September 4

Flashback Friday: Amla vs. Drugs for Cholesterol, Inflammation, & Blood-Thinning


Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Indian gooseberries, otherwise known as amla, have been touted as everything from a cancer fighter to a “hair tonic” to a “refrigerant,” whatever that means—what, like freon? Not to mention, a “snake venom detoxifier.” Complete with fancy diagrams, but based on what kind of research?

Yes, “[d]ietary intake of [both turmeric and amla] increases the life span [of fruit flies].” But, do we really care about the effects of amla on the life span, or the “sexual behavior” for that matter, of fruit flies? How do you even study the sexual behavior of fruit flies? Why, obviously, you just introduce “a virgin female and [a] bachelor male…into an “Elens-Wattiaux mating chamber.” Can you imagine having an insect-mating chamber named after you? And, it looks like there were two fighting over naming rights; so, they had to go with both!

Then, it’s just a matter of getting out a stopwatch. Twenty minutes is the average duration, but almost a half-hour on amla, the studly beast, and it dropped the mating latency, the time between when they were introduced to one another in the chamber, and when they started getting busy from ten down to seven…seconds! They don’t mess around. Well, actually, they do mess around—and quite rapidly.

And, on amla, they lay more eggs, and more hatched into larvae. But, just like when you hear amla is “the best medicine to increase…lifespan,” you’re probably not thinking about flies. When you read about amla may be a “potent aphrodisiac”, you’re probably not thinking, “More maggots!”

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Now, there was this study that found extraordinary improvements in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol—in actual humans, but that was compared to placebo. What about compared to simvastatin, a leading cholesterol-lowering drug, sold as Zocor? Treatment with the drug “produced significant reduction[s]” in cholesterol, as one would expect. But, so did the amla. In fact, you could hardly tell which was which. Now note, this was only about a 10 to 15% drop in total and LDL cholesterol. In this study, the amla dose was only 500 milligrams, which is like a tenth of a teaspoon. So, smaller than the eighth of a teaspoon a day. And, it wasn’t just the powdered fruit, but the powdered juice of the fruit, which may have made a difference.

How about versus Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug known as atorvastatin? No effect of taking placebos, but significant improvements for the drug, and significant improvements for two amla doses—but again, only about 15% or so. Did they just use the juice again? No, worse; some patented extract of amla. So, instead of five cents a day, it’s 50 cents a day, and doesn’t seem to work as well. But, because there’s this proprietary version, at least there’s someone willing to pony up the funds to do the research.

It’s like the cancer story. “For [Indian gooseberries] to become relevant clinically,” they’re praying that “patentable derivatives [be] synthesized. Without the possibility of patents, the pharmaceutical industry [isn’t going to] invest” in the research; their shareholders wouldn’t let them. It’s patents over patients. But, without that research, how can we ever prove its worth—or worthlessness, for that matter?

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So, drug and supplement industry interest in patenting natural food product remedies is a double-edged sword. Without it, there would never have been this study—showing not only benefits for cholesterol, but also arterial function: reducing artery stiffness in the two amla-extract groups and the drug group, but not placebo, as well as a dramatic drop in inflammation; C-reactive protein levels cut in half.

So, amla—or at least amla extracts—”may be a good therapeutic alternative to statins in diabetic patients with [artery] dysfunction because it has [many of] the beneficial effects of the statins but without the well known [potential] adverse [side-]effects of [the drugs]”—including muscle damage or liver dysfunction.

The amla extract was also compared to the blood-thinning drugs, aspirin and Plavix, often prescribed after heart attacks, and achieved about three-quarters of the same platelet aggregation-inhibiting effect as the drugs; significantly increasing the “bleeding and clotting time,” where they poke you with a needle, and see how many seconds it takes you to stop dripping. So, that’s actually a good thing, if you have a stent or something that you don’t want to clog up. But, it didn’t thin the blood outside the normal range, and so it may not unduly raise the risk of major bleeding.

It also appears to decrease the effects of stress on the heart. They had people plunge their hand into ice water, and keep it there until the pain became “unbearable.” This causes your arteries to constrict and blood pressure to go up—but not as much if you’re taking amla extract. Good to know for your next ice bucket challenge.

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