The Antioxidant Effects of Açai vs. Apples

The Antioxidant Effects of Açai vs. Apples
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Açai berries are touted for their antioxidant power, but does that translate into increased antioxidant capacity of your bloodstream when you eat them?

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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.

There are so many açai products on the market now, from frozen pulp in smoothie packs to freeze-dried powder and supplements. How is it eaten traditionally? Amazonian tribes cut down the tree, eat its heart, and then pee on the stump to attract a certain type of beetle that lays these monster maggots. And so, a few weeks later, you’ve got three or four pounds of these suckers; so, you can make some grub-kabobs. I think I’ll just stick with my smoothie pack.

“Despite being used for a long time as food” in the Amazon, only since the beginning of this century have “açaí berries…been the object of scientific research.” Four years ago, I reviewed that research, starting with in vitro studies that showed that açai could kill leukemia cells in a petri dish at levels one might expect in one’s bloodstream eating a cup or two of açai pulp, or cutting the growth of colon cancer cells in half.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies published since then failed to find such benefit for that type of colon cancer, a different type of colon cancer, or an estrogen receptor negative form of breast cancer. An açai extract did appear to kill off a line of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells, but to achieve that level of açai nutrients in your breast, you’d have to sit down to like 400 cups of açai pulp.

That’s the problem with many of these petri dish studies: they use concentrations that you could never realistically achieve in your bloodstream. For example, açai berries may exert a neuroprotective effect, blocking the buildup of amyloid fibers implicated in Alzheimer’s—but only at a dose reached drinking maybe 2,000 cups at a time. Or, have an anti-allergy effect, or decrease bone loss—at a mere thousand cups a day.

But, I also talked about a clinical study in which folks were asked to drink less than a cup a day of açai in a smoothie, and appeared to get significant improvements in blood sugar, and insulin levels, and cholesterol. Now, there was no control group, and it was a small study, but there’d never been a bigger study to try to replicate it—until now.

Same amount of açai, for the same duration, but no significant improvements in blood sugars, insulin, or cholesterol. Huh? Why did this study fail to show the benefits seen in the first study? Well, this study was publicly funded—”no conflicts of interest”—whereas the first study was funded by an açai company, which always makes you suspect that maybe the study was somehow designed to get the desired result. And, indeed, the study participants were not just given açai smoothies, but explicitly told to avoid processed meat (like “bacon and hot dogs”). No wonder their numbers looked better at the end of the month.

Now, the new study did find a decrease in markers of oxidative stress in the participants’ bloodstream—a sign of how antioxidant-rich açai berries can be. Those that hock supplements love to talk about how açai consumption can “triple antioxidant capacity;” “triple the antioxidant capacity of [your] blood.”

And, if you look at the study they cite, yes, there was a tripling in antioxidant capacity of the blood after eating açai. But there was the same, or even better, tripling after just plain applesauce, which was used as a control, and is significantly cheaper than açai berries or supplements.

There was a new study showing significant improvements in artery function after eating açai berries, but any more than commoner fruits and vegetables? We’ll find out, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Egorova Valentina and Mint Shirt from The Noun Project

Images Rhynchophorus_palmarum and Suri_Iquitos_Peru thanks to Wikimedia, and maggot1, maggot2 and maggot3 from Reinaldo Aguilar via Flickr. 

Thumbnail image credit: Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Agrário via Flickr. Image has been modified.

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.

There are so many açai products on the market now, from frozen pulp in smoothie packs to freeze-dried powder and supplements. How is it eaten traditionally? Amazonian tribes cut down the tree, eat its heart, and then pee on the stump to attract a certain type of beetle that lays these monster maggots. And so, a few weeks later, you’ve got three or four pounds of these suckers; so, you can make some grub-kabobs. I think I’ll just stick with my smoothie pack.

“Despite being used for a long time as food” in the Amazon, only since the beginning of this century have “açaí berries…been the object of scientific research.” Four years ago, I reviewed that research, starting with in vitro studies that showed that açai could kill leukemia cells in a petri dish at levels one might expect in one’s bloodstream eating a cup or two of açai pulp, or cutting the growth of colon cancer cells in half.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies published since then failed to find such benefit for that type of colon cancer, a different type of colon cancer, or an estrogen receptor negative form of breast cancer. An açai extract did appear to kill off a line of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells, but to achieve that level of açai nutrients in your breast, you’d have to sit down to like 400 cups of açai pulp.

That’s the problem with many of these petri dish studies: they use concentrations that you could never realistically achieve in your bloodstream. For example, açai berries may exert a neuroprotective effect, blocking the buildup of amyloid fibers implicated in Alzheimer’s—but only at a dose reached drinking maybe 2,000 cups at a time. Or, have an anti-allergy effect, or decrease bone loss—at a mere thousand cups a day.

But, I also talked about a clinical study in which folks were asked to drink less than a cup a day of açai in a smoothie, and appeared to get significant improvements in blood sugar, and insulin levels, and cholesterol. Now, there was no control group, and it was a small study, but there’d never been a bigger study to try to replicate it—until now.

Same amount of açai, for the same duration, but no significant improvements in blood sugars, insulin, or cholesterol. Huh? Why did this study fail to show the benefits seen in the first study? Well, this study was publicly funded—”no conflicts of interest”—whereas the first study was funded by an açai company, which always makes you suspect that maybe the study was somehow designed to get the desired result. And, indeed, the study participants were not just given açai smoothies, but explicitly told to avoid processed meat (like “bacon and hot dogs”). No wonder their numbers looked better at the end of the month.

Now, the new study did find a decrease in markers of oxidative stress in the participants’ bloodstream—a sign of how antioxidant-rich açai berries can be. Those that hock supplements love to talk about how açai consumption can “triple antioxidant capacity;” “triple the antioxidant capacity of [your] blood.”

And, if you look at the study they cite, yes, there was a tripling in antioxidant capacity of the blood after eating açai. But there was the same, or even better, tripling after just plain applesauce, which was used as a control, and is significantly cheaper than açai berries or supplements.

There was a new study showing significant improvements in artery function after eating açai berries, but any more than commoner fruits and vegetables? We’ll find out, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Egorova Valentina and Mint Shirt from The Noun Project

Images Rhynchophorus_palmarum and Suri_Iquitos_Peru thanks to Wikimedia, and maggot1, maggot2 and maggot3 from Reinaldo Aguilar via Flickr. 

Thumbnail image credit: Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Agrário via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Doctor's Note

What’s so great about antioxidants? Check out:

Where else can you get them? See Antioxidants in a Pinch and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods vs. Animal Foods.

What are the nutritional aspects of those grubkabobs? See:

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion in 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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