Chyawanprash (CHY) is an herbal supplement that has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic Indian system of natural healing. Commonly sold under the brand Dabur, CHY consists of over 40 different herbs and is prepared in a jam-like mixture made from gooseberries. While its producers claim a wide range of benefits, including improved immunity and memory, these claims are largely unsupported by evidence.
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A study published in the March 2015 issue of "Indian Journal of Experimental Biology" found that CHY may help stimulate the body's immune response. This study examined the impact of CHY on immune cells in a laboratory, and the cells exposed to CHY showed increased levels of proteins called cytokines, which help mount the body's response to infection. In addition, CHY was shown to increase the elimination of infection-causing foreign bodies by cells called macrophages. This study suggests immune benefits; however, quality research is necessary to understand whether CHY can provide similar benefits in humans.
A study published in the 2011 issue of "Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine" suggests that taking CHY may help prevent memory loss. In this animal study, mice who ingested CHY followed by an amnesia-causing medication were able to complete familiar tasks more quickly than mice who received the medication alone. However, mice who consumed CHY without the medication did not show any improvement in memory. The authors proposed that these benefits are related to CHY's known antioxidant properties -- antioxidants are substances that slow down or halt certain processes that lead to damage in the body. While this study may be promising, no research has been published corroborating these findings in humans.
Other Potential Benefits
A small study published in the March 2003 issue of "International Journal of Human Genetics" found that individuals who regularly smoked bidi, a high-nicotine cigarette common in India and Southeast Asia, had decreased coughing and improved appetite after being given CHY. The study also found fewer chromosomal abnormalities in certain types of white blood cells among smokers who also ingested CHY, indicating that the supplement may protect against genetic damage.
CHY is a known source of vitamin C, an antioxidant. A study published in the February 2001 issue of "Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology" attempted to determine whether CHY provided benefits in addition to those related to its vitamin C content. Researchers compared 5 men who received CHY and 5 men who received vitamin C, and by the end of an 8-week period, CHY supplementation was linked to a greater decrease in blood glucose and larger improvement in cholesterol levels when compared to individuals taking vitamin C. While these study results are intriguing, larger studies and higher-quality research are needed before these benefits can be confirmed.
Warnings and Precautions
Although CHY has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years and has many touted health benefits, little evidence exists to support these health claims. The limited regulation of dietary supplements also poses challenges, as the formulations of CHY may differ according to the brand. While the Dabur brand prepares CHY one way, other suppliers may add other ingredients such as gold or silver as a way to promote their product, according to a description of CHY's formulation in the October 2013 issue of "Journal of Medicinal Plants Research." This can pose safety concerns, and because it contains a mixture of many different herbs, CHY may have interactions with prescription medications or other supplements. A doctor should be consulted with questions or concerns prior to beginning any supplement regimen, so the benefits and risks can be addressed.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD