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Written by Nisha Salim:
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard about the new health food called acai berry. Packed full of anti-oxidants that fight free radicals, the berry quickly found a place of prominence among health foods in supermarket shelves, especially after Oprah mentioned its purported health benefits in one of her shows.
Acai (pronounced ah-sai-ee) is a palm tree that grows in the Amazon rain forests of Brazil. The fruit of the acai palm tree looks similar to a grape and has almost the same size and color. The skin and pulp that cover the seed are edible and have a high content of nutrients and antioxidants.
Is acai berry really good for health?
Acai berry has recently gained tremendous popularity as a super food. Though there have been many studies about the effects of the berry in animals, not much is known about how significant its health benefits in humans are.
A team of scientists in Texas AgriLife Research published the results of a 2008 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, which shows that acai berry juice and pulp are indeed absorbed by the human body. The lead investigator Dr. Susan Talcott started studying about the nutritional and anti-oxidant properties of the berry in 2001. The 2008 study proves that the berry is absorbed into the blood stream, but as Dr. Talcott explains, the body can absorb only so much at a time. While the study reveals that there was significant increase in antioxidant activity after the consumption of acai juice and pulp, further research is required to conclusively prove the purported disease-preventing health benefits.
What are some of the health benefits of acai berry?
- Consumption of acai berry may help reduce weight, especially in patients who are overweight because of metabolic disorders.
- The anti-oxidants in acai berry can reduce pain and improve range of motion.
- Acai berry is also helpful in preserving the functionality and health of the aging brain. Berries clean out the toxic proteins and free radicals that cause age-related decline in mental faculties. Acai berries were shown to reduce oxidative stress and chemically induced inflammation of brain cells. It must be noted that all berries that are high in anti-oxidants – such as blackberries, strawberries and blueberries – have the same beneficial effect for the brain as acai.
- Acai enhances the functioning of the immune system.
- Because of the high anti-oxidant levels in acai berry, acai oil is also used in the preparation of shampoos, conditioners and anti-aging cosmetic products.
Does acai berry have any side effects?
While there are no scientifically proven side effects for acai berry, one must also remember that it may not be a super food that can eliminate all diseases.
Acai berry may also interact with over the counter medicines. If you are on any regular medication, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor first before taking acai berry supplements. Because of its anti-oxidant properties, it may also interfere with certain chemotherapy drugs. (Herb-Drug Interactions in Oncology by Barrie R. Cassileth, K. Simon Yeung, Jyothirmai Gubili)
Studies are still underway to determine the optimum dosage of acai berry for maximum health benefit. Acai supplements are not recommended for pregnant or breast feeding women and children, given the lack of conclusive evidence about the safety of these supplements.
Acai berry is a great addition to a balanced diet, but it is not a substitute for other foods that you still need to consume for maintaining a healthy body. Consumed moderately, acai berry can be good for you. However, if you are allergic to berries or pollen, you may want to avoid acai berry in your diet.
How do you consume acai berry?
Natives of the Amazon rain forests have always had acai berries as part of their diet. They consume the berry in its natural form, as fruit straight from the tree. Processed acai berry juice, powder, oil and dietary supplements are available in other parts of the world. The claims of supplement manufacturers must be taken with a pinch of salt because so far there have been no FDA trials that have conclusively proven the safety of acai berry dietary supplements. It would be wise to speak to a doctor before taking any herbal supplements.