Acai Berry – health from the Amazon rainforest

Every time I log in to my Facebook account an ad on the side tells me that there is a special secret to looking like all of the hottest Hollywood starlets. No, it’s not liposuction. Apparently they are all using acai berry to get and stay slim.

Acai berries (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) grow on a species of palm trees in rainforests in Central and South America from Belize down through to Brazil. The purple berries make up a major part of the diet of certain indigenous peoples in the rainforest. They are mixed with tapioca and served as a snack or dessert in cities in Brazil. Recently however acai has caught on in North America as the latest antioxidant cure-all, taking its place alongside other favourites such as gogi berries, blueberries, cranberries and noni. Is it better than these, as some research claims, or merely a trend?

These berries have a history of use in the traditional medicine of the people living in this part of the world. This includes use for everything from cutting cholesterol to stopping bacterial infections to a natural Viagra. The berry is mineral rich, serving up hefty helpings of potassium, iron and manganese and is full of good fats, making it a natural anti-inflammatory. The essential fatty acid profile is similar to what is found in olive oil, which may account for some of the positive affects on cholesterol levels, especially when you take the good fiber content into account. It provides easily digested protein with reasonably balanced amino acid levels. Acai gets bonus points for actually tasting good too!

Much of the credit for bringing this product into the limelight belongs to Chris Kilham, aka The Medicine Hunter. Author of several books including one of my favourites ‘Tales from the Medicine Trail’, Kilham has a reputation for going where no one else goes, taking to people no one else talks to and bringing the secrets back to the Western world. He says that acai berries literally explode with flavour and make you feel great: “A glass of blended acai fruit, with just a slight touch of guarana and certified organic sugar, imparts so much energy, you’ll want to dance and yodel while climbing a mountain at the same time.” Sounds like something worth trying!

One problem with trying to research this plant on the internet is that most of the research currently being done in the rainforest is controlled by companies trying to sell product. Therefore it is really hard to find any information that is impartial, so take all facts you read with a grain of salt. That being said, there are some great studies that show exactly how acai works against various specific oxidizing compounds. For anyone interested in the details, there are half a dozen well summarized studies available on the website if you search for acai.

It seems like every two years or so there is a new “miracle” antioxidant, imbued with all sorts of magical healing powers. No matter what the fruit seems to score on the ORAC scale, the best way to get antioxidants into your body is to eat a wide variety of locally grown, dark skinned fruits and vegetables. With a generous helping of dark chocolate and red wine of course!

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