Friday 2 May 2014

The Acai Berry: Cardiovascular Superfood?

Plant foods are known to possess certain phytochemicals that are protective of disease. The association between eating diets high in plant foods and living a longer, healthier life is well established. The main criticism of the Western diet is that it contains too few plant based foods and as a result is a major, if not the major, cause of disease in developed nations. Increasing plant food consumption is therefore recommended to prevent and cure disease.


One type of food that appears to be particularly beneficial are berries. Berries are a rich source of flavonoids called anthocyanins that are thought to confer particular protective effects against cardiovascular disease. However, berries are diverse and different berries appear to have varying effects on health. One berry, the acai berry, appears to have particularly strong cardioprotective effects because of the various other plant chemicals it contains.


Like most berries, the acai berry contains high concentrations of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are responsible for the red, blue and purple colours of berries. Anthocyanins belong to a family of chemicals called flavonoids and are thought to possess antioxidant effects in humans. In this way anthocyanins protect the endothelial lining of arteries and prevent the dysfunction that leads to cardiovascular disease.


As well as anthocyanins, the acai berry also contains plant sterols. Sterols are plant compounds similar to cholesterol. Because of their similar structures, sterols may be able to inhibit the absorption and increase the excretion of cholesterol in humans. In this way sterols can favourably improve cholesterol levels and this may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. However it is unclear if these changes lower the mortality from cardiovascular disease in man.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Another component of the acai berry are omega 3 fatty acids. Research suggests that fatty acids from the omega 3 family are beneficial to cardiovascular disease because they favourable lower plasma triglyceride levels (also called very low density lipoproteins). Omega 3 fatty acids may do this because they increase oxidation of and decrease formation of triglycerides in the liver. The cardioprotective effects of omega 3 fatty acids are well established.


The acai berry appears to have very potent antioxidant effects, and is also able to favourably modify blood lipid levels in a way that reduced the potential risk of developing cardiovascular disease. As evidence accumulates from animals and human studies it becomes more clear that the acai berry may be a superfood because it has particularly beneficial effects. However, most studies have used whole berry pulp, and it is unclear if commercially available supplements are as effective.

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