Acerola

Scientific names: Malpighia glabra, M. emarginata

Common names: Acerola also is known as Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry, Puerto Rican cherry, Antilles cherry, cereso, cereza, cerisier, and semeruco.

Efficacy-safety rating:

ÒÒ...Ethno or other evidence of efficacy.

Safety rating:

...No safety concerns despite wide use.

What is Acerola?

Acerola (previously M. punicifolia) is native to the West Indies. It also is found in northern South America, Central America, Texas, and Florida. This small shrub or tree has 5-petaled flowers ranging from pink to white in color. Acerola fruit is a bright red cherry-like fruit containing several small seeds. Mature fruits are soft and pleasant tasting. They contain 80 percent juice. The fruits deteriorate rapidly once removed from the tree.

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Acerola is believed to originate from the yucatan. Traditionally, the fruits have been used to treat dysentery, diarrhea, and liver disorders. Other ethnobotanical uses include as an astringent and for fever.

Vitamin supplementation

Both species of Malpighia have been reported to be excellent sources of vitamin C. However, the fruit of M. emarginata is known more accurately as acerola and is one of the richest sources of vitamin C. Acerola is used as a source of food and juice. Because of its high concentration of vitamin C, it also is sold as a natural health supplement. Acerola provides other useful vitamins and minerals. Acerola contains from 1 to 4.5 percent vitamin C (1,000 to 4,500 mg/100 g) in the edible portion of the fruit. This far exceeds the content of vitamin C in peeled oranges (about 0.05 or 50 mg/100 g). The content of vitamin C in acerola varies with ripeness (highest in green and lowest in fully ripened fruit). It also varies with the season and climate. Vitamin C analysis regarding acerola storage finds freezing the fruits to be the best way to preserve vitamin C, as compared with room temperature or refrigeration. In addition, acerola contains vitamin A (4,300 to 12,500 IU/100 g) at about the same level as in carrots. Other constituents include thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, iron, and bioflavonoids. It also contains phosphorus, malic acid, pantothenic acid, potassium, and magnesium. The sugars dextrose, fructose, and sucrose are also present. Acerola analysis in another report finds protein, fiber, lipids, and fatty acids. Zinc and other minerals are present, as well. Vitamin C is an essential coenzyme that is required for normal metabolic function. Many animals can synthesize vitamin C from glucose; however, humans must obtain the vitamin totally from dietary sources. Deficiencies of this water-soluble vitamin result in scurvy. This is a potentially fatal disease with multisystem involvement. Dietary supplements have traditionally provided adequate protection against the development of this disease. However, controversy has focused on whether vitamin C derived from “natural” sources is more physiologic than that produced synthetically or semisynthetically (as ascorbic acid). To date, there is no clear evidence that naturally derived vitamin C is superior in its clinical effectiveness than synthetic ascorbic acid. There is a potential advantage to using acerola as a source of vitamin C. The advantage is that one receives not only ascorbic acid but also several other useful vitamins and minerals from the fruit. Whether this is superior to the use of a multiple vitamin preparation has not been determined. Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of acerola for vitamin supplementation.

Antioxidant

Vitamin C is known to strengthen the immune system and build collagen cells. It also supports the respiratory system. Vitamin C is known to be an effective antioxidant. The antioxidative qualities of acerola make it an ideal ingredient in skin care products to fight cellular aging. In another report, acerola extract was shown to enhance the antioxidant activity of soy and alfalfa extracts, acting synergistically. This may be beneficial in coronary artery disease.

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of acerola as an antioxidant.

What is the recommended dosage?

There is no clinical evidence to guide human dosage of acerola.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/nursing

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Side Effects

Large doses may produce GI distress. Prolonged, massive dosage may predispose to formation of renal calculi.

Toxicities

Vitamin C is readily excreted by the body and is not typically associated with toxicity.

References

  1. Acerola. Review of Natural Products. factsandcomparisons4.0 [online]. 2005. Available from Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. Accessed April 16, 2007.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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