Understanding the Benefits of the Acai Berry
Up until a decade or so ago, the acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) berry was virtually unknown outside of the Brazilian rainforest. The product of a type of palm tree that’s native to the island of Trinidad and northern South American, the acai berry has grown tremendously over the last few years, as a powerful source of anti-oxidants, and a ‘super-food ‘ packed with health benefits that’s known for producing a healthy, natural jolt of energy.
What is the Acai Berry?
The acai berry looks somewhat like a grape or a blueberry, and has been described as tasting like a wild berry (which it is), with a hint of chocolate. However, the acai berry is actually quite low in sugar compared to other fruits, while containing significant amounts of Vitamin A, calcium, iron, and fiber. And the acai berry is also packed with anthocyanin powder, which is a powerful answer to free radicals in the body.
The acai berry has long been known to natives in the areas where it grows, who mix it with a starchy root vegetable called manioc, and it eat is as a kind of porridge. For them, the traditional benefits have been treatment of things like ulcers, hemorrhages, digestive problems, diarrhea, and infections by parasites.
Initially, the acai berry gained popularity because of its high concentrations of anti-oxidants and flavonoids, which fight free radicals in the body, to promote overall health and reduce the cell-damaging effects of those free radicals. And, as a result, many have reported on the lift in energy and anti-aging effect they’ve felt because of their use of the acai berry.
But the health benefits of these powerful anti-oxidant acai berries now appear to be much more profound than previously thought. Studies on the effects of the acai berry are now showing links to everything from energy levels to lower cholesterol and the lowering of risks of heart disease, to cancer-fighting qualities and weight loss.
Acai and weight loss
Some of the more controversial claims about acai have centered on its weight loss properties. And, because of some claims that promised massive weight loss in a very short time, a lot of criticism has been levelled at those sources. However, while some of the wilder claims were no doubt exaggerated, the reality that the acai berry has been shown to aid in many metabolic factors related to weight gain and weight loss.
For example, a study conducted in 2011 and reported by the National Institute of Health (NIH), treated a group of overweight adults with 100g of acai pulp twice a day for 1 month. During the study, each participant was measured for things like fasting plasma glucose, insulin, cholesterol, triglycerides, and other factors commonly associated with metabolic process that lead to fat gain/fat loss. At the end of the study, the subjects showed an overall reduction in fasting glucose and insulin levels, along with a significant reduction in to LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad cholesterol’) and a rise in HDL cholesterol (the ‘good cholesterol’) relative to total cholesterol in the body.
In other words many of the prime factors in weight loss were found to be enhanced after 30 days of use, and much of the factors associated with weight gain (such as plasma glucose and LDL cholesterol) were reduced. So, while additional studies are required to fully understand the full benefits of using acai extracts, the data does suggest that it’s very beneficial.
Acai and Cancer
Perhaps one of the most interesting potential benefits of the acai berry is its ability to help in the body’s fight against cancer. Because the acai berry contains such high concentrations of anthocyanins and flavonoids, which are powerful anti-oxidants, they’re known to fight free radicals in the body and their effects. And by reducing the amount of free radicals in the body, the risk of heart disease and cancer are lowered, inflammation is reduced and potentially the spread of cancer cells is reduced or stopped.
And there is promising research to back this up:
- The Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center found that freeze-dried acai berries have the highest activity levels of antioxidants found thus far.
- A study conducted at Texas A&M found significant increases in antioxidant activity within 12 to 24 hours of consumption, suggesting that such an increase would lead to a measurable increase in the body’s antioxidant level, bringing with it an increase in protection from cancer and heart disease.
- Another study conducted at the University of Florida found that extracts from the acai berry, when introduced into cultured human cancer cells, triggered a self-destruct response in up to 86% of leukemia cells tested.
Acai berries have high concentrations of anthocyanins, which as mentioned earlier are powerful antioxidants. Specifically, anthocyanins can help to improve blood circulation and reduce blood clots, relax blood vessels, and have shown to help reduce arthrosclerosis.
Acai berries can also have an effect on cholesterol levels. The acai berry contains essential fatty acids such as Omega-6 and Omega-9, which lower the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body. LDL cholesterol, or Low-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol, is the ‘bad cholesterol’ that collects in the walls of blood vessels, hardens arteries, and causes atherosclerosis, which dramatically increases your chances of developing heart disease and leads to heart attack and stroke.
But, just as there is a ‘bad’ kind of cholesterol, there is also a ‘good cholesterol’. HDL, or High-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol, doesn’t collect in the blood vessels, but rather floats free, where it bonds with the LDL cholesterol, and removes it from the bloodstream. Therefore, having elevated levels of HDL is a good thing, and that acai berry provides HDL into the body, further helping reduce the presence of LDL and all of its attendant symptoms.
So, while it’s true that additional research is required to uncover and truly understand the full effects of the acai berry, the data gathered so far is remarkable, and the results of almost every study done on acai berries have shown benefits. The acai berry, and its extracts, are powerful tools for anyone to use in achieving their health goals. And, when combined with a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition, acai-based products are valuable additions to anyone’s diet.