Clinical Studies on Açaí Berries

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

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

An “Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Açaí” 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 antioxidant capacity, which was done back in 2006. Based on one measure, it had “the highest [antioxidant capacity] of any food reported to date”—a remarkable finding I reported at the time, arguing that, despite its cost, frozen açaí pulp represented one of the best antioxidant bangs for one’s buck. But, still, we 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 human cells. They dripped the concentration of açaí berry phytonutrients one would expect in one’s bloodstream after eating them on some blood cancer cells taken from a woman with leukemia, and saw a dramatic rise in cancer cell mortality—in fact, about twice what was found previously, using similar concentrations of hibiscus tea, on the same cancer.

Açaí was also found to boost immune cell function at extremely low doses. Here are some videos of  white blood cells gobbling up invading yeast. Nom, nom, nom, nom, nom. Come back here! Isn’t that amazing? They’re like sucking them up like Slurpees. I could watch these all day.

Anyway, sprinkle some açaí berry powder on them, and they gobble more. With no açaí for breakfast, white blood cells were able to engulf about 140 yeast. But, in the presence of a tiny amount of berry powder, they engulfed closer to 200. Slowly but surely, researchers began piecing together the mechanism by which açaí affected cellular function.

Still no human studies, though. Researchers moved from cells to animal models. Who could 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 Açaí” in about a dozen folks with painful conditions, like osteoarthritis. After three months, antioxidant levels went up, and pain levels went down—though since there was no blinded control group drinking like some artificially açaí-flavored Kool-Aid, the placebo effect could not be excluded.

And, finally, one last pilot study. The “Effects of Açai on Metabolic Parameters.” Ten overweight folks were given two packs of frozen açaí pulp every day for a month. And, even though they were allowed to take it with sugar, their fasting blood sugars dropped, as did their insulin levels, and cholesterol. And, 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 new 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 açaí berry supplement? Turns out, there was no açaí berry in it, at all! That’s the problem with taking supplements—they’re so poorly regulated, you never know what you’re getting.

For example, a study was done on 27 supplements of another purported superfruit, pomegranate. Here’s the main ingredients. Except: “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 all said they contained 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 you can be guaranteed to get authentic pomegranate juice has no label at all.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

An “Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Açaí” 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 antioxidant capacity, which was done back in 2006. Based on one measure, it had “the highest [antioxidant capacity] of any food reported to date”—a remarkable finding I reported at the time, arguing that, despite its cost, frozen açaí pulp represented one of the best antioxidant bangs for one’s buck. But, still, we 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 human cells. They dripped the concentration of açaí berry phytonutrients one would expect in one’s bloodstream after eating them on some blood cancer cells taken from a woman with leukemia, and saw a dramatic rise in cancer cell mortality—in fact, about twice what was found previously, using similar concentrations of hibiscus tea, on the same cancer.

Açaí was also found to boost immune cell function at extremely low doses. Here are some videos of  white blood cells gobbling up invading yeast. Nom, nom, nom, nom, nom. Come back here! Isn’t that amazing? They’re like sucking them up like Slurpees. I could watch these all day.

Anyway, sprinkle some açaí berry powder on them, and they gobble more. With no açaí for breakfast, white blood cells were able to engulf about 140 yeast. But, in the presence of a tiny amount of berry powder, they engulfed closer to 200. Slowly but surely, researchers began piecing together the mechanism by which açaí affected cellular function.

Still no human studies, though. Researchers moved from cells to animal models. Who could 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 Açaí” in about a dozen folks with painful conditions, like osteoarthritis. After three months, antioxidant levels went up, and pain levels went down—though since there was no blinded control group drinking like some artificially açaí-flavored Kool-Aid, the placebo effect could not be excluded.

And, finally, one last pilot study. The “Effects of Açai on Metabolic Parameters.” Ten overweight folks were given two packs of frozen açaí pulp every day for a month. And, even though they were allowed to take it with sugar, their fasting blood sugars dropped, as did their insulin levels, and cholesterol. And, 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 new 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 açaí berry supplement? Turns out, there was no açaí berry in it, at all! That’s the problem with taking supplements—they’re so poorly regulated, you never know what you’re getting.

For example, a study was done on 27 supplements of another purported superfruit, pomegranate. Here’s the main ingredients. Except: “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 all said they contained 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 you can be guaranteed to get authentic pomegranate juice has no label at all.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

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

Nota del Doctor

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 vs. Diabetes), and rose hips may also help with arthritis (Rose Hips for Osteoarthritis). Plant-based diets, in general, may help arthritis (Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis) and metabolic parameters (Metabolic Syndrome & Plant-Based Diets).

Also see 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 (see Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse than Lead Paint Exposure).

For further context, also check out my associated blog posts: The Science on Açaí BerriesRaspberries Reverse Precancerous Lesions; and Probiotics During Cold Season? 

I made a few more videos on açaí in 2017. Here they are: The Antioxidant Effects of Açai vs. Apples and The Benefits of Açai vs. Blueberries for Artery Function

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

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