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Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation

Açaí


Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.

Scientific Name:

Euterpe oleracea

Botanical Family:

Arecaceae

Other Common Name:

Açaí berry, Assai Palm, Cabbage Palm, Iwasaí

Where is it found?

Açaí berry is a fruit from a palm tree found in South America, mainly in the Brazilian Amazon. Because the tree does not grow outside its natural habitat, and the fresh Açaí berries are very perishable, they are usually available outside Brazil only as a juice (Small, 2012).

Parts of the plant used:

The berries

How is it used?

The berries are pressed to make juice or the fruit pulp is made into various desserts.

What is it used for?

The berry possesses a pleasant flavor and has important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Because of this, some nutritional supplement companies have designated the açaí berry as a "super fruit”. In Brazil, this fruit is very popular, and a daily consumption of the berry juice of approximately 300 ml to 2 liters per person is common in various regions of the Amazon (da Silva- Santos et al., 2014; Small, 2012).

In recent years, Acaí (especially as a juice) has become very popular in the United States and other countries due to the high antioxidant content of the fruit.
Acai berry has been touted as a healthy fruit of high nutritional value since it is a source of:
• Natural antioxidants, such as flavonoids and anthocyanidins
• Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid
• Aminoacids (the constitunts of various proteins)
• Fiber
• Calcium
• Polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as linoleic acid (an omega 6)
• Beta sitosterol, a natural compound that may lower blood cholesterol levels
• Minerals (copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, calcium, and iron)
(da Silva-Santos et al., 2014; Small, 2012)

Fruits and vegetables have the capacity to quench free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules that damage our cells) that is directly associated with their content of natural antioxidants. Foods that contain a great amount of antioxidants are considered to have a high “ORAC value”.

ORAC stands for “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity”, and is a method used in the laboratory to measure the antioxidant properties of different plant foods. For this reason, the higher the ORAC value obtained for a certain fruit or vegetable, the higher its capacity to inactivate the noxious free radicals (González-Stuart, 2014).

A laboratory study evaluated the cell growth inhibition activity of açaí berry polyphenolic extract against human colon cancer cells. The authors of the study concluded that the extract possessed anti-inflammatory and cytotoxic actions against colon cancer cells, but no toxicity to normal cell lines. They further suggested that açaí could be effective as natural colon cancer chemo preventive (Dias et al., 2014).

A research study was undertaken by Feio et al (2012), in order to assess whether açaí fruit could be beneficial for individuals with atherosclerosis. The researchers hypothesized that consumption of açaí berry would reduce the development of atherosclerosis by decreasing the absorption and synthesis of cholesterol. The study included rabbits that were fed a cholesterol-enriched diet plus water, or a cholesterol-enriched diet plus an açaí extract for 3 months. A post- mortem analysis of the rabbits treated with açaí showed that they had lower levels of total cholesterol, non-HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, compared to the rabbits in the control group. The authors concluded that consumption of the açaí extract greatly improved the lipid profile and decreased atherosclerosis (Feio et al., 2012).

Safety / Precautions

  • There are no reports of toxicity regaring this fruit
  • Its safety during pregnancy and lactation has not been established
  • Buy acai juice only from reputable sellers, as substitutions and adulterations may occur
  • There is a case report of a patient who developed rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue) associated with consuming a mislabeled açaí berry dietary supplement. A 22-year-old male presented this anomalous condition approximately 2 weeks beginning to consume a weight-loss dietary supplement. Although the supplement was both labeled and promoted as containing açaí berry (aside from other ingredients), a subsequent analysis of the product revealed that it did not contain any açaí at all (Elsayed et al., 2011).

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!

References:

da Silva Santos V, de Almeida Teixeira GH, Barbosa F Jr. Açaí (Euterpe oleracea Mart.): a
tropical fruit with high levels of essential minerals-especially manganese-and its contribution as
a source of natural mineral supplementation. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2014; 77(1-3):80-9.
doi: 10.1080/15287394.2014.866923.

Dias MM, Noratto G, Martino HS, Arbizu S, Peluzio Mdo C, Talcott S, Ramos AM, Mertens-Talcott SU. Pro-apoptotic activities of polyphenolics from açai (Euterpe oleracea Martius) in
human SW-480 colon cancer cells. Nutr Cancer. 2014; 66(8):1394-405.
doi:10.1080/01635581.2014.956252.

Elsayed RK, Glisson JK, Minor DS. Rhabdomyolysis associated with the use of a mislabeled "acai berry" dietary supplement. Am J Med Sci. 2011;342(6):535-8. doi:
10.1097/MAJ.0b013e31822c0933.

Feio CA, Izar MC, Ihara SS, Kasmas SH, Martins CM, Feio MN, Maués LA, Borges NC,
Moreno RA, Póvoa RM, Fonseca FA. Euterpe oleracea (açai) modifies sterol metabolism and
attenuates experimentally-induced atherosclerosis. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2012;19(3):237-45.

González-Stuart A. Eating Well with Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes, Grains, and Spices.
El Paso,TX: BPG printing; 2014.

Small E. Top 100 Exotic Food Plants.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; pp. 31-35.