The Most Antioxidant-Packed Whole Food

Are the apparently amazing benefits of amla—dried Indian gooseberries—too good to be true?

In reference to amla, also known as the Indian gooseberry, it’s been said that “medicinal plants are nature’s gift to human beings to promote a disease free healthy life.” The fruit has also been described as “the Ayurvedic wonder.” You hear a lot of that larger-than-life talk about amla coming out of Indian medical journals. Who can forget the review article titled, “Amla…a wonder berry in the treatment and prevention of cancer”? Amla is so revered that you can find serious scientists at serious academic institutions making statements like this in serious peer-reviewed medical journals: “Every part of the [Indian gooseberry] plant has its unique therapeutic characteristic for the remedy of almost all the ailments. For the mankind, it can be adopted as a single bullet”—emphasis not added—against disease. Okay, then.

I first ran across amla in a famous article that looked at the total antioxidant content of thousands of different foods. I produced a series of videos about it ages ago. To my surprise, the number-one, most antioxidant-packed single whole food on the planet, was, on average, amla. Dried powdered Indian gooseberries beat out cloves, the prior heavyweight champion, with up to a hundred times or more antioxidants by weight than blueberries, for comparison. 

So, here’s this fruit that “enjoys a hallowed position in Ayurveda,” the ancient system of medicine in India—in fact so hallowed that it was mythologically pegged as “the first tree to be created in the universe.” So, for thousands of years—before we even knew what an antioxidant was—people were revering this plant that just so happens to turn out to be the most antioxidant-packed fruit on Earth. You’ve got my attention, but I still needed to see it put to the test.

Indigenous tribal healers used amla to treat diabetes, so researchers decided to give it a try, too. “Effect of Amla fruit (Emblica officinalis Gaertn.) on blood glucose and lipid profile [cholesterol levels] of normal subjects and type 2 diabetic patients” was the study that originally bowled me over. In fact, it was the subject of one of my very first NutritionFacts videos more than five years ago where I talked about the jaw-dropping effects of five cents’ worth of this powdered fruit—just five pennies’ worth—compared to a diabetes drug. But, what about the cholesterol effects?

As I discuss in my video The Best Food for High Cholesterol, if you take healthy individuals and give them a placebo sugar pill, nothing much happens to their cholesterol. Ideally, we want our total cholesterol to be under 150, which is where the normal control group came in, a pretty healthy group. The average cholesterol in the United States is over 200, which is where the diabetics started out in this study. And, when you give the diabetic subjects placebo pills, nothing much happens to them either. But what happens when you give people about a half teaspoon of amla powder a day? Not some extract or something, but simply dried Indian gooseberries—just a powdered fruit. As you can see at 3:05 in my video, there is about a 35 to 40 percent drop in cholesterol values in three weeks. Absolutely astounding! That’s the kind of result we may see about six months after putting patients on statin drugs.

What we care most about is LDL, though, the so-called bad cholesterol, ideally shooting for under at least 70. As you can see at 3:36 in my video, the placebo had no impact on LDL, but once again, just about a half teaspoon of amla, which would cost you about 5 cents a day, achieved significant results. Boom!

These results knocked my socks off. They’re just unbelievable! That’s why I was so excited to dig back into the amla literature after all these years to see if these findings had been confirmed—that is, replicated elsewhere. So, I typed “amla” into PubMed and waded through all the papers on using amla to decrease methane in cow farts and speed the growth of chickens. And, hey! What about amla ice cream? After all, amla is packed with fiber and phytonutrients, but ice cream, in contrast, is not. Indeed, amla incorporated into ice cream increases antioxidant activity, though I would not recommend it for lowering cholesterol. 

Coming up next? A comparative clinical study of amla head to head against the cholesterol-lowering statin drug simvastatin, sold as Zocor.


I’m so excited to get back to this after all these years. You may be interested in my original series, which also gives tips on how to find amla:

What else is super antioxidant-packed? See Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods vs. Animal Foods and Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion in my next video Amla vs. Drugs for Cholesterol, Inflammation, and Blood-Thinning.

No matter how well it works, though, one can essentially eliminate risk of heart disease with a healthy-enough diet. See my overview video How Not to Die from Heart Disease. But, if your cholesterol is still too high even after doing everything right, amla may help.

In health, 

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Should You Get an Annual Health Check-Up?

What are the risks and benefits of getting an annual check-up from your doctor?

Physicians and patients have come to expect the annual check-up as a routine part of care. “However, considerable research has not demonstrated a substantial benefit,” so a “revolt is brewing against the tradition of periodic” check-ups. “Even the Society for General Internal Medicine advised primary care physicians to avoid ‘routine general health checks for asymptomatic adults.’”

As I discuss in my video Is It Worth Getting Annual Health Check-Ups?, routine check-ups do seem to make sense. But, historically, medical practice has included all sorts of interventions that seemed to make sense, such as hormone replacement therapy for menopause—that is, until it was put to the test and found to increase risks of breast cancer, blood clots, heart disease, and stroke. “History repeatedly shows that good intentions and ‘common sense’ kill in the name of prevention (for example, prone sleeping recommendation for infants).” Indeed, doctors killed babies by making the so-called common sense recommendation that infants sleep on their tummies, whereas we now know “Face Up to Wake Up.” “We should always demand evidence rather than succumb to delusion.”

“We check our cars regularly, so why shouldn’t we also check our bodies…?” Well, unlike cars, our bodies have self-healing properties. To see if the benefits outweigh the harms, researchers decided to put it to the test.

“What are the benefits and harms of general health checks for adult populations?” The bottom line is that check-ups were “not associated with lower rates of all-cause mortality, mortality from cardiovascular disease, or mortality from cancer,” meaning they weren’t associated with living longer or a lower risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, or cancer. So, general check-ups may not reduce disease rates or death rates, but they do increase the number of new diagnoses. And, the “[h]armful effects of some tests and subsequent treatment could have balanced out possible beneficial effects of others.”

Possible harms from check-ups include “overdiagnosis, overtreatment, distress or injury from invasive follow-up tests, distress due to false positive test results, false reassurance due to false negative test results, possible continuation of adverse health behaviours due to negative test results, adverse psychosocial effects due to labelling, and difficulties with getting insurance” (now that you have a pre-existing condition), not to mention all of the associated costs. 

Take diabetes, for example. Wouldn’t it be great if we detected cases of diabetes earlier? Perhaps not, if you were one of the people given Avandia, the number one diabetes drug that was then pulled off the market because instead of helping people, it appeared to be killing them. Adverse drug events are now one of our leading causes of death. When it comes to lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes, maybe we should focus instead on creating healthier food environments. This is what one of my favorite organizations, Balanced, does to help prevent the diabetes epidemic in the first place.

How many times have you tried to inform someone about healthy eating and evidence-based nutrition, only to have them say, “No, I don’t have to worry. My doctor reassured me I’m fine. I just had a check-up, and everything’s normal.” As if having a normal cholesterol is okay in a society where it’s normal to drop dead of a heart attack, the number one killer of men and women. It would be one thing if you went to see a lifestyle medicine doctor who spent the check-up giving you the tools to prevent 80 percent of chronic disease, but given the way medicine is currently practiced, it’s no wonder why the history of routine check-ups “has been one of glorious failure, but generations of well meaning clinicians and public health physicians struggle to allow themselves to believe it.” But, “policy should be based on evidence…” 

Poor diet may be “on par with tobacco smoking as the most common actual causes of death,” yet the medical profession is inadequately trained in nutrition. Worse, nutrition education in medical school appears to be declining. If you can believe it, there is actually a “shrinking of formalized nutrition education” among health professionals, so the advice you get during your annual check-up may just be from the last tabloid your doctor skimmed while in the supermarket check-out line.

“And screening appointments should not be regarded as a form of ‘health education,’” read one medical journal editorial. “People who are obese know very well that they are, and if we have no means of helping them…then we should shut up.” Well, if you really have nothing to say that will help them, maybe you should shut up, especially those doctors who say they “have no idea what constitutes a ‘healthy’ diet”—although we do know that veggies and nuts are a good start.

Won’t a check-up allow your physician to do a comprehensive physical exam and routine blood testing? I discuss that, as well as the pros and cons, in my vide Is it Worth Getting an Annual Physical Exam?.

Did I say lifestyle medicine? Yes! Learn more about this exciting growing field in Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease and Convincing Doctors to Embrace Lifestyle Medicine. Make sure your doctor is a member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (and even better certified by the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine).

Still don’t understand how there can be risks? See Why Prevention Is Worth a Ton of Cure. Unfortunately, physicians and patients alike wildly overestimate the benefits of pills and procedures. See, for example, The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs.

The fact is Physicians May Be Missing Their Most Important Tool.


And what about mammograms? See my video series:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Benefits of Turmeric for Arsenic Exposure

What happened when turmeric curcumin was put to the test to see if it could reverse DNA damage caused by arsenic exposure?

Arsenic is a carcinogenic heavy metal, and the major mechanism of arsenic-related damage appears to be oxidative stress. It’s the arsenic-induced accumulation of free radicals that can kill off cells and damage our DNA, and the double whammy is that it may also disrupt our body’s ability to repair our DNA once it’s damaged. Well, if the damage is oxidation, what about eating antioxidant-rich foods, such as the spice turmeric, which contains an antioxidant pigment known as curcumin. I examine this in my video Benefits of Turmeric for Arsenic Exposure.

As anyone familiar with my videos can attest, “numerous clinical studies have suggested that curcumin has therapeutic efficacy against a variety of human diseases,” including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and inflammatory bowel, joint, lung, skin, and eye diseases.

In terms of protection against heavy metals, studies suggest turmeric may help scavenge free radicals, as well as chelate, or bind up, heavy metals. But it’s all just theory, until you put it to the test. Until recently, all we had was research studying whether curcumin can protect against heavy metal-induced oxidation in puréed rat brains, for example. Why can’t you just give some turmeric to people? It’s not like there aren’t millions of people out there who’ve been exposed to arsenic and could use some help.

Indeed, in what became the greatest chemical disaster in human history, “tube-wells” were installed in Bangladesh to provide clean water. UNICEF meant well—too bad they didn’t test the water for arsenic. People started showing up with lesions on their feet, as you can see at 1:52 in my video, and as many as one in ten people in some parts of the country will now go on to die from cancers caused by the arsenic exposure. This disaster allowed the medical community to document all sorts of “interesting” cancers, but why not give them something that may help, like turmeric curcumin?

Researchers did just that. After they determined the extent of DNA damage in study subjects, half were randomly selected and prescribed curcumin capsules blended with a little black pepper compound, while the other half were given a placebo. As you can see at 2:25 in my video, before the study started, the amount of DNA damage found in the curcumin and placebo groups of arsenic-exposed individuals was higher than the DNA damage found in a control group of individuals not exposed to arsenic, which remained the same throughout the study. The researchers wanted to establish a baseline in the arsenic-exposed groups, so they waited for three months before starting the study. And, indeed, the DNA damage remained stable during that time. Then, for three months, they proceeded to give the groups the curcumin or the placebo. The placebo didn’t do much, but within the first month, the researchers could see the curcumin working. And, by the third month, the DNA damage in the curcumin-treated arsenic group was no worse than in those who hadn’t been exposed to arsenic at all. Amazing! “The comparison of the populations receiving curcumin and placebo established that curcumin had an effective role in regression of DNA damage and as an excellent antioxidant agent,” and what they found subsequently is that the curcumin undid the arsenic crippling of our DNA repair enzymes—both helping to prevent the damage and facilitating its repair. “Thus, curcumin intervention may be a useful modality for the prevention of arsenic-induced carcinogenesis [cancer development].”

Of course, you have to make sure the turmeric itself isn’t contaminated with heavy metals. Nearly a quarter of spices purchased in Boston had lead in them, and it’s not just a matter of buying U.S. versus foreign brands, as the difference in lead levels was not found to be statistically significant, as you can see at 3:52 in my video.

What about just eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables? The reason we care about DNA damage is that we care about cancer. What if you measured the beta-carotene levels in people exposed to arsenic who went on to develop cancer, compared to those who got exposed to the same amount of arsenic but didn’t get cancer? Beta-carotene is like a proxy for healthy fruit and vegetable intake. The way you get high levels in your blood is by eating lots of healthy foods, like greens and sweet potatoes. Compared to those with low levels of beta-carotene in their blood, those with high levels had 99 percent lower odds of getting arsenic-induced cancer, as you can see at 4:34 in my video. So, if you’re going to eat rice, why not have some rice with some sweet potatoes on top?


What’s the rice connection? I produced a 13-part series on arsenic in rice. Air-pop some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy:

What else can turmeric do? Glad you asked!

Who Shouldn’t Consume Curcumin or Turmeric? Watch the video to find out!

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations: