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The Acai Berry and Its Effect on Weight Loss
Annalisa O. Jenner
Feb 3, 2009
Being thin and achieving thinness quickly is something nearly every American craves. Magazines and commercials tout the latest diet crazes, but do any of these fads actually work? In the past few years, the popularity of the acai berry has grown tremendously in the United States. Companies marketing exotic acai products are adamant that the acai berry produces a rapid and dramatic weight loss. With the results of scientific studies consumers can now discover what properties, if any, of the acai berry actually promote weight loss.
Euterpe oleracea, commonly known as the acai berry or acai palm, is a species of palm tree that is commonly found in the rainforest of the Amazon, especially in Brazil. Because of its naturally shady, canopy habitat, acai rarely grows elsewhere in the world (Taylor 2005). The acai palm tree produces an edible fruit about the size of a blueberry and grows in bunches (Jessurun 2008). In South America, it is frequently used as an antidiarrheal agent, but it has not been used as a diet supplement (Schauss 2006).
The acai berry contains vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin B, Vitamin C, iron, potassium, phosphorous, calcium and 19 amino acids (Jessurun 2008). In fact, scientific studies confirm the acai berry’s high content of Vitamin C of between 15 and 22 percent, which explains its historical use in South America to protect against the Vitamin C deficiency disease of scurvy (Gibbs 2007). Acai also contains a fatty acid, which is similar to olive oil (Schauss 2006). Depending on the form of acai consumed, it can contain between 88 and 265 Kcals per 100 grams (Taylor 2005).
The acai berry is widely advertised in the United States for its high amounts of antioxidants. To date, antioxidants have been shown to enhance the immune system and lower the risk of cancer and strokes (Tsang 2005). Antioxidants are also abundant in other dark berry products such as grape juice and red wines. As the human body uses oxygen, it produces free radicals, which can cause damage to the body. This damage can cause ailments such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (Blake 2007). An antioxidant is a nutrient found in foods that can not only repair, but also prevent the damage caused by these free radicals.
The acai berry is considered the poor man’s drink in the Amazon River towns; however, because of its high price and popularity in the United States, it is regarded as a supplement for only the affluent (Taylor 2005). People of the Amazon commonly consume the acai berry in the form of a metallic and nutty flavored drink, but it has never been advertised in South America for its health benefits (Taylor 2005). In the United States, it is sold in the form of fruit drinks, freeze-dried and packaged into capsules and put in energy bars. With high dollar advertisement campaigns and claims of scientific evidence, these acai products are hard to keep on the shelf, despite their hefty price tag (Taylor 2005).
Obesity is a growing health issue, especially in the United States. Eating habits have a huge impact on a person’s weight and the ability to identify a food with a strong impact on weight gain could completely revolutionize the obesity epidemic in the United States.
Studies have been done on the acai berry to better understand its components and nutrients. One in vitro test was performed on the acai berry where the antioxidants phenol and anthocyanin were found (Taylor 2005). Anthocyanins degrade easily; therefore, acai fruit products need to be refrigerated (Taylor 2005). Studies on acai have been focused on better storage and extraction methods, so medical recommendations of acai products are not prevalent.
A study was performed with acai pulp and acai juice using applesauce and a non-antioxidant beverage as the control. Twelve healthy subjects were given one of the four trials and then the level of antioxidants in the body was assessed by blood samples and urine samples. The consumption of moderate amounts of the acai juice and acai pulp seemed to have an effect on the increase of antioxidant levels, especially anthocyanins, in the blood plasma (Mertens-Talcott 2008).
Ronald L. Prior, Ph.D. of Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute has done a great amount of research relating to the effects that fruits and vegetables have on different aspects of human health, such as obesity. He has done extensive studies on antioxidants and more specifically, anthocyanins. Dr. Prior’s recent work has illustrated the potential connection of anthocyanins’ affect on the alteration of insulation sensitivity (ACHRI). He also studied the effects of the type A anthocyanins on the function of insulin, which could also affect ones weight by preventing the body’s efficient use calories (Prior 2009). Resistance to insulin has been shown to cause weight gain and decreased body weight is known to cause an improvement in insulin sensitivity (Lazarus 1998). The relationship between insulin and weight gain is a significant sequence because keeping better control of one will help maintain stability of the other. In Prior’s study of the relationship between weight gain and anthocyanins in mice, the consumption of whole strawberries and blueberries containing high levels of anthocyanins did not show a significant amount of weight loss or weight gain. When the mice were fed isolated anthocyanins from blueberries and strawberries; however, they showed a slightly significant decrease in weight gain and in body fat. This study explored 21 anthocyanins contained in blueberries and the seven anthocyanins in strawberries, but it is unproven whether these results could be attributed to acai berry consumption.
Knowledge of the effect of the nutrients in the acai berry is still very limited. A study showed some indication of the inhibition of salivary a-amylase in response to particular proteins in the acai berry. Salivary a-amylase is an enzyme in human salvia that begins the digestion process (Schauss 2006.) Although this has an effect on the digestion process, there is no evidence of the salivary amylase having any impact on weight loss and body fat.
At this time, there are no definitive studies of automatic weight loss by persons consuming any acai berry products. Many commercial websites profess that acai products boost the metabolic rate, increase energy and curb the appetite to promote weight loss (Robinson 2009). Despite all the advertisements that the acai berry promotes weight loss, it has been commercially exploited in South America without any definite scientific proof to support these claims.
Results and Conclusion
Studies published to date about the health benefits of the acai berry are neither reliable nor thorough enough to permit researchers to credit its consumption to weight loss. It was shown that acai is a good source of fiber with 3.5 grams of dietary fiber per serving (Blake 2007). One third of its mass is dietary fiber and a 100 gram serving of acai pulp would give an adult the daily amount of fiber needed (Blake 2007). This is not a direct aid to weight loss, but an adequate amount of fiber in the human diet promotes a healthy digestive system (Blake 2007). In many of the acai weight loss pills and beverages, caffeine is added, which could possibly be responsible for the claim of “increased energy” (Tsang 2005). The healthy fatty acids, or monounsaturated oleic acid, in acai are not necessarily beneficial to humans upon consumption, but are valuable when replaced with a saturated fat food product (Schauss 2006). The studies that have been done thus far have been conducted on lab animals. Additional research is needed before similar results are found true for humans. There are no proven medical benefits associated with the acai berry (Taylor 2005). To better understand the claims made about the products of the acai craze, it is important to know if the information is a report from the corporate or scientific community. It is possible to conclude that the acai berry is a healthy fruit that when included with other fruits and vegetable permits a balanced diet, but the acai berry cannot be said to specifically promote weight loss. It is always wise to get an adequate amount of fruits in one’s daily diet, but at the price of $40 per quart, consuming acai berries is a costly dietary supplement (Taylor 2005).
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