A super fruit that’s popularity has been growing over the past years in North America is the acai berry. It is a berry that comes from the acai palm, which is predominantly found in Brazil. The acai berry has been used for a very long time in the tropical zones of Brazil, since it is a heavily abundant fruit. This fruit has only become popular in America recently because of all its claimed health benefits. Is it all true though? How “super” is this super food actually?
As mentioned before, Brazilians have eaten acai for a very long time, and have noticed its health benefits, but there are a very limited amount of studies that have been done on this fruit. Brazilians use the fruit in many medicinal ways, and “many anecdotal reports suggest the beneficial medicinal use of acai juice” (Source 2). Brazilians have used acai juice to prevent the flu, fever, and pain. There is dark green oil that comes from the fruit, which has been used as an anti-diarrheal agent. There has been known treatment for skin ulcers by using the grated fruit rind. Fruit seeds have been prepared as liquid extract as well as toasted to treat fevers. In addition, acai berry has been used “to treat skin complications, digestive disorders and parasitic infections” by indigenous healers (Source 2). All of this anecdotal evidence shows that Brazilians have been heavily reliant on the acai berry, but anecdotal evidence is not enough to form any conclusions, so I wanted to look for more credible evidence.
In the assessment of Acai’s health claim by Michael Heinrich, Tasleem Dhanji, and Ivan Casselman, they are unable to form a solid conclusion. They believe that “there is insufficient and unconvincing scientific evidence to promote acai as an exceptional health supplement” (Source 2). This assessment was written in 2010, which means that there has been more studies done since then. To my surprise, I was unable to find a large amount of studies done to prove acai berry’s health benefits, but I was able to find a few which support the claim that acai berry’s are beneficial to one’s health. Even though there is not evidence found, that does not mean there is no evidence. These researchers were not able to form a solid conclusion, and therefore failed to reject the null hypothesis, and were not able to prove that there is something special with acai berries.
In 2010, a study was done to “investigate the antioxidant potential and hypocholesterolemic effects of acai pulp ingestion in rats fed a standard or hypercholesterolemic diet” (Source 3). They conducted this research by having a control group of female Fischer rats that were fed a diet containing 25% soy oil and 1% cholesterol. The test diet contained 2% acai pulp for control. They killed the rats after the six-week experimental period, to measure levels of protein in the blood and liver. The rats that were fed the hypercholesterolemic diet showed increased levels of total and non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered the “bad” cholesterol, while high-density lipoproteins (HDL) is considered the “good” cholesterol. LDL contributes to plaque, which clogs arteries, and HDL helps remove LDL from arteries. So, the hypercholesterolemic diet showed an increase in bad cholesterol (LDL), and a decrease in the good cholesterol, overall a negative effect on the rat’s health. LDL causes plaque to build up in the arteries. Reading these findings, I was unsure if plaque in the arteries was actually an extremely risky thing, or if it was a soft end point, a dependent variable that is not the main focus of the study, but seems to be related to what we care about. I was able to found that plaque build up in the arteries actually is a disease called atherosclerosis, and LDL is a major cause of this (Source 7). The wall of the artery thickens if you have atherosclerosis, and your arteries can begin to be clogged. It is obvious that this is actually a major health risk, and is not a soft end point in this case.
Supplementing the control group with acai caused decreased total and non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. This means that adding acai to the rat’s diet caused a decrease in the LDL, which causes plaque in the arteries. This is a positive effect on the rat’s health. From these results, the researchers came to the conclusion that “the consumption of acai improves antioxidant status and has a hypocholesterolemic effect in an animal model of dietary-induced hypercholesterolemia” (Source 3). This means that the rat’s antioxidants levels improved and their cholesterol was lowered.
This study comes off as a reliable source, although it only covers one aspect of acai berries health benefits. The researchers conclude that it helps with antioxidants and cholesterol, but there are many other angles that can be taken to further investigate acai’s health benefits. In addition, the researchers seem to be from South America, making it difficult to find more information on their experience in the science world. On their journal published on ScienceDirect, they were identified as having Masters in science or Ph.D, which is ultimately not important to prove their credibility, since this is an eminence-based argument. Lastly, their journal outlined specific details of each step taken in their study, including the exact materials they used, the specifics on the animals they tested on, including weight and origin, and how they analyzed the liver and blood.
While doing research, it was difficult to find studies done to find health benefits, although I found a pilot study which evaluated the effect of acai pulp for metabolic disorders in overweight people. A pilot study is done to “evaluate the feasibility, time, cost, adverse events, and effect size” of a study to improve the design of an eventual full-scale study (Source 4). The study was conducted on 10 overweight adults, all with a body mass index over 25 kg/m^2 and less than 30 kg/m^2. These subjects took 100 g of acai pulp twice daily for a month. After a month, “there were reductions in fasting glucose and insulin levels” and “a reduction in total cholesterol, as well as borderline significant reductions in LDL-cholesterol and the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-cholesterol” (Source 5). From these results, the researchers concluded “consumption of acai fruit pulp reduced levels of selected markers of metabolic disease risk in overweight adults, indicating that further studies are warranted” (Source 5). This pilot study obviously is not as reliable as a full-scale study, but it does show that there should be more time and money invested into finding the effects acai berries in metabolic disease.
These two studies are just the first steps in showing if acai berry is actually a special “super food”. There are so many claims being made about the wonders acai berries make, but where are the studies to prove it? I had trouble finding studies proving acai’s uniqueness, which makes me consider the file-drawer problem might be at hand. If studies have been done, but there has not been a significant result, or the results did not agree with the researcher, they might not have been published. This really could be the case for Brazilians who are trying to market their “super food”, or American’s trying to sell their “Acai bowls”. If there is a study showing that acai berries are not much more special than blueberries or raspberries, than people trying to sell acai will not want that study to be published. From the study on the rats and the pilot study, we can tell it is very likely there are health benefits from eating acai berries. But are these health benefits significantly better than any other berry already on the market, and selling for even cheaper? Researchers should evaluate the difference between acai berries from other berries, which will put in perspective if this “super fruit” really deserves the hype it has been getting.