The Health Benefits of Acai Berry…From a Skeptical Doctor’s Perspective
Those of you who know me or have read my blog know that I tend to be skeptical of the latest fad in health and nutrition. For the acai berry, this skepticism was made even worse by weekly spam e-mails touting the virtues of this “miracle” berry. This skepticism has not rubbed off on my receptionist yet because she recently told me that she went to the health-food store with her sister and got some information about acai berry. What roused my interest is the store’s employee told my receptionist to “save her money” and buy the green tea instead because it “did the same thing”. On a side note, I’m always impressed by sales people who value honesty and truth over getting an extra dollar from a sale. So after a search of Google, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the acai berry may actually have some truth behind its claims. Acai (pronounced a-sa-ii or ah-sigh-ee, depending on who you talk to) was actually studied by a researcher at Texas A & M University and found to have anti-oxidants that are readily absorbed by the human body.
So what exactly is the acai berry? The acai berry is a small, round, black-purple berry that’s about 1 inch in diameter. It looks similar to a grape in size and appearance, but with less pulp. It is grown on the acai (or aqai) palm which is native to Central and South America from Belize down to Brazil and Peru. It mainly grows in swamps and floodplains. The acai trees produce two crops of berries each year. These berries have been consumed for hundreds of years by its native population. I even read that they make up 42% of the diet of one tribe in the Amazon area of Brazil.
It has only been in recent years that the acai berry has been marketed as a dietary supplement. It is currently being sold in the form of tablets, juice, smoothies, drink powders and whole fruit. Marketers of these products claim that it provides increased energy levels, improved sexual performance, improved digestion, detoxification, high fiber content, improved skin appearance, improved heart health, improved sleep, and reduction of cholesterol levels.
As of yet, I haven’t been able to find a whole lot of evidence (aside from the people who market the products) to support most of those claims. However, it does appear to have a good bit of anti-oxidant properties, it’s low in sugar and high in fiber, and according to the Texas A & M researcher – it tastes like a mixture of red wine and chocolate. As an anti-oxidant, acai berries help to rid the body of free radicals. When your cells and body perform their daily functions, oxygen is used in the process and oxidation takes place producing free radicals (think of iron that’s been left to the elements and develops rust through oxidation). Free radicals are the waste material of these oxidative processes that can have an influence on the forming of cancer, arterial damage, inflammation, and accelerated aging through oxidative damage. They are also caused by a diet high in fried and barbequed foods, pollution, radiation, etc.
Therefore, acai berries are good for helping prevent damage to your body that’s caused by free radicals. The question that I don’t have answered yet is how the rather expensive acai berries are any different from other good anti-oxidants such as vitamins A, E, and C as well as bioflavonoids, coenzyme Q10, grape seed extract and green tea. Obviously, the health food store employee my receptionist talked to didn’t think it was that much better, but for me, the jury is still out.