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Clinical Studies on Acai Berries

An independent review of the effects of açaí berries was recently published, including studies on immune function, arthritis, and metabolic parameters.

February 27, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

C. Ulbricht, A. Brigham, D. Burke, D. Costa, N. Giese, R. Iovin, J. M. G. Serrano, S. Tanguay-Colucci, W. Weissner, R. Windsor. An evidence-based systematic review of acai (Euterpe oleracea) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl 2012 9(2):128 - 147

Y. Zhang, D. Krueger, R. Durst, R. Lee, D. Wang, N. Seeram, D. Heber. International multidimensional authenticity specification (IMAS) algorithm for detection of commercial pomegranate juice adulteration. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2009 57(6):2550 - 2557

Y. Zhang, D. Wang, R.-P. Lee, S. M. Henning, D. Heber. Absence of pomegranate ellagitannins in the majority of commercial Pomegranate extracts: Implications for standardization and quality control. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2009 57(16):7395 - 7400

A. G. Schauss, X. Wu, R. L. Prior, B. Ou, D. Huang, J. Owens, A. Agarwal, G. S. Jensen, A. N. Hart, E. Shanbrom. Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (Acai). J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2006 54(22):8604 - 8610

D. Del Pozo-Insfran, S. S. Percival, S. T. Talcott. A{\c{c}}ai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) Polyphenolics in their glycoside and aglycone forms induce apoptosis of HL-60 leukemia cells. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2006 54(4):1222 - 1229

Y.-C. Chang, H.-P. Huang, J.-D. Hsu, S.-F. Yang, C.-J. Wang. Hibiscus anthocyanins rich extract-induced apoptotic cell death in human promyelocytic leukemia cells. Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. 2005 205(3):201 - 212

G. D. Noratto, G. Angel-Morales, S. T. Talcott, S. U. Mertens-Talcott. Polyphenolics from açaí ( Euterpe oleracea Mart.) And red muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia ) protect human umbilical vascular Endothelial cells (HUVEC) from glucose- and lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced inflammation and target microRNA-126. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2011 59(14):7999 - 8012

J. Holderness, I. A. Schepetkin, B. Freedman, L. N. Kirpotina, M. T. Quinn, J. F. Hedges, M. A. Jutila. Polysaccharides isolated from A{\c{c}}a{\'i} fruit induce innate immune responses. PLoS ONE 2011 6(2):e17301

WHO. A practical handbook on the pharmacovigilance of antimalarial medicines. WHO 2007 NA(NA):1 - 116

G. S. Jensen, D. M. Ager, K. A. Redman, M. A. Mitzner, K. F. Benson, A. G. Schauss. Pain reduction and improvement in range of motion after daily consumption of an a{\c{c}}ai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) Pulp-fortified polyphenolic-rich fruit and berry juice blend. J Med Food 2011 14(7 - 8):702 - 711

R. Gallagher, S. Collins, J. Trujillo, K. McCredie, M. Ahearn, S. Tsai, R. Metzgar, G. Aulakh, R. Ting, F. Ruscetti, R. Gallo. Characterization of the continuous, differentiating myeloid cell line (HL-60) from a patient with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Blood 1979 54(3):713 - 733

J. K. Udani, B. B. Singh, V. J. Singh, M. L. Barrett. Effects of A{\c{c}}ai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) Berry preparation on metabolic parameters in a healthy overweight population: A pilot study. Nutr J 2011 10(NA):45

R. K. Elsayed, J. K. Glisson, D. S. Minor. Rhabdomyolysis associated with the use of a mislabeled

de Moura RS, Pires KM, Santos Ferreira T, Lopes AA, Nesi RT, Resende AC, Sousa PJ, da Silva AJ, Porto LC, Valenca SS. Addition of açaí (Euterpe oleracea) to cigarettes has a protective effect against emphysema in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Apr;49(4):855-63. Epub 2010 Dec 13.

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Lets, and movies thanks to Clarke M, Engel U, Giorgione J, Müller-Taubenberger A, Prassler J, Veltman D, Gerisch G. via Wikimedia Commons

Transcript

An "Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Acai" berries was recently published by the Natural Standards Research Collaboration, an impartial scientific body that refuses to take support from product manufacturers cited by the World Health Organization as one of the most authoritative sources on such matters.  What did they find? Whenever a new purported superfood hits the market, the first thing researchers tend to do is look at its chemistry such as its antioxidant capacity, which was done back in 2006. Based on one measure, it had " the highest of any food reported to date," a remarkable finding I reported at the time, arguing that despite it's cost, frozen acai pulp represented one of the best antioxidant bangs for one's buck. But still didn't know what it did outside of a test tube. The next step is to go from test tube to petri dish and try it out on some cells. They dripped the concentration of acai berry phytonutrients one would expect in one’s bloodstream after eating on some blood cancer cells taken from a 36 year old woman with leukemia and saw a dramatic rise in cancer cell mortality, about twice that found previously using similar concentrations of hibiscus tea on the same cancer. Acai was also found to boost immune cell function at extremely low doses. This is a video of a human white blood cell gobbling up some invading yeast cells. Sprinkle some acai berry powder on them and they gobble more. With no acai for breakfast, white blood cells were able to engulf about 140 yeast, but in the presence of tiny amounts of acai engulfed closer to 200. Slowly but surely researchers began piecing together the mechanism by which acai affected cellular function. Still no human studies, though. Researchers moved from cells to animal models. Who can forget the "Addition of açaí to cigarettes has a protective effect against emphysema in mice." Instead of adding berries to their cigarettes, though, it might be easier to just encourage the mice to quit smoking. But then finally, starting in 2011, studies on actual people. Pain Reduction and Improvement in Range of Motion After Daily Consumption of an Acai in about a dozen folks with painful conditions like osteoarthritis.  After 3 months, antioxidant levels went up, and pain levels went down, though since there was no blinded control group drinking like some artificially acai-flavored Kool-Aid, placebo effects cannot be excluded. And finally, another pilot study. Effects of Açai on metabolic parameters. Ten overweight folks were given two packs of frozen acai pulp every day for a month. And even though they were allowed to take it with sugar, their fasting blood sugars dropped as well as their insulin levels and cholesterol. It significantly blunted the sugar spike caused by a standardized meal, all without any obvious adverse effects. In fact the only theoretical concerns cited in the review may be that it may work too well. If you're on diabetic blood sugar lowering medications it could potentially drop your blood sugar too low, or if you have an autoimmune disease or are on immunosuppressants it could stimulate your immune system too much. But what about the case report of the guy whose muscles started dissolving after using this acai berry supplement. Turns out, there were no acai berries in it at all! That's the problem with taking supplements, they are so poorly regulated you never know what you're getting. For example a study was done on 27 supplements of another purported superfruit, pomegranate.  "Of the 27 supplements tested only 5 appeared to be what they actually said. Fine, you say, no pills you'll just stick to the juice. "45 commercial pomegranate juice samples from 23 different manufacturers in the United States.  They said 100% pomegranate juice on the label but most of them lied, only 6 out of 23 were what they said they were. The only source where you can be guaranteed to get authentic pomegranate juice has no label at all.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Here are the older açaí videos I referenced: Antioxidant Content of 300 Foods and Superfood Bargains.

Indian gooseberries may also help control blood sugar (Amla Versus Diabetes) and rose hips may also help with arthritis (Dietary Osteoarthritis Treatment). Plant-based diets in general may help arthritis (Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis) and metabolic parameters (Metabolic Syndrome and Plant-Based Diets).

I also have another video on pomegranate juice: Is Pomegranate Juice That Wonderful? And what's true of pomegranate juice is true of other juices (Best Fruit Juice) with one exception (The Fruit Whose Juice Is Healthier).

Even if supplements contain what they say, they may not be useful (Dietary Supplement Snake Oil) and sometimes it's what's added rather than what's missing that is the problem (Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse Than Lead Paint Exposure).

For some context, please also check out my associated blog posts: The Science of Acai BerriesRaspberries Reverse Precancerous Lesions, and Probiotics During Cold Season?

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • SharonL

    Is there a link to the “Pomegranate juices don’t contain pomegranate juice” study?

    • Mike Quinoa

      Sharon, click on the “Sources Cited” under the video.

  • Celia

    Dr. Greger, I am from Brazil and the açai berry is largely consumed here as we are one of the top producers in the world. However, there is a major concern about its consumption and most of the crops (at least here) may be contaminated by the “barbeiro” which is the insect who is responsible to spred the known Mal de Chagas. The decontamination proccess is very simple but our local media has been reporting that many producers do not use it and the parasyte survives even the freezing proccess, as it is really very resistant. Here in Brazil it is already a matter of public health and unless its origin is really certified, I would be really conerned about consuming it. Locally the habit is to eat a bowl of açaí with granola and just for you to have an idea – Pará in located in the North of Brazil, is the major producer of the açai berry and some cities concentrate 80% of the Mal de Chagas cases. So, please be aware of the benefits of the fruit but also its contamination.

    • Thea

      Celia: Thanks for this information. Nothing is ever simple.

    • http://www.facebook.com/smylchreest Serena Seri Mylchreest

      Thank you Celia for this information. Can you tell us what the decontamination process is?

      • Celia

        It´s called “branqueamento” meaning “whitening” – first you have to give acai seeds a thermo shock – by imersing them in hot water 80 degrees Celsius for 10 seconds and then in cold water. After that, you have to wash acai with Sodium Hypocloryde 2% twice and then the last wash with filtered water. It´s fairly simple for the producer and those are the recommendations of the Brazilian Health Authorities. But we know for a fact that they don’t do it only certified producers do it. so, as there is so much fuss about the acai properties many producers are aiming the fast buck and putting peoples health at risk of a deadly disease such as mal de Chagas. So, make sure you are buying from a reliable source.

  • Celia

    As a source of the previous post – http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/15/4/08-1450_article.htm

  • LindaP

    Dr. Greger,

    Thanks so much for this video and all you do! As a regular consumer of pomegranate juice (in 1 ounce portions), I was naturally concerned about your statement that most pomegranate juices do not contain actual pomegranate. I read the abstract of the study at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20349921, and they are discussing pomegranate extract found in supplements. Your video implied there was no pomegranate juice in most commercial pomegranate juices, not supplements. Could you please clarify?

    Thanks! I think your work is terrific!

    • Scottosphere

      I read the entire study on pomegranate juice adulteration thanks to my local library’s interlibrary loan program (support your library). Like you, I wondered which brands were pure and which were adulterated. Unfortunately, the researchers never gave the names of the products; they just assigned a letter to each sample, A through W.

      To clarify the study further, the non-pure samples weren’t other juices entirely. They were adulterated pomegranate juice samples. In other words, other components were added to pomegrate juice, not substituted entirely. Given that only 26% (6/23) samples were pure, and we do not know the pure brands, Greger’s advice to stick with the whole fruit seems prudent. And if that is not reason enough, here is what the FDA says about juice in general: adulteration of juices is occurring commonly in the marketplace.

      Skeptic shopping :-)

      • Thea

        Scottosphere: Thanks for taking the time to share the results of your research with us!

  • LindaP

    Dr. Greger,

    Sorry, I was looking at the wrong study. Here is the correct one: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19249817. I can only access the abstract and not the whole study. Does it mention which brands are 100% pomegranate juice? I can see they included samples from China, India, Turkey, etc, so I understand those might not be well regulated according to U.S. standards. Does this mean some of the major U.S. brands like Pom and Trader Joe’s are cheating?

    Thanks again for all you do!

    • Scottosphere

      I read the entire study on pomegranate juice adulteration thanks to my local library’s interlibrary loan program (support your library). Like you, I wondered which brands were pure and which were adulterated. Unfortunately, the researchers never gave the names of the products; they just assigned a letter to each sample, A through W.

      Skeptic shopping :-)

  • Thea

    I’m confused about the posts which say that there is no reference for the study that talks about pomegranate juice. I got the following link from Dr. Greger’s list above and it appears to be addressing pomegranate juice:

    Y.
    Zhang, D. Krueger, R. Durst, R. Lee, D. Wang, N. Seeram, D. Heber.
    International multidimensional authenticity specification (IMAS)
    algorithm for detection of commercial pomegranate juice adulteration. J.
    Agric. Food. Chem. 2009 57(6):2550 – 2557

    It is the second in the list of “Sources Cited” above. This link doesn’t give you the whole study, but if you have access to those materials, then you could look it up.

    Hope that helps.

  • Dan

    Amla or acai? Which is really the king of antioxidants?

  • Harold

    What are the 6 brands that were actually juice?

    • Scottosphere

      I read the entire study on pomegranate juice adulteration thanks to my local library’s interlibrary loan program (support your library). Like you, I wondered which brands were pure and which were adulterated. Unfortunately, the researchers never gave the names of the products; they just assigned a letter to each sample, A through W.

  • Dan

    Any idea why hibiscus tea only had half the effect on cancer cells as acai? I found this surprising.

  • Karen

    Interesting post! I was nodding my head in agreement at the end when you were discussing the pomegranate juice. It is amazing how easy (and DELICIOUS!) it is to juice a pomegranate. Fairly inexpensive too.

  • HemoDynamic, M.D.

    I like that the White Blood Cells were exposed to Acai extract’s and got the Munchies!!!!!-))

  • Debbie

    What is the news on other exotic berries including camu camu, golden, maqui, and mulberry? How good are these for you?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbsamba Jeremy Black

    Dr. Greger- great video on Acai!!! and to respond to Celia’s question about Chagas the key to killing any potential of Chagas contamination is flash pasteurization which is not done for the most part in Brasil but is done for all products (as long as they are not labeled “raw” that come into the US). Cecila you can look for Tribal Acai in Brasil which is flash pastuerized.

    I also suggest you look at the myriad of studies that continue to get published on pubmed about acai since the review above was published. It’s clear the evidence is building around the health properties and benefits of the fruit.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=acai

  • linda comeau

    bonjour a vous je veux savoir au on trouve ce fruit s v p me répondre en français moi je prend soin de ma sante merci a vous

  • Teresa Donovan

    Dear Dr’s,It’s me,Teresa Donovan would you please help me to find a really great RA daily food cookbook or somewhere to find GREAT recipes for people with SEVERE RA? Thank you

  • jenne

    What were the six products that were pure pomegranta juice? Love getting your mail everyday!! I have learned so much but wish there was more on Hep C and what might be good for that.

    Thanks!!!!!!

    • Scottosphere

      Unfortunately, the researchers never gave the names of the products; they just assigned a letter to each sample, A through W.

      Skeptic shopping :-)

  • Kelli

    Dear Dr. Greger, There is a lot of hype lately about modified citrus pectin! can you shed some light on this subject? Thank You

  • Sebastian Tristan

    I’m also curious about the Amla vs Açai super heavy weight battle.

  • Gayle Humphrey

    Dr. Greger,
    I have a question that I am hoping that you can help me with. Have you, or do you know of any research that examined the effect of nutrition on blood cancers and diseases?
    I am a 57 year old female. I have been vegetarian for about 4 years and a vegan for about 6 months. Over the past year to yare and a half two of my cell lines (WBC and platelets) have been consistently low. At one point there was some question about the possibiltiy of a diagnosis of T Cell LGL Leukemia. However, I did not meet the criteria for that diagnosis and the decision was made to wait and watch and monitor counts x 2/ year.

    I am hopeful that there is something that would be helpful for me so that I don’t progress to leukemia and need treatment with campath, vidaza, methotrexate, cytoxin, CSA, etc.

    Do you have any information that could be beneficial for me?

    BTW, I love your videos and have learned so much. Thanks for all you do.

  • Ondy

    Hi, what is your take on Maqui berries, I hear they are off the charts in Vitamin c and higher than acai berrys in antioxidants, love to know if there is any scientific evidence or studys done.