Is Acai Berry a "Diet Miracle"?

There’s been a lot of hype about acai berries (pronounced “ah-k-eye”) – they appear in just about every form imaginable, from juices to ice creams and even weight loss supplements. Advertisers praise the amazing power of this humble fruit, claiming that it will help you lose weight, improve your immune system, clear your skin, and even increase your libido. We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but is there something special about the acai berry that makes it a so-called “miracle fruit”?

To get to the bottom of this, I checked out what the science had to say. In a recent experiment, researchers at the University of Calgary looked at the antioxidant properties of acai berry juice. Antioxidants are little phytochemicals that help our bodies get rid of damaging products of oxygen metabolism (called free radicals). In this study the scientists were able to measure the different types of antioxidants in the juice and compare it to the levels in other fruit juices.
The results showed that acai berry juice is high in several antioxidants and has a higher overall amount than the most commonly consumed juices (apple and orange).

Eating a diet high in foods containing lots of antioxidants (fruits and veggies) can help our skin, reduce the effects of aging, and prevent cancer. This is probably where most of the miracle claims about acai berry come from.
So now we know that acai berries are high in antioxidants but what effect do they actually have on our body?

Well they actually have a direct effect on free radicals and can stop them from being created. This was discovered by putting some immune cells in two little Petri dishes – one contained cells treated with acai berry juice pulp and the other had regular immune cells.

Next they added a little hydrogen peroxide to see what would happen. Why did they add that? Well our bodies naturally produce hydrogen peroxide as a waste product when we exercise. Normally hydrogen peroxide helps create a type of free radical called reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS cause havoc and damage many cells. Antioxidants are known to prevent this from happening.

In this experiment, the regular immune cells made the max amount of ROS possible when they came in contact with the hydrogen peroxide. In the other dish, the immune cells treated with the juice pulp hardly produced any ROS, showing the ability of the antioxidants from the acai berry to protect the cells from damaging free radicals.

That’s all well and good, but what about when the acai juice is inside us instead of in a dish? Are the antioxidants able to get in there and do their job?
Well, the researchers in Calgary thought about this question too and decided to find out. In another experiment they had 12 people drink 120 mL of acai berry juice or 120 mL of placebo. They took blood from each person before and after drinking the beverage to see if the acai berry juice had a different effect. The results are quite astonishing! One hour after drinking the acai berry juice 11/12 people had a substantial increase in antioxidant capacity but there was no change with the placebo beverage. The effects of the juice were still there and stronger than ever another hour later. Maybe there is something to this acai berry craze after all!

While I can’t vouch for acai flavoured ice cream or weight loss pills, there may be some merit in supplementing your diet with acai berry juice. As we know, post-workout recovery is crucial for performance and a big part of that is consuming a post-workout meal. This should include a serving of high-quality protein and high-glycemic carbohydrates to help repair damaged muscle fibres and replenish your glycogen stores. Why not try making your post-recovery shake with acai berry juice instead of milk or orange juice? Adding some high-powered antioxidants after your workout just might help you recover a little faster by preventing free radical damage, and if not, well, a few extra antioxidants certainly never hurt anyone!

Jensen GS, Wu X, Patterson KM, Barnes J, Carter SG, Scherwitz L, Beaman R, Endres JR, Schauss AG. In vitro and in vivo antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacities of an antioxidant-rick fruit and berry juice blend. Results of a pilot and randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, cross-over study. J Agric Food Chem, 56: 8326-8333, 2008.


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