The Health Benefits of Acerola Berry

This antioxidant-rich tropical fruit is sold as a supplement

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Acerola (Malpighia glabra L.) is a tropical fruit native to Mexico and Central and South America. Its flavor depends on the variety of the fruit and is described as ranging from sour to semisweet to sweet. While the bright red fruit is used to make jams, jellies, juices, ice cream, popsicles, sauces, wine, and syrups, it's also eaten raw, often as a natural remedy, particularly in Brazil—the world's largest producer of acerola.

Traditionally, it has been used to treat coughs and colds, fever, dysentery, diarrhea, and liver disorders. Proponents tout acerola as a natural remedy for a wide range of health benefits, including allergies, atherosclerosis, cavities, depression, and diabetes, though most of these claims haven't been backed up by scientists.

The fruit is rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C and anthocyanins. In one study that examined the vitamin C content of fruits like pineapple, araçá, cashew, guava, kiwi, orange, lemon, and strawberry, acerola packed more of the nutrient than any fruit other than camu-camu. In addition to having about nine times the amount of vitamin C as a typical orange, acerola is also a rich source of vitamin A, according to other research.

Acerola is sometimes referred to as acerola berry or acerola cherry. However, acerola is not related to cherries from the genus Prunus, such as the black cherry.

Health Benefits

To date, very few scientific studies have tested the potential health benefits of acerola. Although there's no evidence from clinical trials to show that acerola can enhance health, some preliminary findings from laboratory research and animal-based studies indicate that acerola may have some beneficial effects. More research is certainly needed.

Here's a look at several key study findings:

Oxidative Stress

In a laboratory study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition in 2011, researchers found that acerola extract may fight oxidative stress, an aging-related process linked to a number of major diseases. Acerola's high antioxidant content may be what's helpful in this regard, as these powerful substances are what the body needs to fight free radicals.

Blood Sugar

Acerola may help reduce blood sugar levels, according to a 2006 study from Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. In tests on mice, scientists demonstrated that antioxidants extracted from acerola may help suppress transport of blood sugar throughout the intestines. Despite this preventive effect, researchers noted that the therapeutic effect of acerola on hyperglycemia appeared to be low.

Lung Cancer

Acerola shows promise for protection against lung cancer, a 2002 study in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology suggests. Tests on mice revealed that acerola extract helped regulate abnormal cell growth to slow the spread of lung cancer.

Skin Pigmentation

Acerola juice effectively suppressed UVB-induced skin pigmentation in mice by inhibiting the genes that cause skin darkening, according to a study in 2017. Earlier research on an extract of acerola reported similar results.

Possible Side Effects

Although little is known about the safety of use of acerola extract, there is some concern that oral intake of acerola may cause certain side effects, including nausea, cramps, diarrhea, headache, skin redness, and kidney stones.

Dosage and Preparation

Due to the lack of supporting research, acerola can't currently be recommended as a principal standard treatment for any health problem. It's important to note that using acerola as a substitute for standard treatment of a chronic condition may have serious health consequences.

If you're going to take acerola, speak to your doctor first.

Acerola supplements are available in a range of forms, including capsules, powders, tinctures, and chewables, which are available at stores specializing in dietary supplements. Acerola juice is sold in natural food stores and markets. These products are also widely available online.

There's no clinical evidence to guide dosage of acerola. However, since its main component is vitamin C, consider taking acerola as you'd take vitamin C supplements. The recommended upper limit for vitamin C is 2,000 milligrams daily.

You may also come across acerola sold as a gel that claims to improve skin tone and heal sun-damaged skin. While preliminary research suggests that oral intake of acerola extract may shield skin from the harmful effects of sun exposure, and vitamin C is a key factor in the production of the skin-smoothing protein collagen, there is currently a lack of scientific support for the claim that topically applied acerola can benefit the skin.

What to Look For

Acerola is likely a popular supplement because the fruit is highly perishable, making it difficult to reap the benefits of eating it raw. Acerola starts to decompose within three to five days of harvest, and it loses its nutritional value as it ripens.

As with any other supplement, always choose one from a reputable manufacturer. If you decide to give acerola supplements a try, find a brand tested and approved by a recognized certifying body such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab. Doing so can ensure the highest quality and safety possible.

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