Açai berries (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) have long formed part of the staple diet of Indian tribes. With the appearance of a purple grape and taste of a tropical berry, it has been shown to have powerful antioxidant properties thanks to a high level of anthocyanins, pigments that are also present in red wine.
It is presently being sold in a number of countries and regions, including New Zealand, Australia, South America, Japan, USA, and the Middle East.
Dr Alex Schauss, senior research director at AIBMR Life Sciences, and a leading researcher into açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.), told us that, to-date, pulp of the berry has been demonstrated to affect cell signaling, enzyme activity, maintenance of the oxidant and antioxidant balance, receptor sensitivity, gene regulation, and reduction in the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, while restoring or maintaining functional cellular antioxidant status.
Despite the impressive list, a 2011 review by Heinrich et al (Phytochemistry Letters, Vol. 4, pp. 10-21) concluded the evidence to support the benefits was “insufficient and unconvincing”.
The review was “premature”, said Dr Schauss, “as many of the in vivo studies had just begun to be published.
“Studies reported in 2012, and soon to appear in 2013, will give interest in acai a considerable boost,” he added.
Tim Avila, President of Systems Bioscience Inc. and consultant to Sambazon, concurred: “One thing for sure is that a tsunami of scientific literature is pent up and will be unleashed over the next 24 months, more human studies by academics will be part of this and this will drive further mainstream penetration of açai pulp and juice products against the backdrop of blueberry, cranberry and even orange juice.
“The future looks very bright indeed, and the real huge key to açai is that it has been blessed by nature to be devoid of fructose and sugar of any kind (almost non-detectable amounts of glucose) and so as natural and organic sweetening systems continue to improve taste performance, become less costly and gain consumer acceptance the companies that offer low and no calorie versions of this unique fruit will reap stellar sales (as would cranberry).”
From cells to animals to humans
Dr Schauss said that an important discovery was reported last year when a group working out of the USDA Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center and University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences reported the most potent anti-inflammatory flavonoid compound ever found in any food, in acai pulp.
“This helped to explain the results of in vivo studies in rodents in which an acai-enriched fruit and berry juice dramatically reduced the development of atherosclerotic lesions,” he said.
A combination of in vitro and in vivo studies have indicated potential brain health benefits of açai pulp, with the in vivo data to be presented this weekend at the 2013 annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies in Experimental Biology (EB 2013).
‘Good research takes time… and money’