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