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

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 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.

43 responses to “Clinical Studies on Açaí Berries

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  1. 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.

      1. 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.

  2. 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!

    1. 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 :-)

  3. 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!

    1. 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 :-)

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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!!!!!!

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

      Skeptic shopping :-)

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Update: for Ondy — I just found a 2014 study in Chile of 2 Chilean fruits — maqui and calafate — compared to blueberry with promising results that need to be replicated and researched in a peer review manner in the US.
    The practical gem at this time is to eat a variety of berries daily to get high anti-inflammatory benefit :)

  13. Has any nutritional research been done on Maqui (Aristotelia chilensis) ? It is touted as a polyphenol leader. Thank-you!

    1. There is some. Here is a study on Maqui and smokers finding the extract may reduce inflammatory markers. Let me know if you want more I had never heard of it. Looks like a Chilean berry? Thanks, Matt. Oh and also see comments below they may help, too.

  14. Hi David,

    You ask a great question. Something to consider is the popularity of Acai is straining the ability of a country like Brazil (largest supplier) to provide adequate amounts of this superfood. When I did a brief search, I cannot find a supplier or source of fresh Acai to incorporate into smoothies. Perhaps our community might have a source. It is important to note that there are other, readily available superfood berries like blueberries that tend to be more affordable, and more readily available this time of year.

    Enjoy!

  15. Love your delivery of this important information. Droll and downright hilarious. I especially enjoyed the information on how to find 100% pomegranate juice. Hahahaha. Keep doing your wonderful research and reports. I enjoy them and they’ve been very helpful to me.

  16. What about Goji berry? I’ve heard that it’s good for your eye vision, but not sure how much we should comsume a day.
    Any other benefits as well?

    Thanks

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