The Benefits of Açai

Can This Superfruit Improve Your Health?

Acai juice
Ligia Botero/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Açai, a palm tree native to Central and South America, produces reddish-purple berries that are similar to blueberries and cranberries. Bearing a rich, chocolate-like flavor, açai berries have recently popped up in scads of nutritional supplements and juices (other popular antioxidants include goji berrymaqui berry, mangosteen, camu camu, and tart cherries).

Açai berries were initially used by the Tupi tribe in what is now the Brazilian state of Pará, but their use has spread through other countries in the Amazon basin. People have long used boiled preparations of açai root to treat conditions ranging from parasitic worms to anemia. Others use the oil made from acai berries as a beauty product for hair.

Benefits of Açai

In recent years, supplement manufacturers have begun marketing açai as a top source of antioxidants (substances that help protect cells from free radical damage). In fact, 53 new açai-containing products were introduced in the United States in 2008. That same year, sales of products with açai as the main ingredient surpassed $106 million.

Açai proponents claim that the "superfruit" offers 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes and delivers a remarkable synergy of amino acids, essential fatty acids, and fiber. According to açai advocates, the fruit's nutritional profile qualifies açai as a powerful defense against heart disease, cancer, digestive problems, allergies, and autoimmune disorders.

Some supplement manufacturers also suggest that açai promotes weight loss. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that, as of 2016, no independent studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals to substantiate that claim.

The Federal Trade Commission has taken action against açai-containing weight loss products marketed in deceptive ways. Almost $6 million was refunded to purchasers of Acai Pure, marketed by Central Coast Nutraceuticals, in 2013.

The Science on Açai

Although research has proven that açai is indeed high in antioxidants, very few studies have tested the fruit's effects on humans. Among those human-based studies is a 2008 trial including only 12 people; the key finding was that açai can, in fact, be absorbed by the human body when consumed as juice or pulp. A more recent 2015 study gave an acai berry-based juice blend to seven junior athletes for six weeks. At the end of the study, the athletes' plasma showed a boost in total antioxidant capacity.

In test tube studies, meanwhile, scientists have shown that açai extracts can trigger cancer-cell death and lower inflammation. However, until human studies can replicate these findings, açai shouldn't be considered a surefire cancer-fighter or anti-inflammatory agent.

Other Foods High in Antioxidants

By following a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods, you can greatly boost your antioxidant intake with food without relying on insufficiently studied supplements.

Caveats

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of using açai supplements. It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety, and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Using Açai for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend açai supplements as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using açai supplements (or following the açai diet) for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

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Article Sources
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