What is Acai Berry?
The acai berry is a dark reddish-purple fruit roughly the size of a grape that grows on the acai palm tree native to eastern Amazonia. Despite the name, acai berries aren’t berries. They contain a pit like a cherry, making them a drupe. The acai berry rose to prominence in the 18th century as a staple food in floodplain areas and is growing in popularity as a powerful antioxidant.
What is Acai Made Of?
Acai berries are nutrient-dense and deliver vitamins A, C, and E, along with calcium, iron, phosphorous, and thiamine. Acai berries are also rich in phytonutrients like polyphenols, including ellagic acid, rutin, catechins, and anthocyanins. The anthocyanins give acai berries their deep purple color and account for much of their antioxidant activity. They’re low in sugar and high in healthy fats like omega-3s.
Potential Acai Health Benefits
Acai Berry Antioxidants
The anthocyanin and polyphenols in acai berries exert potent antioxidant effects. They boast an impressive oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) that outperforms other antioxidant-rich fruits. For example, it has more than three times the antioxidant potential of blueberries. Antioxidants are critical for scavenging free radicals and neutralizing them before they can inflict cellular damage. Left unchecked, free radicals inflict oxidative stress and damage that may cause or worsen numerous health conditions and contribute to premature aging.
Potential Acai Benefits for Heart Health
An excess of free radicals and oxidative damage can increase the risk of developing heart conditions. Polyphenols promote nitric oxide production in the arteries and blood vessels, triggering a vasodilation effect that widens and relaxes arteries. Vasodilators help blood flow better and with less pressure on the heart. Acai berries may further support heart health due to their anthocyanin content. Multiple studies show that anthocyanins can improve both LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Acai berries also contain plant sterols that inhibit cholesterol absorption in the body. Excess cholesterol causes fatty deposits to accumulate in the blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease.
Potential Acai Benefits for Cognition
Acai antioxidants may benefit cognitive health in several ways. Numerous animal studies report that the plant compounds in acai exert neuroprotective effects and offset the damage wrought by oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain. One study noted that acai improved memory and learning in animals. Researchers believe this is because acai triggers the autophagy process that is necessary to remove toxic or dysfunctional cells. Removing this buildup stimulates nerve growth and facilitates better communication between brain cells.
Potential Acai Side Effects
Research on acai berry effects is relatively new, but the available data suggests acai berry powder does not have side effects. However, individuals with tree or pollen allergies may be susceptible to acai berry allergies. Individuals with diabetes should consult a physician before taking acai powder, as it may affect blood sugar levels.
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