Can Indian gooseberry (amla fruit) help restore hair to its former color or regrow hair that's fallen out? This was the question I had as I listed to a podcast that was discussing this herbal supplement. Does it really work? As I soon found, there is some research on Indian gooseberry – also called amla and amla Berry – and that will be the focus of this review. Is it the hair fountain of youth? If you also have been hearing about the hair benefits of this superfood, keep reading. Let's see what we can discover.
Indian Gooseberry Benefits
Indian gooseberry, whose scientific name is Phyllanthus Emblica refers to the fruit of a tree that grows in various places of the world including Asia. The fruit of the tree, which has a green color and bitter taste, has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of conditions such as weight loss, arthritis pain and high cholesterol.
For this review however, I want to zero in on just the hair benefits and pay particular attention any human evidence that exists on Indian gooseberry helping hair growth or slowing or reversing gray hair.
Like all foods, gooseberries are composed of thousands of compounds many of which are antioxidants like vitamin C and polyphenols. Because of this, it's wise to remember that any benefits of the this food is likely the result of a combination of its different ingredients.
In other words, it's likely that no single ingredient is responsible for its benefits. As such, when choosing an Indian gooseberry supplement, it's probably better to use one that contains the whole food rather than an “extract” which might leave out other important ingredients.
Indian gooseberry, like other herbal supplements goes by many names. Just a few of the other names for this food include Amla and Amla fruit, Amla berry, Amaliki, Emblic and Emblica officinalis to name a few.
In the US, Indian gooseberry and Amla fruit are its more familiar names so those are the names I'll use in this review.
Indian Gooseberry: Hair Growth Research
Can Indian gooseberry (amla fruit) grow hair? Well, some websites advocate massaging Indian Gooseberry fruit into the scalp to improve blood flow. This is done when the fruit is mixed with coconut or almond oil and made into a paste. But, those websites provide no proof that doing this actually works.
While rubbing it into the scalp won't hurt anybody, I wanted to see if there were human, clinical studies on hair growth. So, I searched the National Library of Medicine, which houses millions of clinical studies for these words:
- Indian gooseberry hair
- Amla hair
- Phyllanthus Emblica hair
- Emblica officinalis hair
I performed the same searches in Google too, just to cover my bases. In theory, these words should reveal the clinical research performed on Indian gooseberry helping hair growth.
Here is the evidence I could locate.
Hair loss is though to be related to levels of DHT (di-hydro-testosterone). An enzyme, called 5α-reductase, converts testosterone to DHT. Thus, as DHT levels go up, hair loss gets worse. Blocking the 5α-reductase enzyme lowers DHT and helps slow hair loss. This is actually the idea behind a drug called Propecia (also called, Finasteride).
Some hair loss supplements contain natural ingredients that can block 5α-reductase and in doing so, hopeful, slow hair loss (and promote hair regrowth).
This is where Indian gooseberry comes in…
In a mouse study from 2009 titled 5α-reductase inhibition and hair growth promotion of some Thai plants traditionally used for hair treatment, Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica) was found to inhibit the 5α-reductase enzyme. This study only involved mice and, it unfortunately, was not designed to test if Indian gooseberry slowed hair loss or restored hair already fallen out.
So what about people?
Does Indian gooseberry block 5α-reductase in humans? And, if it does, does it slow hair loss? If that evidence exists, it cannot be located. When I become aware of such evidence, this section of the review will be updated.
Also see the Viviscal review for more information on that hair growth supplement.
Indian Gooseberry: Gray Hair Research
Performing an online search for “Indian gooseberry gray hair” reveals many websites that discuss home remedies of this fruit that are said to naturally restore hair color. The same thing happens when one searches for “Amla fruit gray hair” too. Many of these do-it-yourself hair formulas involve mixing Indian gooseberry with coconut oil or lemon juice, making a paste out of it and applying it to the scalp to be left on overnight. This is pretty much the same recipe as what is recommended for growing hair (see above).
The problem with all these websites is that none of them show us any real proof that Indian gooseberry helps gray hair. That doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't work. It just means nobody is showing proof.
That's what I'm interested in. So, let's try to see what evidence is out there.
I searched both Pubmed.gov and the internet in general, for these words:
- Indian gooseberry gray hair
- Amla gray hair
- Phyllanthus Emblica gray hair
- Emblica officinalis gray hair
As I did above in the previous section, the hope is that these phrases would reveal clinical studies – hopefully involving humans – of Indian gooseberry and hair color. Here is a summary of what I uncovered.
According to the plant's Wikipedia page, Indian gooseberry can be used to help dyes attach to fabrics. Interesting. Might this be where gooseberry got its “reverses gray hair” reputation from? Regardless, it's commonly believed that hair becomes gray because an enzyme-called catalase begins to diminish in the body.
Catalase, an antioxidant enzyme, reduces levels of hydrogen peroixide in hair follicles. So, as catalase levels in the body fall, hydrogen peroxide levels rise. This elevated hydrogen peroxide level knocks out the ability of the hair cells to produce the pigment, melanin, that gives hair its color.
Just as applying hydrogen peroxide to the outside of hair, bleaches it, the accumulation of hydrogen peroixde inside hair causes it to change color too.
A study performed using rats, titled Emblica officinalis exerts wound healing action through up-regulation of collagen and extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2), noted that Indian goosberrry raised levels catalase and other antioxidant enzymes. In theory, this might mean it can reduce hydrogen peroxide and thus allow the melanin pigment in hair to build up again, restoring the natural color to hair.
The problem however, is that there doesn't appear to be any human research on it at this time. If those human studies exist, I can't locate them.
And while we are on the topic, if catalase really is THE big reason why hair turns gray, it's odd how nobody seems to have tried injections of catalasse to see if it really works or not. This was the same question I had during my review of gray hair supplements which I recommend you read after finishing this review.
Indian Gooseberry Shampoo
Some hair loss shampoos may contain Indian goosberry (also called Amla ). This is probably because of evidence that the fruit might reduce 5α-reductase, an enzyme involved in hair loss, because it converts testosterone into DHT (see above for the evidence).
I found several Amla shampoos on Amazon and I'm sure healthfood stores have them too. Some might choose to cut out the middle man and replace the shampoo with amla juice instead.
Either way, because of the lack of human research, it is difficult to know how well amla-containing shampoos or amla juice work at slowing hair loss or promoting hair growth. If they do work, they may take a few weeks of use before any reductions in hair loss are noticed.
See the castor oil hair growth review fore more insights.
Where To Buy Indian Gooseberry?
Indian gooseberry supplements may be found in some specialty health food stores When looking for Indian gooseberry supplements, remember many of them can be identified by the word
“Amla” in their name or on the ingredients list. Of the products I saw during this review, most were inexpensive, costing between $10 and $20.
Indian Gooseberry Side Effects
While Indian gooseberry (amla fruit) is probably safe for most people, because of the lack of human research, it's difficult to know what side effects it might be when used long term as a supplement. Because of this, it's wise to speak to a doctor/pharmacist first if:
- you take any medications
- you have any health issues
- you are pregnant or breastfeeding
It's also wise to stop taking Indian gooseberry -and other supplements – at least 2 weeks before having surgery.
When starting any new supplement, start with less than is recommended for the first week. This is to help reduce any side effect you might notice.
Whether or not it's better to take Indian gooseberry supplements on an empty stomach or with food also needs more research. While everybody is different, when in doubt, taking supplements with food should reduce GI side effects that might occur in some people.
Some people ask online questions about whether or not amla fruit is harmful to the kidneys. While one study noted that amla fruit did not alter kidney or liver function, because this is a complicated issue, those with kidney, liver or other health problems should speak to their doctor/pharmacist for more personalized information.
On the plus side, alma fruit might be good for lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides. For diabetics, this may be good but its something to consider if you take any blood sugar lowering medications.
Does Indian Gooseberry Work?
When it comes to restoring hair to it's natural color or growing hair, I don't think Indian gooseberries (amla fruit) are ready for prime time. This conclusion is based on the lack of human research. When that research is published, I look forward to seeing it. There is no doubt that gooseberries are full of nutrients and have health benefits, so if you want to eat them or add them to smoothies, that's great. For those investigating this fruit to restore hair to its former glory, just go into it with no expectations and see what happens after a month or so. If you have tried Indian gooseberry, leave a comment below share your experiences. I'm curious to read what happened when you tried it.