveda's Triphala, because it is, quite simply, the best. But while it is the best, Vijaya is also the most rare. This scarcity makes it more expensive; in fact it is ten times the price of other varieties of Haritaki.
It's not often that people in the U.S. know about the dramatic differences in the quality of various varieties of Haritaki. So you may not realize that the Triphala that is available from various companies for a very low price can also be of a much lower quality. Low-cost Triphala does not contain the Vijaya variety of Haritaki, which is the only variety that brings the wide ranges of benefits mentioned in the ayurvedic texts. Therefore if you take low-quality products, you cannot expect to get the full range of effects as described in this article.
Q: What are some other ways that Maharishi Ayurveda maintains high standards of quality control?
A: Let's talk about the quality of the fruits. First of all, to replicate the classical formulas, the fruits must be gathered from unpolluted areas. If there are environmental toxins in the soil, air or water, or if pesticides and chemical fertilizers were used in the culture, this would destroy the natural intelligence of the fruits and make them unsuitable for medicinal formulas.
For this reason, at Maharishi Ayurveda we harvest fruits only from unpolluted, pristine areas. We guarantee that the fruits are grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or exposure to environmental pollutants.
Secondly, it's important to harvest the fruits only at their peak, when they are ripe on the tree. If they are picked green, they won't have the beneficial properties mentioned in the classical texts. And of course they must not be overripe, fallen on the ground or rancid. At Maharishi Ayurveda we educate the gatherers to collect only the tree-ripened fruits.
Further, once the fruits are collected, at the processing factory they are sorted and tested to make sure the batch is of the right degree of ripeness and the proper quality.
Third, supply is an issue. Haritaki and Bibhitaki take many years to grow and produce fruit. In order to keep an adequate supply of tree-ripened fruit, Maharishi Ayurveda has developed wide resources, so there is always enough ripe fruit to produce our products.
Fourth, once the fruits are ripened, sanitation is an important issue. At Maharishi Ayurveda we hire trained workers, and the standards of cleanliness are extremely high. The sophisticated gathering, sorting, preparation and processing systems that we have developed ensure that no foreign material is included in the formula. The fruits are washed and cleansed of traces of jute (jute bags are used to collect the fruit), dirt and dust. They are tested for foreign material, heavy metals and for bacteria before, during and after processing.
Fifth, the processing method must not destroy the natural properties of the fruits. Most automatic grinding machines create heat, for example, and high heat destroys the medicinal properties of the fruits. At Maharishi Ayurveda we have taken care to use only grinders that do not produce heat during processing.
In conclusion, I want to put out an alert: not every brand of Triphala tablets is of good quality. If you are going to purchase Triphala tablets, it would be wise to ask the manufacturer what their arrangement is with their supplier in India. You should ask them about their gathering, sorting and processing methods. If the gatherers are unskilled, if they are collecting immature fruits or fruit that has already fallen to the ground, then the poor quality of the fruit will reflect on your health. If the company cannot guarantee that the fruits are carefully sorted and the bad fruits thrown out, that the fruits are cleansed of bacteria, dirt, and grime, then obviously you don't want to buy that product. You also want to make sure that they are ISO certified. ISO is an international organization that sets standards for product quality. I recommend Triphala as it is contained in MAPI's Organic Digest Tone.
Q: Are there any lifestyle or dietary tips to help support detoxification and the other benefits of Triphala while you're taking it?
A: Yes, certainly that is a good point. First of all, it's important to avoid building up toxins in your body in the first place. Avoid foods that include chemical preservatives, emulsifiers and additives of any kind. Also try to avoid foods that are grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, as these toxins enter your body and get stuck there, forming the basis for disease. Eat fresh, organic, well-cooked foods whenever possible.
Avoid eating packaged, frozen, canned, "fast" or leftover foods, as these dead foods are hard to digest and create toxins when the body can't digest them properly. Then your body just has to work harder to remove them from the body.
There are other dietary changes you can make to improve your digestion and to avoid building up digestive toxins such as ama and amavisha (toxic matter). Avoid ice-cold drinks, as they reduce the digestive fire. Drink plenty of warm water throughout the day to help flush out toxins. Eat sweet, juicy fruits daily if possible, as these help cleanse the Rasa (nutrient fluid) and the bowels.
Avoid exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible, including air pollution, chemicals in your household cleansers, and chemicals in your drinking water. Buy chemical-free detergents, use an indoor air purifier if you live in a smoggy area, and purchase a water filter to remove toxins from your drinking and bathing water. Avoid imbibing toxic substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.
Besides eating pure foods, there are many things you can do each day to reduce digestive toxins. For instance, go to bed by 10 p.m. so your body can rest during its natural purification period from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. That will go a long way in purifying your body of toxins.
Eat your main meal at midday, when your digestive fire is high. Eat lighter at breakfast and supper, when your digestion is not as strong. Save the harder-to-digest foods such as yogurt, meats (if you're not vegetarian), and potatoes for the noon meal.
Keeping a regular time for eating meals is best, because your body can prepare itself when the meals are eaten at the same time each day. Eat only when you're hungry, and wait a full three hours after a main meal before snacking. This will allow the food to digest properly. Take your time when you eat, and be sure to chew your food. Don't try to watch TV, read or work while you're eating, as that will only be a recipe for indigestion. Savor the flavors; enjoy the colors, aromas and textures of your food. Light, pleasant conversation with people you love is best for digestion. Avoid intense conversations or emotional topics while eating.
Eat only until you are ¾ full. Usually it takes a few minutes for the brain to register that you're full, so if you eat until you're stuffed, you're probably going to feel uncomfortable a while later. Also, the digestive system needs some space to operate in, so stuffing yourself to the maximum will actually inhibit digestion. Allow five minutes to sit after the meal is finished to get your digestion off to the right start.
When you drink milk, boil it first with fresh ginger or cardamom pod, or add a pinch each of the ground ginger and cardamom spices. Let the milk cool to the temperature you like and then drink it. This is the ayurvedic way to make milk more digestible and to avoid the build-up of mucus. Avoid combining milk with salty foods, fish, and foods of mixed taste. It digests well when you drink it alone between meals, or with other sweet tastes such as cereal, desserts, or toast.
Q: Thank you. I think that this in-depth understanding of the benefits of Triphala, contained in MAPI's Organic Digest Tone, could help almost everyone.
A: Yes, Organic Digest Tone can help almost anyone in his or her effort to prevent disease and enjoy a better quality of life. The only people who should not take Triphala are those who are allergic to any of these three fruits.
"The understanding of the total nature of the subject does not arise from a fragmentary knowledge of it."
(Charaka Samhita, Vimanasthana 4.5)
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The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.