Acerola

Scientific Name(s): Malpighia glabra L. and M. emarginata . Family: Malpighiaceae

Common Name(s): Acerola , Barbados cherry , West Indian cherry , Puerto Rican cherry , Antilles cherry , cereso , cereza , cerisier , semeruco

Uses

Acerola provides natural vitamin C and other useful vitamins and minerals. It is used as an antioxidant as well as an antifungal agent. Other uses include as an astringent and for diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis, and fever, although clinical trials are lacking.

Dosing

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

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

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

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

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

Toxicology

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

Botany

Acerola (previously M. punicifolia L.) is native to the West Indies, but is also found in northern South America, Central America, Texas, and Florida. It grows as small shrubs or trees from 5 to 15 m in height. The branches are brittle and the leaves are glossy and dark to light green. The 5-petaled flowers range from pink to white in color. Acerola fruit is cherry-like, 3-lobed, bright red, and 1 to 2 cm in diameter, containing several small seeds. Mature fruits are soft, pleasant-tasting, and contain 80% juice. The fruits deteriorate rapidly once removed from the tree. 1 , 2 , 3

History

Acerola is believed to originate from the Yucatan. 3 Traditionally, the fruits have been used to treat dysentery, diarrhea, and liver disorders. 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 known. 1

Chemistry

Acerola contains from 1% to 4.5% vitamin C (1000 to 4500 mg/100 g) as ascorbic and dehydroascorbic acids 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). 1 The content of vitamin C in acerola varies with ripeness (highest in green and lowest in fully ripened fruit), season, and climate.

Vitamin C analysis regarding acerola storage after picking finds freezing (-18°C) the fruits to be the best way to preserve vitamin C percentage, as compared with room temperature or refrigeration. 4 Older reports evaluating ascorbic acid content in acerola are available. 5 , 6

In addition, acerola contains vitamin A (4300 to 12,500 IU/100 g), at about the same level as in carrots. Other constituents include thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, iron, bioflavonoids, phosphorus, malic acid, pantothenic acid, potassium, magnesium, and sugars dextrose, fructose, and sucrose. 1 , 2 , 7 Acerola analysis in another report finds protein, fiber, lipids, fatty acids, zinc, and other minerals present as well. 8

Uses and Pharmacology

Vitamin supplementation

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. 7

Vitamin C is an essential coenzyme that is required for normal metabolic function. While many animals can synthesize vitamin C from glucose, humans must obtain the vitamin totally from dietary sources. Deficiencies of this water-soluble vitamin result in scurvy, 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. A potential advantage to using acerola as a source of vitamin C 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.

Animal data

Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of acerola for vitamin supplementation.

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of acerola for vitamin supplementation.

Antioxidant
Mechanism of action

Vitamin C is known to strengthen the immune system, build collagen cells, support the respiratory system, and to be an effective antioxidant. 7

The antioxidative qualities of acerola make it an ideal ingredient in skin care products to fight cellular aging. 2 In another report, acerola extract was shown to enhance the antioxidant activity of soy and alfalfa extracts, acting synergistically, which may be beneficial in coronary artery disease. 9

Animal data

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

Clinical data

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

Antifungal

Acerola possesses antifungal properties. In one report, M. glabra was among the most active antifungal in 26 plants studied. The most susceptible fungi were E. floccosum and T. rubrum . 10

Animal data

Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of acerola as an antifungal agent.

Clinical data

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

Other uses

Ethnobotanical uses of acerola include use as an astringent and for diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis, and fever. 2

Dosage

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

Pregnancy/Lactation

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

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

No specific adverse effects have been associated with the ingestion of acerola. However, the ingestion of large doses may induce GI side effects, including diarrhea. Prolonged use of massive doses of ascorbic acid may predispose to the development of renal calculi. 1 , 7

Toxicology

Because vitamin C is a water-soluble compound, it is readily excreted by the body, and it is not typically associated with toxicity.

Bibliography

1. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics . 2nd ed. New York, NY: J. Wiley and Sons; 1996:6-7.
2. http://rain-tree.com/acerola.htm
3. http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/acerola.html
4. Visentainer JV, Vieira OA, Matsushita M, de Souza NE. Vitamin C in Barbados cherry Malpighia glabra L. pulp submitted to processing and to different forms of storage. Arch Latinoam Nutr . 1998;48:256-259.
5. de Medeiros R. Proportion of ascorbic, dehydroascorbic and diketogulonic acids in green or ripe acerola ( Malpighia punicifolia ) [in Portuguese]. Rev Bras Med . 1969;26:398-400.
6. Leme J Jr, Fonseca H, Nogueira JN. Variation of ascorbic acid and beta-carotene content in lyophilized cherry from the West Indies ( Malpighia punicifolia L.) [in Portuguese]. Arch Latinoam Nutr . 1973;23:207-215.
7. http://nattrop.com/gated/acerola.html
8. Visentainer JV, Vieira OA, Matsushita M, de Souza NE. Physico-chemical characterization of acerola ( Malpighia glabra L.) produced in Maringa, Parana State, Brazil [in Portuguese]. Arch Latinoam Nutr . 1997;47:70-72.
9. Hwang J, Hodis HN, Sevanian A. Soy and alfalfa phytoestrogen extracts become potent low-density lipoprotein antioxidants in the presence of acerola cherry extract. J Agric Food Chem . 2001;49:308-314.
10. Caceres A, Lopez B, Juarez X, del Aguila J, Garcia S. Plants used in Guatemala for the treatment of dermatophytic infections. 2. Evaluation of antifungal activity of seven American plants. J Ethnopharmacol . 1993;40:207-213.

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