Triphala: wonderful Ayurvedic mix of plants

Triphala formula contains Amalaki, Haritaki and Bibhitaki is considered a ‘tri-doshic rasayana’ – it is one of the most popular Ayurvedic herbal remedies as it helps rectify constipation and bowel irregularity but is also something of a universal panacea for a wide range of complaints.

It helps cleanse the blood and detoxify the liver as it possesses bitter anthroquinones which help stimulate bile flow and peristalsis. It is a powerful tonic as it is high in vitamin C, linoleic oil, phospholipids and other important nutrients. It is rich in antioxidants that fight free radicals and has anti-viral (HIV, AIDS, herpes etc) and anti-bacterial properties. It tonifies and protects the heart whilst also lowering blood pressure and reducing fat and cholesterol. It helps with the digestion and assimilation of food, improves blood circulation and has anti-inflammatory properties. It revitalises the whole body by removing toxins, gas and distension whilst nourishing the nervous system. It is good for anemia, fatigue, candida, cancer, allergies, constipation, diarrhoea, yeast infections, indigestion and skin disorders. It can be used for all eye diseases including conjunctivitis, progressive myopia, glaucoma and cataracts.

Traditionally triphala is taken as a churna or powder as the taste on the tongue is important to its action. Two or three grams of the powder can be taken daily with warm water for health maintenance (alternatively, 1g can be taken three times a day between meals). Larger doses are more laxative whilst smaller doses are more gradually blood purifying. The dose taken should be increased or decreased according to the response of the bowels.

triphala powder, tripala, triphala churnaThe nutritional aspect is in its high content of vitamin C, linoleic oil and other important nutrients, making it more of a tonic.  Of the three fruits, Harada contains laxative, astringent, lubricant, antiparasitical, alterative, antispasmodic and nervine properties.  Amla is the highest known source of vitamin C and has been shown to have mild anti-bacterial properties, pronounced expectorant, anti-viral and cardiotonic activity.  Bihara is astringent, tonic, digestive and anti-spasmodic.  It purifies and balances excess mucus, treats asthma, bronchial conditions, allergies and hiccoughs.  With all the virtues of these three individual herbs, Triphala has many wide and varied uses as a therapeutic herbal food.

What are the benefits? Triphala is one of the safest and most strengthening of the cleansing herb formulas; it gently promotes internal detoxification of all conditions of stagnation and excess while improving digestion and assimilation.  It has been shown to be an effective blood purifier that stimulates bile secretion as it detoxifies the liver.  Triphala benefits circulation, improves digestion and regulates elimination without causing any laxative dependency. Triphala is also taken for all eye disorders the treatment of conjunctivitis, progressive myopia, early stages of glaucoma and cataracts.  Triphala can be highly effective in removing stagnation of both the liver and intestines and is one of the greatest and most popular rejuvenators in ayurvedic medicine; it helps to aid the body’s natural detoxification and elimination processes without weakening systems or becoming habit forming.

Triphala Dosage

Place one rounded tablespoon for purging effect or one level teaspoon for mild cleansing into one cup of water or fruit juice and let it sit over night. Triphala has a strong taste, so it is easier if you drink it with juice or even better is to place some honey on the tongue before swallowing each gulp. About 45 min. later if you are doing purging or break fasting drink one liter of slightly salty, warm water. This will flush through the intestines and help remove what the Triphala has loosened from the intestinal walls. There should be many evacuations shortly after. If nothing happens, it means you are very clogged up with toxins so you may need to increase the dosage.
If the Triphala makes you feel like vomiting you should drink extra water and induce vomiting with your fingers. Nausea is an indication that there is accumulated phlegm or undigested food held up in the stomach which the Triphala has stirred up. By removing this through vomiting you can cure digestive problems as well as strengthen the digestion. Triphala is also available in pill form from your local health food store however the powdered tea is much more effective. Purging should be done in the morning, the teaspoon dosage can be taken just before bedtime to help regulate morning bowel movements and mildly cleanse the intestines.

Triphala Ingredients

The recipe for this traditional herbal supplement dates back thousands of years and is referenced in the traditional Indian texts the Charak and Sushrut Samhitas. Triphala is considered a ‘tridoshic rasayan’, having balancing and rejuvenating effects on the three constitutional elements that govern human life: Vata which regulates the nervous system, Pitta which maintains metabolic processes, and Kapha which supports structural integrity. Some of the most popular herbal remedies in the health supplement departments are those which ‘cleanse’ by promoting bowel movement. A reason is that one of the most common problems among many individuals is constipation and bowel irregularity. This can lead to poorer general digestion and liver function, less vitality and perhaps even less optimism and an overall poorer outlook and quality of life. Sound like a panacea? Well, it may be just about that.

Triphala is the most popular Ayurvedic herbal formula of India partly because it is an effective laxative which also supports the body’s vitality. The constitution of vegetarian Hindus cannot tolerate harsh laxatives anymore than vegetarians in other countries. Because of its high nutritional value, Triphala is considered to uniquely cleanse and detoxify at the deepest organic levels without depleting the body’s reserves. This may make it one of the most valuable herbal preparations in the world.

How is triphala different from other kinds of laxatives? There are three primary types of herbal laxatives, sometimes overlapping in even one plant. The first type is more irritating and draining while the other two are more lubricating and nourishing.

The strongest (yet also potentially most harsh) type is called the purgative and includes herbs such as senna, rhubarb, buckthorn, coffeeberry and cascara. These often contain bitter principles in the form of anthroquinones which work by stimulating the peristaltic action of the intestinal lining or by promoting the secretion of bile through the liver and gall bladder. The tasting of the bitterness induces many other beneficial digestive secretions as well. Entire schools of herbalism in both the east and the west have been largely devoted to this bitter purgative road leading to the goal of detoxification.

The second type of laxative is a lubricating, oily or moist laxative and includes oils and seeds of hemp or sesame and the kernals of various members of the ‘stone-fruit’ genus Prunus such as Apricot, Peach, and Bush Cherry. Oils cause the gallbladder to secrete bile (in healthy people) which can enhance digestion as well. These items are more nourishing in general than the purgatives, but more care is needed in their use than in the last type. Castor oil is in this oily group but castor seed also has irritating properties (which are largely purified in making the oil) which are more purgative. Flax gives both the lubricating oil and another type of compound in the seed which brings us to the last type of laxative, a very thick topic indeed.

The third type is the soluble fiber or mucilaginous bulk laxative, including demulcent substances such as psyllium seed, marshmallow root, irish moss, guar gum and flax seed. This is more purely nutritional and local in action and usually does not have any significant direct effect on either the liver or the gall bladder. Rather, these materials work like a sponge by swelling and absorbing fluid, thus acting as an intestinal broom.

Triphala combines both nutritional as well as blood and liver cleansing (detoxifying) actions. It has little function as a local demulcent but is more of a lubricating source of nourishment and also possesses some bitter anthroquinones which help stimulate bile flow and peristalsis. The nutritional aspect is partly in the form of its bioflavonoids, high vitamin C content and the presence of linoleic oil, phospholipids and other important nutrients which it makes more of a tonic.

Typically, people who are in need of purgatives are those whose bowel irregularity is caused by liver and gall bladder congestion. An ‘excess’ or heated pitta type may benefit from this type the most directly as well. Those in need of oily or demulcent laxatives are those with intestinal dryness caused by a variety of metabolic factors including dietary and nutritional deficiencies as well as conditions of metabolism. The oily ones may be better for vata ( and some ‘deficient’ ) types in general and the milder demulcents for anyone really but particularly for kapha (or ‘damp’) types, who may not do well with ‘cold’ or oily herbs. As mentioned, triphala does well for all these types. Triphala has strength as well as gentleness and versatility. It will prove useful for all kinds of constipation except that caused by a lack of vital energy (or ‘qi’). Even for the latter type, it will not further deplete such an individual and can be made to work well if it is combined with other qi, blood or yang-warming tonic herbs such as ginseng for qi tonification, tang kuei for blood tonification and prepared aconite for yang tonification.

Herbal healing is largely a matter of strategy. One approach may emphasize tonification while another emphasizes elimination. The problem with overemphasizing tonification is that it can lead to further stagnation and congestion in an excess condition. Emphasizing elimination through the overuse of purgatives in an already deficient individual can further deplete the body’s store of minerals and essential B vitamins as well as create an imbalance of beneficial intestinal micro-organisms. The result is weakness with a likely tendency towards chronic fatigue and anemia. Since the body is always simultaneously involved with maintaining and gaining strength through good nutrition as well as eliminating waste, triphala is unique in that it is naturally able to support both vital processes simultaneously.

Because of its high nutritional content, Ayurvedic doctors generally do not regard Triphala as a mere laxative. Some of the scientific research and practical experience of people using it down through the ages has demonstrated that triphala is an effective blood purifier that stimulates bile secretion as it detoxifies the liver, helps digestion and assimilation, and significantly reduces serum cholesterol and lipid levels throughout body. As a result, it is regarded as a kind of universal panacea and is the most commonly prescribed herbal formula. A popular folk saying in India is, “No mother? Do not worry so long as you have triphala.” One reason is that Indian people believe triphala is able to care for the internal organs of the body as a mother cares for her children, nourishing like a mothers milk and cleaning like her gentle hand. Each of the three herbal fruits of triphala takes care of the body by improving digestion and assimilation while gently promoting internal cleansing of all conditions of stagnation and excess.

The name ‘Triphala’ means ‘three fruits’. The three fruits of triphala (Harada, Amla and Bihara) each correspond to the “three humours” or “tridosha” of Indian Ayurvedic medicine. According to Ayurvedic theory, the body is composed of three doshas or humours. Vata is sometimes translated as “wind” which corresponds to the mind and nervous system. Its nature is dry, cold, light and activating. The second is pitta which is also translated as “fire” or “bile.” It is responsible for all metabolic transformations including the digestion and assimilation of food as well as assimilation and clarity of thought and understanding. The nature of pitta is primarily hot, moist and light. Kapha is sometimes translated as the “water” or “mucus” humour and is responsible for all anabolic or building functions such as the development of muscle and bone tissue. Its nature is cool, moist and heavy.
Triphala Ingredients are: Whole powdered fruits and/or herbal (fruit) extracts of Beleric myrobalan, Chebulic myrobalan (Terminalia chebula), Emblic myrobalan (Indian Gooseberry).

Chebulic myrobalan (Terminalia chebula)
Harada, Haritaki (mispronounced as ‘He zi’ in chinese herbalism) which is bitter, sour, astringent., salty, sweet and warm; Works on the Stomach, Lung and Large Intestine. Harada has five of the six ayurvedic flavors but particularly a bitter flavor. It is associated with the vata humour as well as the air and space elements. It treats imbalances and diseases of the vata humour. Harada possesses laxative, astringent, lubricant, antiparasitical, alterative, antispasmodic and nervine properties. It is therefore used to treat acute and chronic constipation, nervousness, anxiety and feelings of physical heaviness.
Among Tibetans, Harada is so highly revered for its purifying attributes that it is the small fruit that is depicted in the hands of the “medicine Buddha” in their sacred paintings or tankas. This was because the herb is so useful in many ways for lessening suffering among beings (which is the primary goal of life for Tibetan Buddhists, among a few others). Of the three fruits, Harada is the most laxative and contains anthroquinones similar to those found in rhubarb and cascara. This is a 50 to 80 foot tall tree that grows at various altitudes. The fruit, traditionally picked in the spring, is a rich source of tannins, amino acids, fructose, succinic acid and Beta Sitosterol.

One of numerous studies of Harada demonstrated its ‘anti-vata’ or anti-spasmodic properties by the reduction of abnormal blood pressure as well as intestinal spasms. This confirms its traditional usefulness for heart conditions, spastic colon and other intestinal disorders. Japanese studies show it is of potential value in treating AIDS, herpes and acyclovir resistant herpes and obesity. A Korean study shows that an extract of the fruit is more antioxidant than either BHA or BHT, two strong antioxidants long used as food preservatives and now as so-called ‘anti-aging’ supplements.

Beleric myrobalan (Terminalia belerica )
Bibitaki, Bihara (sanskrit): Is astringent, sweet, bitter, pungent and warm; Works on the Lungs, Heart and Liver. Bihara is tonic, digestive and anti-spasmodic. Its primary flavor is astringent and the secondary is sweet, bitter and pungent. It targets imbalances associated with the kapha or mucus humour, corresponding to the earth and water elements in Ayurvedic medicine. Specifically Bihara purifies and balances excess mucus, treats asthma, bronchiole conditions, allergies and hiccoughs. Bihara is a 60 to 80 foot tall tree widely distributed in Indian foothills. The fruit is collected in late winter. Studies of the fruit of Bihara found that it contains up to 35% oil and 40% protein. The oil is used in soap making and by the poorer classes as a substitute cooking oil for ghee. The sweet smelling oil is 35% palmitic, 24% oleic and 31% linoleic. Linoleic oil is an essential fatty acid important for increasing HDL cholesterol, associated with a healthy state and reducing LDL cholesterol, considered to indicate a higher-than-average risk for developing coronary-heart disease. Some of the phospholipids this fruit contains are now marketed for mind enhancement (such as phosphotidalcholine). A study done by K. Anand shows it has liver protective activity. It is also anti-mutagenic.

Emblic Myrobalan, Indian Gooseberry (Emblica officinalis)
Amalaki, Amla (sanskrit) Which is sour, astringent, sweet, pungent, bitter and cooling; Works on the Lungs, Liver, Stomach and Heart. Amla has a sour flavor which corresponds to the pitta humour and the fire element in Ayurvedic medicine. It is a cooling tonic, astringent, mildly laxative, alterative, antipyretic. It is used to treat fire imbalances that include ulcers, inflammation of the stomach, intestines, constipation, diarrhea, liver congestion, eruptions, infections and burning feelings throughout the body. In various studies, Amla has been shown to have mild anti-bacterial properties, pronounced expectorant, anti-viral and cardiotonic activity. Amla is a source of antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and Vit. C. It is the among the highest known land sources of vitamin C, Having 20 times the vitamin C content of an orange. Amla is also uniquely heat stable. Even when subjected to prolonged high heat, as in the making of the Ayurvedic tonic formula called Chyavanprash, Amla, as the primary herb comprising 50% of the formula, hardly loses any of the vitamin C that is present when it is freshly harvested off the tree. The same is true of Amla that has been dried and kept for up to a year. This age and heat stable form of vitamin C in Amla is due to the presence of certain tannins that bind and inhibit its dissipation.

One Indian study reported by C.P. Thakur, demonstrated the enormous value and effectiveness of Amla, reducing serum, aortic and hepatic cholesterol in rabbits. Gulati also showed liver protective action in vivo. In another study, extracts of Amla fruit were found to decrease serum free fatty acids and increase cardiac glycogen. This helps to prevent heart attacks by providing significantly greater protection and nourishment to the heart muscle. A Japanese study shows it is anti-mutagenic. A comparative study of the efficacy of Emblica officinalis fruit powder with a conventional antacid formulation was performed. In a 4 week study, 38 patients with dyspepsia and with or without stomach ulcer were divided into two groups : one group received the fruit powder and the other, the antacid. Emblica was used at the level of 3 gm per dose, three times a day while gel antacid was used at 30 ml per dose, up to 6 times a day. The improvement in the clinical symptoms score (belching, fullness, heartburn, regurgitation, nausea and vomiting) in ulcer dyspeptics was from the initial 4.2 to 0.4 (p < 0.01) post treatment score for antacid group, and 4.6 to 0.6 (p<0.05) for the Emblica group. Endoscopic examination showed all ulcers in the antacid group in the process of healing, while all but one patient in Emblica group had completely healed ulcers. In the non-ulcer group both antacid and Emblica produced a significant decrease in clinical symptoms score from 4.4 to 1.53 (p<0.01) and 5.0 to 1.61 (p<0.01) respectively.
All three fruits have proven to be antioxidant (18), anti-HIV (14) and anti-allergic (18). With all the virtues of the three individual herbs, triphala has many wide and varied uses as a therapeutic herbal food. Before considering pathological indications for which triphala would be appropriate, we should never ignore the value of taking it on some regular basis whether once daily or once or twice a week simply for health maintenance. Triphala, having great nutritional properties, may certainly help to support health.

Ama is a term denoting a substance associated in Ayurveda with chronic disease patterns and symptoms of aging. It is described as a kind of sticky buildup of material that clogs the circulatory channels. In many ways it is nearly identical to the accumulation of excess cholesterol and blood lipids described in the West. Both conditions seem to contribute to a wide variety of circulatory disorders ranging from senility, rheumatic interesting that in Traditional Chinese Medicine there are also a pathological condition like this. The Traditional Chinese conditions known as ‘damp heat’ and ‘invisible phlegm’ sometimes overlap with ama. These conditions can include manifestations as varied as allergies, excess phlegm, skin conditions and foggy thinking as well as high cholesterol. One of the body’s reactions to coping with stress is to increase the production of corticosteroids. The accumulation of these stress hormones can also contribute to the formation of cholesterol. Internal stress and the resultant buildup of cholesterol can be caused by the abuse of stimulants, spicy, hot foods such as garlic and cayenne, excessive aerobic exercise and repression of the emotions. It is interesting that an excess of some of those same warming substances and activities that lower cholesterol in some, when not utilized in a holistic, balanced manner, can act as a stimulant and add further stress that would precipitate the further accumulation of cholesterol in others.

Triphala is one of two Ayurvedic formulations that are specific for eliminating Ama and cholesterol from the body. Triphala is a completely balanced energetic formula, being neither too cold, nor too hot. When taken regularly over a long period, it gently effects the elimination and purification of Ama from the tissues of the entire body. The three fruits have been scientifically studied and confirm some of its known traditional benefits. These include the lowering of cholesterol, reducing high blood pressure, benefiting circulation, improving digestion and regulating elimination without causing any laxative dependency.
Regardless of any other herbs used, triphala can be prescribed singly or adjunctively whenever there are symptoms of inflammation, heat, infection, obesity and other conditions of excess. Because of its combined tonic and eliminative properties, it is generally quite safe to give even for deficiency diseases including anemia, fatigue, candida, poor digestion and assimilation. Unlike other eliminative and cleansing herbs, triphala is safely taken for symptoms of wasting heat that frequently accompanies diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and AIDS. The one time not to use triphala is during pregnancy. It’s ‘downward flowing’ energy is believed to favor miscarriage.