Acai Berry

A bowl of açaí.
Image via Wikipedia

Acai berry features on a daily basis in spam email, scam websites and trashy TV like Oprah. It has been touted and marketed as a highly beneficial dietary supplement but so far there is no scientific evidence that it has any more significant health benefits than any other fruit. Nevertheless, companies are sell açaí berry products in the form of tablets, juice, smoothies, instant drink powders, and whole fruit.

The marketers, as is there wont, make all kinds of claims for acai, we’ve seen similar long lists of claims for other snake oil products like Rhodiola rosea. They claim açai can increase energy levels (whatever that means), boost sexual performance, improve digestion, detoxify the body (herbally driven detox programs are another nonsense concept), provide high fiber content (that may be valid, this is a vegetable product after all), high antioxidant content (antioxidant supplements are not necessarily a good thing either), improve skin appearance, improve heart health, improve sleep, and reduce bad cholesterol levels…the list goes on.

But,as regular readers will no, we have no truck with claims of universal panaceas. They inevitably fail to deliver.

There are even more dubious claims for acai, including reversal of diabetes and other chronic illnesses, as well as expanding size of the penis and increasing men’s sexual virility and sexual attractiveness to women. Açai is most commonly marketed as a weight loss product. These kinds of claims are very worrying as the prey on the vulnerabilities of the sick and desperate who feel conventional medicine is failing them, whether it is or isn’t.

At the time of writing, there have been no controlled scientific studies to support any of the health claims for acai. Acai products have not been evaluated in the US by the FDA and their efficacy is seriously questionable.

The açaí palm, or aqai, (pronounced [asaˈi], /ah-sah-EE/) is a member of the genus Euterpe, which contains eight species of palm trees that are native to Central and South America, from Belize southward to Brazil and Peru. These palms grow mainly in swamps and floodplains.

The fruit, a small, round, black-purple drupe about 1 inch (25 mm) in diameter, similar in appearance and size to a grape but with less pulp, is produced in branched panicles of 700 to 900 fruits. Two crops of fruit are produced each year.

Aside from claims for the “berry”, the açai palm has some genuine commercial uses: its leaves may be made into hats, mats, baskets, brooms and roof thatch for homes, and trunk wood, resistant to pests, for building construction and as a source of minerals.