A new review questioned whether the claims about acai, a palm that produces berries often referred to as a “super food,” are true. The conclusion of the authors is that there is “insufficient and unconvincing scientific evidence” to support this claim, although this does not mean acai does not possess some antioxidant properties.
Acai berries were made popular via the internet
A team of investigators, led by Michael Heinrich from the Center for Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy at The School of Pharmacy, University of London, conducted an extensive review on the internet of the claims concerning acai. Berries from the palm Euterpe oleracea Martius have been widely marketed as a dietary food supplement that can promote rapid weight loss, fight aging, improve digestion, and help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Research shows that acai contains antioxidants such as polyphenols, especially flavonoids and anthocyanins. These and other polyphenols, which possess anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative (inhibits cell growth), and antioxidant properties, have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, and other diseases.
Acai berries are reddish-purple fruits that have been mostly studied for their antioxidant properties. Some studies show acai berries have a very high antioxidant capacity, more than found in blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Research is still ongoing, however, and thus far acai berries have demonstrated health benefits similar to other fruits.
After evaluating the available data on acai, the reviewers noted that “leaving aside the question whether in vivo [in a living organism] effects can be extrapolated from in vitro [in test tubes, cultures] antioxidant data (which is highly controversial),” they explained that acai “does not seem to have superior antioxidant levels.”
Specifically, Heinrich noted that acai “is a poster child of the power of the internet to promote products for which only limited phytochemical and pharmacological information is available.” The review appears in Phytochemistry Letters (vol. 4 issue1).
The reviewers did point out that while acai does not appear to be the super nutraceutical broadcasted on the internet, the dietary supplement does have “promising potential” regarding its ability to provide cardiovascular protection and antiproliferative activity. These benefits, however, need to be confirmed in further studies, including clinical trials or intervention studies that encompass large populations and that are conducted over prolonged periods of time.