Acai berries – fad or fact?

Dear Dr. Mo: Acai palm, its berries and Acai supplements have been advertised as being powerful in prevention of heart disease, cancer and in weight loss as well as potent beauty products. Is any of it true?

Dear reader: Acai palm is native to Central and South America. Its fruit, Acai berry is reddish/purple colored.
As many other berries, Acai berry has some good nutritional value, which is beneficial for our health.
It is rich in dietary fiber, heart-healthy fats and low in sugar.
It also has a high content of Anthocyanins, which are thought to be very powerful antioxidants.

Acai berries are rich in fiber

This anti-oxidative potential is the main reason Acai berry has been so popular.

Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that may appear red, purple, or blue. They give fruits and vegetables darker hues spanning from purple, red to black. These pigments have been shown to act as some sort of a “sunscreen”, protecting plant cells and plant tissues from the high-light stress.

Lab results (in vitro studies) have been very promising in showing the many health benefits of this class of flavonoids including some anti-cancerous effects, particularly in colon, prostate and esophagus cancer. Also, their protective effects have been researched in processes of aging and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes and bacterial infections with positive results.

Acai berry’s concentration of Anthocyanins is on average 320 mg per 100g but there are plants with even higher concentrations such as eggplant, blackberry, black raspberry, wild blueberry, cherry and red grape. I should also add here – red wine – but, that’s hardly a plant.

Now, all these results have yet to be scientifically proven (if at all) in humans (in vivo studies) and the jury is still out but at this moment, it is difficult and invalid to claim that any of these favorable lab results hold true in human bodies at least to such large extents.

What is known is that Anthocyanins’ anti-oxidative properties are unlikely to be much preserved after the plant is consumed and digested and the fate of Anthocyanins  in vivo shows that they are poorly conserved (less than 5%). There may be some other effects and interactions of which we are yet to learn in studies that show protective influence (like the spike of Uric acid in blood after consuming flavonoid-rich foods) and I am not suggesting Acai shouldn’t be eaten, but I am issuing a word of caution as to how much this plant can really do for us or why would it be any more effective than other similar fruits.

Acai has been marketed as a powerful weight loss food and supplement but no scientific evidence to date really suggests this alleged strong weight loss effect.
There’s no doubt however that berries and other fruits (rich in fiber) are a key part of any healthy diet promoting weight loss but it only shows the importance of a balanced healthy diet as a weight loss tool rather than some quick-fix supplements.

In conclusion, I’d say that if you don’t have an allergy to pollen or to Acai itself, there is no reason not to consume this interesting fruit or try to use some of the products. Keep in mind however that no single fruit or vegetable or a supplement for that matter, can substitute for a healthy lifestyle with balanced and versatile diet and physical activity.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo


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