That sugar-laden strawberry jam on your piece of toast is probably not something you would call a superfood.
On the other hand, this ancient jam is good for health and can be diabetic-friendly if you buy the right kind. The original recipe is from Ayurveda, which is one of the world’s oldest herbal medicinal systems dating back some 3,000 years.
What is it?
Chyavanprash is a jam used for longevity and health in Ayurvedic practices. The primary active ingredient is Indian gooseberry (amla). There are 34 additional fruits, spices, and herbal extracts inside the jam, along with 2 animal-derived components; honey and ghee. In total, these 37 items make up the original chyawanprash ingredients list which dates back nearly 2,000 years.
While it has historically been associated with better digestion, longevity, cognition, and breathing, modern science has also studied it for protective benefits of the kidneys, liver, heart, and immune system.
Try it on bread or stirred in with warm milk or water.
Today you will find brands and recipes with a composition ranging from 25 to 80 ingredients. Most are not even close to authentic. Though some can be even if they have more or less than the original 37 ingredients. Why? Because the historical instructions list a few substitute herbs for when certain ones are not available.
The following 35 plants are found in the original recipe for chyawanprash.
|Ingredient||Scientific Name||Percentage (as dry weight)|
|1.||Indian gooseberries (amla)||Emblica officinalis||45.7%|
|3.||Long pepper||Piper longum||3.0%|
|6.||Akarkara root||Anacyclus pyrethrum||1.5%|
|11.||Bael (aegle)||Aegle marmalos||1.5%|
|13.||Bhumi amla||Phyllanthus niruri||1.5%|
|18.||Holy basil (tulsi)||Ocimum sanctum||1.5%|
|22.||Lotus flower||Nelumbo nucifera||1.5%|
|23.||Himalayan spinenard (jatamansi)||Nardostachys jatamansi||1.5%|
|27.||Tinospora (guduchi)||Tinospora cordifolia||1.5%|
|29.||Vasa (vasaka)||Adhatoda vasica||1.5%|
|33.||Ceylon cinnamon||Cinnamomum verum||0.8%|
|34.||Ceylon ironwood||Mesua ferrea||0.8%|
|35.||Indian bay leaf||Cinnamomum tamala||0.8%|
|For the herb extracts: amla = 1:1 concentration, all others = 10:1
*Saffron is not part of original recipe, but is commonly used today.
|Source: Smooth chyawanprash made of extracted herbs by Universal Medicaments of Nagpur, India. Each ingredient documented as mg per 100g by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon. Converted to percentages and common English names by Superfoodly.
Dr. Dharmanandais best known for Natural Healing with Herbs: The Complete Reference Book.
The above list represents the plant-based ingredients, which only make up around 25% of the contents.
The remaining 75% consists of safflower honey and ghee (clarified butter). The original formula is vegetarian but not vegan.
Frying the chebula or myrobalan in sesame oil and ghee beforehand is also considered traditional. Counting the sesame oil adds another ingredient to the above list.
Eating too much chyawanprash is bad for you if it’s made using the ghee and honey. Diabetics will experience blood sugar spikes and to a lesser extent, so will healthy individuals. Weight gain can also result from the added empty calories of honey and high fat content of the ghee, if it’s consumed in excess.
There is vegan chyawanprash for sale, as well as fat-free and sugar-free. The latter will still have some sugar, since the fruits contain it, but by cutting out the biggest offender – the honey – it makes it safer for those with diabetes.
Health benefits and uses
It’s been called the multivitamin of Ayurveda, but that label should not be taken literally. For most essential minerals and vitamins, only trace amounts are present. Rather, the reason this concoction represents over 50% of Ayurvedic supplements sold in India is because of the following alleged benefits of chyawanprash:
- promoting longevity
- relieving nausea
- better digestion
- reducing gas and bloating
- improving cognition and mental focus
- alleviating inflammation of the intestines
- helping with asthmatic breathing
- soothing cough
To be clear, those advantages have been historically purported, not proven. Many of these claims date back to the document which first recorded in the Ayurvedic Charaka Samhita, which is a text believed to have been first published during the first century after Christ (1).
In it, there are recipes for rasayanas; herbal remedies believed to help with many of the above, as well as other ailments. Translated from Hindi to English, it specifically describes this rasayana as:
“…the foremost of all rasayanas, especially good for alleviating cough and asthma; it nourishes the weak, the wounded, the old, and those that are of tender years as well.”
The meaning of chyawanprash comes from this ancient text. An elderly sage named Chyawan was the beneficiary of this food. This dosage was said to have been created for him by two other sages, in order for Chyawan’s youthful vigor to be restored for his younger bride. Since “prash” means a food recipe in Sanskrit, that word and his name were combined to call it chyawanprash.
Other names for it are chyavanaprasha, chyavanaprash, chyawanaprash, chyavanaprasam. Different spellings of the same thing.
Within a 150 page Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) filing, other unproven claims have been cited from literature such as being good for hair growth, blood pressure, sexual vigor, urinary disorders, cholesterol, skin complexion, and more (2). To reiterate, these and all the other purported health advantages are unproven.
Are the benefits real or fake?
Measuring what it does (or doesn’t) do is difficult, for the following reasons:
- Without an “official” standardization of the formula, the composition can differ greatly among manufacturers. Is Dabur chyawanprash good for health (the bestseller in India) in the same way as Patanjali brand? It’s hard to make generalized statements about this food when everyone makes it differently.
- Identifying what the beneficial ingredients are in a mixture are can be nearly impossible. There is research suggesting that long pepper might have anti-asthmatic advantages (3), that Indian bay leaf has “antifungal and antioxidative potential” (4), that ashwagandha might boost libido and fertility, and a laundry list of other preliminary findings about each of the 35 plants in this mixture. However, very little research looks at them combined. Do they work synergistically or not?
- How the ingredients are extracted and prepared varies by source. Is Dabur using maceration, percolation, infusion, or decoction for their source of amla berries? The bacopa in chyawanprash is a purported nootropic with robust research, but extraction processes can alter its composition dramatically. When bacopa is soaked in water for 24 hours, up to 19.28% of the saponins are captured. It’s only 0.56% when decocted in water for 3 hours. Maceration with ethanol for 3 days only captures 5.89% (5). That’s just one example out of 35 different plants!
Given these challenges, it’s quite difficult to conduct clinical reviews of chyawanprash. Let’s examine some of the more straightforward facts, theories, and studies about why it might be healthy for you.
Chyawanprash scientific studies
1. Amla ingredient is high in antioxidants
Throughout the world there are dozens of fruits called gooseberries and most are totally unrelated. The Indian gooseberry (amla) should not be confused with what you find growing in North America. These species couldn’t be more different.
The amla grows on a large tree – not a bush – and very few natural foods come close to its tested in vitro antioxidant measurement.
The following comparisons should give you perspective as to how much antioxidants there are in chyawanprash’s number one ingredient:
- 5,970 – spirulina
- 6,100 – maca
- 6,665 – garlic powder
- 27,600 – maqui powder
- 52,000 – camu camu powder
- 55,653 – cocoa powder
- 102,700 – acai powder
- 261,500 – Indian gooseberry powder
The only fruit higher than it is pure coffee cherry powder, which unfortunately gets discarded during coffee production (you only drink the roasted seeds, not the surrounding fruit).
Indian gooseberry makes up around half the contents of chyawanprash’s plant mixture, if it’s made using the traditional recipe.
That means it’s around 12% of the total composition, since honey and ghee are 75%. If you get a vegan fat-free version which leaves out the honey, ghee, and black sesame oil, then almost half of your jam will be this berry.
2. Cognitive improvement study
Since its touted as being an anti-aging supplement, researchers at an Indian university decided to test that claim in mice (6).
- 17 different groups of mice were tested (8 young groups, 9 old groups).
- For treatment, a chyawanprash dosage equal to 1% or 2% of their diet was given.
- For comparison, some groups received Donepezil. That’s a cognitive-enhancing prescription drug for Alzheimer’s disease.
- For placebo, some groups received nothing.
After 15 days of this regimen, memory was tested using a Morris water maze and the elevated plus maze, both of which commonly used in animal research.
Furthermore, levels of brain thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS), acetylcholinesterase activity (AChE), and reduced glutathione (GSH) were also tracked.
Here are charts of the results…
These scientists concluded:
“Chyawanprash may be looked upon as a useful memory enhancer in aged animals by virtue of its antioxidant effect, pro-cholinergic action, improved learning ability, and increased retention capacity.”
3. Kidney protective study
The chemotherapy drug Cisplatin works well against several types of tumors such as lung, neck, ovary, and testicular cancer. One problem is that it contains high amounts of platinum, a heavy metal which is toxic to the kidneys, brain, nerves, bone marrow, and the GI tract.
Researchers wanted to see if chyawanprash benefits these dangerous side effects (7).
They gave Swiss albino mice the chemotherapy drug and a dosage of either chyawanprash or another popular Ayurvedic formulation, brahma rasayana.
When compared to the control/placebo mice, the herbal formulas appeared to offer protective kidney benefits based on the parameters measured:
It was said that these two Ayurvedic treatments…
“…maintained the antioxidant status in the kidney thereby preventing tissue damage as well as the release of marker enzymes. CDDP [Cisplatin] induced variation of renal architecture was also prevented by BRM [brahma rasayana] and CHM [chyavanaprash] administration.”
4. Liver protective study
This one involved different scientists than the kidney and heart studies, however the design was similar (9).
Carbon tetrachloride is a potent toxin commonly used in animal research to inflict damage on the liver. It causes liver fibrosis. That’s a side effect which also occurs in hepatitis C, B, and other types.
In rats which were given the poison, they found that chyavanaprash and Indian gooseberry extract…
“…were found to reduce these elevated levels significantly, indicating that the extract could inhibit the induction of fibrosis in rats.”
The levels they’re referencing were the collagen-hydroxyproline and other pathological markers of liver fibrosis.
5. Heart protective study
With 2 of the 3 scientists being the same as in the kidney study, a similar one was conducted using Swiss albino mice for cardiotoxicity (8). They used a different chemotherapy drug which is known to be toxic to the heart; Doxorubicin. Their results claimed:
“Administration of either BRM [brahma rasayana] or CHM [chyavanaprash] (1 and 2 g/kg) maintained the antioxidant status in the heart thereby preventing tissue damage as well as the release of marker enzymes. DOX-induced variation of cardiac architecture was also prevented by BRM and CHM administration.”
6. Immune stimulating activity
This was not a live animal study, as it only involved cells cultured in Petri dishes (10).
They monitored how many of the following cell signaling molecules (cytokines) were produced after treating the cultures with a solution containing chyawanprash.
- Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-a)
- Interleukin-1beta (IL-1ß)
- Macrophage Inflammatory Protein-1-alpha (MIP-1-a)
They also monitored:
- Natural Killer (NK) cell activity
- Phagocytosis, which is the process of cells engulfing or destroying bad material, like bacteria and dead tissue.
Both of those processes are important in the body’s fight against viruses and bacterial pathogens.
At relatively low dosages of 20-500 µg chyawanprash per ml of solution, they claimed that “the data substantiates the immunoprotective role” of the formula since it produced favorable effects for all 5 of the tested parameters.
Very little research exists specifically on this ancient formula and even for the published animal studies, inevitably there would have been variations in the formulas they used for testing.
It’s premature to claim that the uses of chyawanprash are proven, especially since humans have never been tested. The good news is that at least the research doesn’t suggest it’s bad for you. At least for the most part…
Chyawanprash side effects
The few animal studies done did not mention adverse reactions. While human clinical studies have not been conducted, the following side effects have been reported among users of this supplement:
- Blood sugar spikes, particularly in diabetics
- Weight gain from excess consumption
- Upset stomach
- Loose stools
Generally it is very well tolerated. These reactions are generally due to eating too much chyawanprash, or consuming the normal amount on an empty stomach. Formulations are generally gluten free, soy free, allergy-friendly, and non-GMO.
With the full sugar versions, it’s understandable why weight gain is a complaint, given how many calories those versions have; up to 50 per serving.
Interactions with prescription medications have not been thoroughly addressed in medical literature. If you’re on an medications, you should consult your doctor before using to be safe.
Can I eat chyawanprash during pregnancy?
As with the vast majority of herbal supplements, this one has not been studied in pregnant women, nor those who are breastfeeding. While there is not evidence to suggest it is dangerous, the opposite holds true too; without human studies, there is no guarantee that chyawanprash is safe during pregnancy.
Is chyawanprash good for toddlers and babies? How about older children?
Consult your doctor for that answer. Even if they say it’s okay to eat, know that a major risk for kids and adults alike is heavy metal contamination from poor quality Ayurvedic products.
Lead poisoning is a problem which has been widely reported with Ayurveda medicine. Poor quality machinery may be to blame for the increased heavy metals – like lead – which have been found in some batches tested.
That’s another reason why it’s important to go with a good brand.
Which chyawanprash brand is best?
This is not a commodity. With so much variation in recipes and production processes, it seems unfair to even call them all by the same name.
In India, the choice is often Patanjali chyawanprash vs. Dabur chyawanprash. Those are two of the largest brands sold there. Reviews are positive, but there are criticisms.
Neither is organic, as they’re marketed towards the masses with low price points. Dabur is under $15 USD for 1 kg (2.2 lbs) while Patanjali costs a few dollars more, but not much.
The ingredient labels are long and contain a few things which deviate from the original recipe. Both have added sugar; regular in Dabur, evaporated cane juice in the other.
Among the two, Patanjali chyawanprash is the best brand, as its composition doesn’t contain sesame oil, bamboo manna, Indian trumpet flower, and other surprises like the Dabur does.
Jiva and Kottakkal are two other manufacturers. The advantage of Jiva sugar-free (no added sugar) version is that it’s lower calorie, lower glycemic and better for diabetes. The only sugar is the naturally occurring fructose, from the fruits in contains. Dabur also sells something similar.
If you compare all four of these brands though, you realize each one has its pitfalls.
Which chyawanprash is good for you if you live in the US?
Here we are lucky enough to have those and other options. Here’s a quick review of our favorite…
Organic India chyawanprash
It too differs from the original recipe, but it is USDA certified organic and the company takes precautions to protect against heavy metal contamination:
- organic and often wild plant sources
- organic processing centers
- no added gems or minerals, as those can contain bad minerals too
- batch testing per ISO 9002 and GMP good manufacturing procedures certifications
If you want the best, Organic India is an excellent choice.
The photo you see on the right was at a health food store in Malibu. We haven’t seen it for sale at Whole Foods or other major retailers but you can purchase it on Amazon.
When to eat?
Generally chyawanprash is used twice daily, by dissolving 1/2 to 2 teaspoons in warm milk and drinking it 10 to 20 minutes before breakfast and then again at night. Given its sugar content, it may be bad for you to use it immediately before bed, since the spike in blood sugar can make falling asleep more difficult.
How much children take is less than adults; 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon once or twice daily is the amount commonly reported by manufacturers. Consult a doctor though before allowing a child to eat or drink it.
While it may not be a common practice, there’s no reason why it can’t be used in place of jam or jelly on a piece of bread, toast, or bagel.
Can you eat chyawanprash in the summer?
Some say we shouldn’t, alleging that year-round usage usage will decrease its efficacy for immunity support and “have the reverse effect.” They claim it should be saved for the winter months during cold and flu season. There are not studies to back any of those claims, or it if even benefits those illnesses. Therefore, eating it in the spring, summer, fall, and winter seasons should all be perfectly safe.
Vegan chyawanprash alternative
The authentic recipes won’t be vegan and in the US, it’s very hard to find one that is entirely plant-based. Your best bet will be triphala powder.
When you compare triphala vs. chyawanprash, one is 3 ingredients while the other is at least 37. However both share the same primary ingredient; amla berries.
In triphala, it is 33% of the composition, with another equal portion for bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica) and haritaki (Terminalia chebula). With no ghee or honey, it’s vegan and actually has an exponentially higher ORAC value.
Dabur chyawanprash’s ORAC has tested out at 35,700. Compare that to pure triphala powder, which clocks in at 706,250. That number is the highest antioxidant food, according to ORAC testing done to date.
Of course, that number will vary by batch and manufacturer, but regardless it should remain a potent source of antioxidants.
On Amazon you can buy a 1/2 pound bag of triphala that’s USDA certified organic.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.