Vitamin C and Friends
A fruit called amla supplies this key nutrient along with its bioflavonoid partners.
by Lisa James
It’s the daddy of them all: Vitamin C has been a nutritional superstar ever since respected biochemist Linus Pauling first sang its praises in the 1970s, its reputation as a boon to health solidly entrenched even among people who know little else about nutrition.
What many people don’t know is that vitamin C doesn’t occur in a vacuum: In nature it is accompanied by other substances called bioflavonoids that boost C’s effects. And a valuable source of that vitamin C/bioflavonoid combination is a fruit called amla, also known as Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis).
Vitamin C is best known as a potent antioxidant, or neutralizer of harmful free radicals, in the watery parts of cells. It can also recharge the antioxidant capacity of vitamin E, which operates in the cell’s fat-based structures.
In addition, vitamin C serves as a crucial cofactor in many enzymatic reactions, such as that which produces the structural protein collagen. That explains why a lack of C can result in rough-looking, easily bruised skin.
Not getting enough vitamin C has effects that go far beyond poor appearance, however. Less-than-optimal levels have been linked to increases in risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cataracts and gout. Vitamin C research is ongoing; for example, one lab study found that high-dosage supplementation may help maintain immune function in older people (British Journal of Nutrition 2/15).
Bioflavonoids are also powerful antioxidants that help protect C from oxidation, increasing the vitamin’s own free radical-fighting power. These plant compounds have been associated with better cardiovascular and immune health along with stronger skin and connective tissue.
Tradition and Science
Amla, the fruit of a tree that grows in India, contains generous levels of vitamin C as well as key bioflavonoids. That country’s Ayurvedic medicine has long used amla to support brain, heart and liver well-being; amla is also seen as promoting greater vitality, sharper vision, healthier-looking skin and hair, enhanced muscle tone and better urinary and bowel function.
Now these traditional usages have been bolstered by scientific reseach. In one high-quality study—randomized, double-blind—amla extract was as effective as drug therapy in improving blood-vessel function and fighting oxidative stress among people with type 2 diabetes, a major cardiovascular risk factor (Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy 7/13). In another study, amla was able to protect blood vessels against stress induced in the lab and it has shown an ability to reduce inflammation, which is now seen as a contributing factor to any number of chronic disorders (Pharmacognosy Research 1-3/14, International Journal of Inflammation 8/21/14 online). Other investigations have fouund amla to help protect the kidneys, testes and other tissues against environmental toxins.
Unfortunately, amla fruit is generally not available in the US, so using amla-based supplements is the best way to get its benefits. It is often used in formulations with other fruits high in vitamin C, such as lemons and acerola cherries. Organic sources eliminate the risk of contamination by pesticide residues and other toxins.
Amla-based supplements can help supply the vitamin C you need, along with C’s equally crucial bioflavonoid companions.