Acai is a dark purple berry that grows in Central and South
America where it is consumed as a raw fruit and a juice. It is about 1-2cm in
diameter with a relatively large seed in the middle and is a relative of the
blueberry, cranberry and other dark purple fruits. It is a nutrient dense food
that includes good quantities of vitamin and minerals and has become popular
most likely due to its high antioxidant capacity. Several lab studies have also
displayed anticancer and anti-inflammatory actions of the acai berry likely related
to it antioxidant content.
Acai berry has been shown to contain a number of
constituents including vitamin A, C, E, calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamine,
flavonoids, polyphenols and anthocyanins.
Flavonoids: a class of plant pigments that have
a specific chemical structure and are found in almost all fruits and
vegetables. They are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and benefits to
the immune system
Anthocyanins: a type of flavonoid and the
primary constituents in acai berries. Known to have antioxidant effects and
protect against oxidative stress.
Phytosterols: also known as plant sterols,
phytosterols are a family of molecules that are related to cholesterol. There
have been well documented instances of phytosterols inhibiting intestinal
absorption of cholesterol, resulting in lowering of LDL cholesterol levels in
Benefits of Acai
In Brazilian and Peruvian herbal medicine, uses for all the fruit and other parts of the acai plant include treatment of diarrhea, jaundice, skin ulcers, fever, malaria, diabetes, liver disorders, hair loss, hemorrhage, kidney disease, and menstrual pain. The fruit pulp has also been shown to be a potential useful alternative oral contrast agent for use with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An additional health claim has been in the reduction of several markers of metabolic disease, however further research is warranted in this area.
Acai is perhaps the most well known for its antioxidant properties. The word antioxidant has become common place when talking about health and nutrition. But what exactly is an antioxidant and why are they beneficial to health? Before learning more specifics on antioxidants, there are a few things that need to be understood first. Oxidation is the term used for removing an electron from an atom or molecule which can result in that molecule becoming destructive in nature. Iron starting to rust is an common example of oxidation occurring in the environment. Oxidative stress is the amount of burden that is being placed on a system (in our discussion the human body), by the constant production of the cell damaging molecules (eg. Reactive oxidative species) which overwhelms the bodies ability to neutralize the damaging cells.
What are some health benefits of Antioxidants?
As antioxidants can neutralize pro-oxidizing substances such as free radicals in the body, they are able to help prevent damage to the bodies cells. When different cells get damaged there can be a variety of consequences and thus antioxidants appear to help prevent a variety of chronic diseases.
The free radical theory of disease which can to light in the early 90’s, described free radical damage being involved in early stages of atherosclerosis, some cancers, vision loss and other chronic conditions. As antioxidants help protect against the accumulation of free radicals in the body, this may insinuate protection against a variety of chronic diseases. The studies however on single antioxidants are not very promising, thus whole food type antioxidants may be preferred.
One very large study which has been repeated over several years has shown significant benefit for the use of an antioxidant combination (vitamin C, E, lutein and zinc) for protection against the development of age-related macular degeneration, one of the moist common causes of vision loss in people over 50 years of age
Male and female fertility can be significantly affected by antioxidant levels. In a study examining reproductive hormones and ovulation in young women, those with higher levels of vitamin A, C and E had healthier hormone levels associated with optimal fertility compared to those who had the lowest levels.
How do I know if my body is
experiencing oxidative stress and how could I protect myself?
There are a few ways that oxidative stress can be measured
in the body.
Measurement of Reactive Oxygen Species: this is difficult due to the
extreme instability of reactive oxygen species which makes this the least
of the resulting damage to biomolecules: this is preferable as the
biological markers of damage in the body are extremely stable and thus provide
a reliable method for detecting oxidative stress in the body
of antioxidant and antioxidant system enzyme levels in the body: useful
to determine the status of your protective system
It may be most beneficial to test both the damage that free
radicals have already caused in the body as well as the reserve capacity of
antioxidant system for the best analysis.
Talk to your medical provider about these integrative
medical tests if you are interested. Some labs which provide these tests
include Genova Diagnostics, Great Plains Laboratory and Cell Biolabs.
In Brazilian and Peruvian herbal medicine, uses for all the
fruit and other parts of the acai plant include treatment of diarrhea,
jaundice, skin ulcers, fever, malaria, diabetes, liver disorders, hair loss,
hemorrhage, kidney disease, and menstrual pain.