Is Acai Berry the Panacea for Chronic Illness?

Written by Mita Majumdar, M.Sc. | Article Reviewed by The Medindia Medical Review Team on Nov 02, 2016
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Is Acai Berry the Panacea for Chronic Illness?

Acai berry supplements and products are widely marketed for preventing chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Acai is an excellent source of antioxidants and a very good source of fiber and essential fats, but laboratory research is limited as far as its role in fighting disease is concerned. A study from Natural and Medicinal Products Research, USA, revealed that anti-oxidants in acai ‘are able to enter human cells in a fully functional form and to perform an oxygen quenching function at very low doses.’ But investigations related to anti-inflammation and immune functions revealed that acai did not show any effect on lymphocyte proliferation and phagocytic capacity.

Some studies referring to the effect of acai on chronic diseases are discussed here.

Diabetes and acai berry: An upfront view of the acai berry nutrient analysis would show that the fruit is indeed diabetic friendly. People with diabetes have to choose fruits that have low sugar content and acai berry is one of the fruits that they can consume since it is low in dietary sugars. Acai is also high on dietary fiber content. This can help improve blood sugar levels and prevent insulin spikes.

These are of course general observations, but reliable scientific evidence for diabetes control with acai berry is lacking. However, the high concentrations of anti-oxidants in these berries are known to boost the immune system. This in turn prevents complications such as immune system dysfunction, eye problems, and ulcers resulting from diabetes.

Since, none of the studies done so far have proven that acai berry can cure or reverse diabetes, patients with diabetes need to consult their doctor before taking any acai berry product.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD): Although studies on dietary flavonoids in acai berry have not been conclusive, in general dietary flavonoids may have beneficial cardiovascular effects on human beings. A large study on post menopausal Iowa women to evaluate the association between flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality revealed that dietary intakes of flavonones, anthocyanidins and other flavonoids reduced risk of death due to coronary heart disease (CHD) and CVD.

Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that ‘the consumption of moderate amounts of berries resulted in favorable changes in platelet function, HDL cholesterol, and blood pressure’. The researchers suggested that consuming berries on a regular basis may play a role in the prevention of CVD.

Acai berry for preventing prostate enlargement- Plant sterols in the berry especially beta-sitosterol have been found to be effective in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostate enlargement. However this needs to be consumed daily.

Acai berry for preventing cancers: Apart from anthocyanins and essential fatty acids, plant sterols also has protective action against colon and breast cancers by inhibiting invasion of cancer cells into the surrounding tissue.

A study from the University of Florida, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that extracts from acai berries triggered a ‘self destruct response’ in up to 86 percent of cultured human cancer cells. The lead researcher, Stephen Talcott, however, cautioned that the study was not intended to show that acai berry products could prevent leukemia in people.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, ‘There are currently no established recommendations for the amount or kinds of antioxidants required on a daily basis to best protect us from disease. Eating a variety of plant-based foods each day – namely colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains and beans – is the best way to ensure you get a broad range of antioxidants and other protective phytochemicals. No one food offers the answer’.

The above statement sums up the use of acai berry for the general public without any hype.

References:

  1. Pacheco-Palencia LA, Mertens-Talcott S, Talcott ST., ‘Chemical composition, antioxidant properties, and thermal stability of a phytochemical enriched oil from Acai’ (Euterpe oleracea Mart.). J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jun 25;56(12):4631-6. Epub 2008 Jun 4.
  2. Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications (17 October 2008). Brazilian Acai Berry Antioxidants Absorbed by Human Body, Research Shows. Science Daily.
  3. Brazilian Acai Berry Antioxidants Absorbed By Human Body, Research Shows - (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081006112053.htm)
  4. Alcohol, Oxidative Stress, and Free Radical Damage - (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-4/277-284.htm)
  5. Aging Not Slowed By Antioxidants, Study Rejects 50 Year Old Theory - (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/131363.php)
  6. Moor de Burgos A, Wartanowicz M, Ziemlañski S. Blood vitamin and lipid levels in overweight and obese women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1992 Nov;46(11):803-8.
  7. Schauss AG, Wu X, Prior RL, Ou B, Huang D, Owens J, Agarwal A, Jensen GS, Hart AN, Shanbrom E. ‘Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry’, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (acai). J Agric Food Chem. 1 November 2006; 54(22):8604-10.
  8. Mink PJ, Scrafford CG, Barraj LM, Harnack L, Hong CP, Nettleton JA, Jacobs DR Jr., ‘Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: A prospective study in postmenopausal women’. Am J Clin Nutr. March 2007;85(3):895-909.
  9. Erlund I, Koli R, Alfthan G, Marniemi J, Puukka P, Mustonen P, Mattila P, Jula A. ‘Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol’. Am J Clin Nutr. February 2008; 87(2):323-31.
  10. Ovensa Z, Vachalkova A, Horvathova K. ‘Taraxasterol and beta-sitosterol: New naturally compounds with chemoprotective / chemopreventative effects’. Neoplasma. 2004; 51(6): 407-414.

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