Just Google the words acai berry and you’ll soon find yourself inundated with an ocean of information. For example, who among us have not heard acai called a “super food” or “super fruit.” Countless websites tout the benefits of acai berry for everything from arthritis and weight loss to slowing the aging process. But, does it do any of this? As a supplement investigator, I want review acai berry so as to give you some of the facts that you will need to know before you decide whether acai berry is right for you.
What is Acai Berry?
Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-E) is a type of palm tree that grows in regions of South America. Acai berry, the purple colored fruit of the tree, contains a small amount of protein and fat, mostly in the form of heart healthy, monounsaturated fats. Other nutrients include various B vitamins and phytonutrients, vitamin A, calcium and several minerals like iron.
Mostly because of its phytonutrients, acai berry also has antioxidant properties, which means it helps neutralize free radicals which, if left unchecked, can damage cells and are implicated in the development of many diseases (e.g. cancer).
Acai Berry Clinical Evidence
The research that has been conducted so far shows that acai is an antioxidant. Other research finds that it also appears able to neutralize cyclooxygenase, an enzyme complex that is involved in many cellular reactions ranging from blood clotting to pain to name a few. Many people have heard the term “COX-2 inhibitor.” COX is the abbreviation for cyclooxygenase.
Because of this, some say that acai can help arthritis and may even call it a “natural COX2 inhibitor”. The idea here is that acai berry would be just as effective as prescription medications – minus the side effects.
Despite the amazing claims being attributed to acai berry and acai juice products, most people are surprised to learn that there is currently no peer-reviewed published research that proves that that acai berry has any significant effect on disease in humans.
What people need to know is that most of the research on acai is conducted in laboratories on isolated cell cultures. Scientists call these “in vitro” studies which basically means the research was performed in a test tube or petri dish. This is in fact the basis of one of the most highly touted abilities of acai– its antioxidant powers.
The thing to remember is that we humans are much more complex than isolated cells placed in a test tube and mixed with acai extracts. Each of our millions and millions of cells are dynamic environments, where an orchestra of independent and cascading chemical reactions occurs every second of our lives. Because of this, test tube studies should be viewed with caution if they are the only evidence being given to prove the effectiveness of something in humans.
For example, acai is an antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals (in a test tube). But it’s also possible that any antioxidant can produce free radicals. Scientists call this phenomenon, pro-oxidation. Does acai berry have any prooxidant effects in humans? In other words, would high potency acai extract supplements create free radicals in people? This is unknown because the research has not been done.
Does Acai Help Weight loss?
Some say that acai extracts can help people lose weight. However, currently, there is no peer reviewed studies in humans to back up this claim. Likewise, I was not able to find any weight loss studies using animals either. Since acai berry is a fruit, it’s probably is low in calories and if that is the case, then eating acai berry will probably help weight loss – if people don’t eat too many calories.
But, the big question is how does eating acai stack up to eating other fruits? For example, suppose you used acai berry for 1 month and then grapefruit for a month. If you ate the same number of calories both months, who would lose the most weight? For more on this issue also read my review of the Acai Berry Diet.
Update 8/13/11. Acai Berry supplement causes rhabdomyolysis. This is a case study of a 22 year old man who took an acai berry weight loss supplement which resulted in muscle cell death (rhabdomyolysis). The supplement was supposed to contain acai berry and other ingredients. Ironically when doctors tested the supplement, no acai berry was found in the supplement.
Rhabdomyolysis is a serious disorder that results in kidney failure and even heart attack. Signs of rhabdomyolysis include intense muscle pain and weakness (even when not moving), and very dark brown colored urine (think cola colored urine). Be cautious when buying supplements from companies you have not heard of.
Does Acai Help Sex drive?
Acai berry has been called “the Viagra of the Amazon” with claims that it can help a variety of male sex problems ranging from impotence / erectile dysfunction (“ED”) to even enlarging penis size. But again, there appears to be no peer reviewed proof in humans or animals that acai has any effect –positive or negative – on sexual function. Likewise, the is no research that acai has any effect on the sex drive or sexual function in women either.
Is Acai Berry Anti Aging?
Acai has been called a “superfood” with some claims that it can battle aspects of the aging process. Acai is an antioxidant but does that mean it can help turn back the clock or prevent or reduce any condition associated with old age? I was unable to turn up any peer reviewed studies to confirm or refute this claim. That said here are 5 things that people can do right now that can help slow aging.
2. Eat more fruits (acai too if you like) and vegetables
3. Don’t smoke
4. Deal better with the negative stresses in your life
5. Eat about 25% fewer calories (or do intermittent fasting)
Acai and Wrinkles?
Acai extracts may show up in cosmetics. This is probably because of its antioxidant properties. In theory, the antioxidants in acai, either rubbed on the skin or taken internally might reduce wrinkles caused by free radical damage, but I’d like to see some research that acai can reduces wrinkles first. I could discover no peer reviewed studies that investigated acai berry’s effect on wrinkles.
Is Acai Berry a Superfood?
The phrase “superfood” is often spoken in the same sentence as acai berry. But is it really a superfood? The term super food gives the connotation that acai is superior to other foods. Acai berry does have nutrition. That part is a fact. But, how does it compare to blueberries, broccoli, strawberries or other foods? It’s likely that acai has more of some nutrients – and less of other nutrients.
This is true for all foods. There is no single food that is superior to others. This is why nutrition experts are always telling people to eat a “wide variety” of foods. That way, you get a broad spectrum of nutrients.
Acai Berry Side Effects?
No serious side effects have been attributed to acai berry products. In theory, if people are allergic to berries, they may also have issues with acai berry or its juice, so this may be something to consider. Acai does appear to have a primitive COX2 (and COX 1) inhibitory effect.
Stop acai supplements at least 2 weeks before surgery
Given what is known about some prescription COX2 inhibitors causing heart problems (i.e. Vioxx), might the same be true of acai berry? This is unknown. Currently, no reports of acai berry products interfering with heart function appear to be published.
Acai products have been used by millions of people and my gut instinct is that this is most likely a worst case scenario. To be safe, people with heart problems should speak to their physician and pharmacist who can advise them best on this issue.
Does Acai Berry Work?
I'm not anti- acai berry. I'm pro-evidence. There are a lot of acai products being promoted with grandiose claims despite a glaring lack of proof.
Acai can be expensive – more so than “regular” fruits and vegetables. If you are using acai berry, just make sure you use it alongside other fruits and vegetables and you’ll be OK.