the following is the long form of an interview i did with erin magner for WELL AND GOOD. i loved her questions so much i'm gonna turn into a series!
WHAT IS TRIPHALA? Triphala is a compound of three tropical fruits from the myrobalan family: haritaki, amalaki, and bibhitaki. Amalaki (emblica officinalis) supports the metabolic activities of liver, blood, and immune system. It also has a cooling effect on the body. Bibhitaki (terminalia belerica) reduces accumulations in all the tissue systems. So if someone has mucous in both their lungs and colon, as people sometimes do, the bibitaki will clear it everywhere. Haritaki (terminalia chebula) has a gently warming effect but it is tri-doshic so it’s not overly heating. It scrubs and scraps the colon, helping move things along so its great for weight loss. Kapha can use this warmth as their since they can struggle with too cool, too slow digestion as well as accumulation throughout the body. That said, many of us suffer from accumulations so this scrubbing effect is fairly universally helpful. Together, the 3 herbs have an awesomely synergistic effect covering whole metabolic process — digestion (amalaki), absorption (bibitaki) and elimination (haritaki).
WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE IT? Triphala is our chief digestive compound in ayurveda since it is so all-purpose and addresses problems typical of each dosha: the bloating and constipation of high VATA, the hot loose stools of PITTA*, the slow accumulation of KAPHA.
We also love it because it is a true digestive tonic for everyone since it strengthens peristaltic action! Peristaltic action refers to wavelike muscular squeezes that move food through our colons. Like any muscle, it becomes weak without proper exercise. The colon needs a ‘fiber workout’ to stay strong but this is of course not the norm in America. Thankfully, triphala trains our digestive muscles so in time we run comfortably and efficiently.
While it is a safe, effective colon cleanser, it is also an ANTIOXIDANT. As it is helping us strip away impurities, it also builds and nourishes ALL tissue systems! Triphala has been seen for so long as SUCH an ultimate healer that it is haritaki which is often pictured in the hands of the MEDICINE BUDDHA! In fact, in some depictions, all 3 of the triphala herbs are pictured.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO USE IT – AS A SUPPLEMENT, TOPICALLY OR COOKING? The easiest way to take it these days is in pill or powder form. The classic Indian method for taking triphala was to put the powder in warm water and DRINKING IT JUST BEFORE BED. It has a strong taste that I like but some Westerns shy away so they may prefer the pills.
In terms of body products, yes, triphala has also been used traditionally for washing hair, treating both oily and dry scalp as well as washing eyes, etc. Its tri-doshic nature makes it a good all-purpose, all rounder in body products too.
As for dosage, things can vary SO MUCH person to person due to age, weight, etc. so I do not like to specify dosages to an audience. Take the herbs AS DIRECTED ON THE BOTTLE. If they’re not getting the desired effect, I’d highly recommend they see an Ayurvedic practitioner one-on-one. We are highly trained to deal with individual cases since ayurveda is best at treating unique individuals.
IS THERE ANYONE WHO *SHOULDN'T* TAKE IT? ANY MEDICATIONS IT INTERACTS WITH? Yes, PREGNANT and NURSING WOMEN as well as people on BLOOD THINNERS, anyone with DIARRHEA or LIVER DISEASE should not take it.
In general, triphala balances loose stools and diarrhea but NOT IN ACUTE CONDITIONS. By this we mean, if someone has an acute condition causing the diarrhea like the flu, a parasite, a stomach virus, we do not use triphala.
as for LIVER DISEASE, It really depends on the specific kind someone is suffering from. In general we want to be careful with over stimulating digestion when there is a liver issue. Again, it really depends on what is happening with the individual!
Further, I am careful when prescribing ‘detox’ herbs to client I suspect may be struggling with ORTHOREXIA, BODY DYSMORPHIA or if i suspect they may have an EATING DISORDER, etc. I think its useful to ask — why am i REALLY taking this? — as you would with any self-prescribed herb.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC TRIPHALA BRANDS YOU RECOMMEND? ANYTHING THAT WE SHOULD KEEP IN MIND WHEN SHOPPING FOR IT? To correct more chronic, longterm digestive issues, I like the tablets from BANYAN BOTANICALS and R U VED since they are cost effective for a higher, therapeutic dosages. For more occasional use like when you're fastening or cleansing, go for lower tonic doses, like this SUN POTION POWDER. I often jokingly refer to tonic dosages as a gateway drug since they let you ‘have a taste’ and make you wonder what more would be like! More is definitely not always better, so again, please see a practitioner when you feel stuck or confused. Always take herbs AS DIRECTED ON THE BOTTLE.
*Note that while triphala is tridoshic, as a PITTA-DOMINANT tridoshic i have noticed triphala is just a little too warming for me to take on summer mornings. it's subtle but i've noticed just feeling a tiny bit warmer than I want to after a taking it. I've started making my TONICS AT NIGHT and this is mitigating the heat just fine.