Chawanprash – The Ayurvedic SuperfoodDr. Surya Bhagwati
Chawanprash is the oldest nutritional supplement or polyherbal formulation that is still in use today. The formulation remains largely unchanged since its creation over 2,000 years ago. With such ancient origins, the superfood also goes by various spellings, written as chyawanprash, chyavanaprasha, chyavanaprash, and so on. There are also minor variations in the ingredients used, but the primary ingredients remain fairly standardized.
Chawanprash is the most widely used Ayurvedic nutritional supplement on the Indian subcontinent, used not just in the treatment of various health conditions, but also as preventative, immune boosting, and rejuvenative food. The polyherbal superfood, which has the consistency of a jam or paste has a sweet and sour taste. Today, chawanprash is regarded as a superfood worldwide and is even available in the form of chavanprash toffees for children.
But, what exactly do classical texts and modern studies have to say about this Ayurvedic superfood?
Chawanprash in Ayurvedic Literature
One of the earliest mentions and documented formulas for chawanprash appears in the Charaka Samhita, one of the foundational texts of Ayurveda. This makes chawanprash one of the oldest known medicinal formulas known to mankind, as the Charaka Samhita, was compiled more than 2,000 years ago. Although the origins of the formula are rooted in mythology, attributed to the twin divine physicians Ashwini Kumars, the ingredients and benefits have a strong basis in science.
Described as an Ayurvedic rasayana preparation in the Charaka Samhita, the primary ingredient of the formula is amalaki or amla. The ingredients can be roughly divided into 2 groups of Ayurvedic herbs – Ashtvarga, which includes 8 herbs, and Dashmul, which includes 10 roots. Of course, the actual formula described in these texts is a lot more complicated, containing anywhere between 50 to 80 ingredients, including herbs like long pepper, bilva, cardamom, and so on. Many of the herbs belonging to the Ashtvarga group went extinct or became increasingly hard to find around 500 years ago, but the renowned Ayurvedic sage Bhavamisra suggested alternatives in his Ayurvedic treatise called Bhavaprakasa Nighantu. Other Ayurvedic researchers continued to embellish and refine the formula, while preserving the main ingredients and their qualities. This is why modern chawanprash products adhere closely to the ancient formula but have many variations.
According to sages like Charaka, who gave us the original formula for chawanprash, it can provide protection against diseases, enhance mental function, strengthen agni, improve sensory perception, promote longevity, and enhance skin complexion. Ayurvedic physicians regard chawanprash as a natural immune booster that is particularly effective at fighting common infections and allergies, especially those of the respiratory tract. It is also believed to boost energy and reduce fatigue, resolves disturbances of vata, pitta and virya (vital fluid), and strengthens all of the body tissues.
Proven Health Benefits of Chawanprash
The primary ingredient of chawanprash, amalaki or amla is itself known to be the richest natural source of vitamin C. With its rich nutritional profile and high antioxidant content, amla is known to be a source of various therapeutic benefits. With chavanprash’s meticulous blend of herbs, it is even more potent, which is why it is regarded as the best superfood for optimal health and nutrition. Clinical studies have looked at various formulations of chawanprash, highlighting a wide range of health benefits and medicinal uses.
Supports Brain Function & Anti-aging
Through its antioxidant power and pro-cholinergic effects, chawanprash can be used to improve memory, also enhancing the ability to learn and retain information. These observations were recorded in a study that looked at the anti-aging effects of chavanprash on brain health. Based on what we know, Ayurvedic chavanprash is a natural brain tonic that can lower the risk of dementia and degenerative brain disease, also aiding young adults and children in learning.
Chawanprash is also a valuable natural supplement that could help fight the epidemic of heart disease and other lifestyle conditions. Once again, the polyherbal formulation works primarily through its strong antioxidant effects. Researchers investigating the protective action of chawanprash against a cardiotoxic chemotherapy drug found that chawanprash supplementation reduced tissue damage to the heart. The herbal product may also regulate cholesterol levels, reducing one of the risk factors for heart disease.
Boosts Immune Function
The most popular use of chawanprash is to support immune function so as to lower the risk of infection and improve recovery. One study also found that chawanprash supplementation over a period of 3 to 6 months may halve the risk of illness from infection and allergies. Aside from the fact that vitamin C is an important nutrient to boost immune system, chawanprash has been found to exhibit antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects. This can help in disease prevention and recovery, also lowering the risk of lifestyle disorders like heart disease and diabetes.
Protects the Liver & Kidneys
Another popular use of chawanprash is as a detoxifying supplement. These detox benefits of chawanprash are also supported by studies. Research published in the Journal of Cancer Research Therapy shows that chawanprash may prevent kidney damage, which is caused by exposure to toxins from a chemotherapy drug. Similarly, another study found that chawanprash supplementation may protect against liver fibrosis caused by toxins.
Chawanprash offers a wide range of health benefits, although we have just touched upon the most notable ones. While daily supplementation improves general health, you should adhere to prescribed usage guidelines. In general, most experts recommend a dose of 10-15 grams after breakfast and after dinner for general health benefits.
For children, it would be best to administer chawanprash through chyawanprash toffees, which can be a good substitute for unhealthy candies – they also make the herbal formulation more palatable. When dealing with infections, dosage may be increased, but should not exceed 30 grams as it can cause indigestion and diarrhea.