Scientific Name(s): Euterpe oleracea Mart.
Common Name(s): Acai, Acai palm, Assai palm, Cabbage palm, Palma manaca
Acai, a palm of the Euterpe genus, is indigenous to Central and South America and grows in the Amazon estuary, as well as in swamps, upland regions, and floodplains. The acai palm is tall and slender, growing 15 to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves of up to 3 m in length. The plant has multiple stems that produce 3 to 4 bunches of round fruits 1 to 1.5 cm in diameter, each weighing 3 to 6 kg. The fruits appear in green clusters, ripening to a dark purple color, each containing a seed that accounts for nearly 90% of its weight and diameter. The seeds are covered with a fibrous layer that surrounds a thin edible layer. Though the fruits may be harvested throughout the year, the highest yields are obtained during the dry months of August through December.Brondizio 2002, USDA 2013, Weinstein 2004
The fruit's juice is used to produce jelly, syrup, liquor, ice cream, energy drinks, and a variety of beverages. Approximately 110,000 tons of fruit yield 100,000 tons of acai seeds commercially every year in the city of Belem, Brazil, alone. The frozen aqueous extract is exported to numerous countries, including the United States, Japan, the Netherlands, and Italy. The fruit also serves as a major food source for the indigenous people of Brazil, Colombia, and Suriname. Folk medicine uses include treatment of fever, pain, and flu. The fruit's dark green oil has been used as an antidiarrheal agent.Brondizio 2002, Del Pozo-Insfran 2004, Rodrigues 2006, Schauss 2006, Weinstein 2004
Heart of palm is a vegetable harvested from the inner core of various palm trees, including the acai palm. Considered a delicacy, it is consumed pickled and in salads. Because the extraction of the heart of palm may lead to the death of the entire tree, which has economic implications, research has been undertaken to explore alternative solutions. The scale of illegal palm heart harvesting is difficult to estimate.Galetti 1998
Most commercial acai products claim antioxidant and antiaging properties. Topical formulations are promoted for inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne, and in hair restoration treatments. Acai is used in cold and flu products and as a functional pigment for yogurt.Brondizio 2002, Coïsson 2005, Del Pozo-Insfran 2004, Schauss 2006, Weinstein 2004
The primary medicinal parts of the plant are the fruit and berry. Numerous studies have been completed on the nutritional composition and chemistry of the fruit. Acai fruit and berries contain lipids (49.4% and 33.1%), proteins (13.8% and 9.3%), ash (5.2% and 2.2%), and dietary fiber (27.3% and 18%), respectively.
Another study on freeze-dried acai fruit identified 19 amino acids, making up 7.6% of its total weight. Oleic acid, 54%, palmitic acid, 27%, and linoleic acid, 12%, are the 3 dominant fatty acids. Nutrient analysis of 100 g of powder found 534 calories, 52 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 33 g total fat, and 44 g fiber. Vitamins A, B1, and C are present, as well as calcium and iron. Five sterols have also been isolated. The major phytochemicals include anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, and other flavonoids, which are most likely associated with antioxidant activity. Cyanidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-rutinoside are the 2 predominant anthocyanins. Total analysis of all flavonoids in the fruit pulp and antioxidant capacity of the seed extract is documented.
Color and stability studies of acai in food, beverage, and nutraceutical products are also available.Coïsson 2005, Costa 1945, Del Pozo-Insfran 2004, Gallori 2004, Neida 2007, Rodrigues 2006, Schauss 2006, Vera de Rosso 2007
Uses and Pharmacology
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of acai pulp and seed extract have been demonstrated in in vitro and animal studies and may account for some of the effects attributed to acai.Guerra 2011, Hassimotto 2005, Jensen 2011, Lichtenthäler 2005, Matheus 2006, Rodrigues 2006, Schauss 2006 Clinical data is very limited.
Acai fractions containing polyphenolic compounds reduced the proliferation of human promyelocytic leukemia (HL-60) cell line through caspase-3 activation in a dose- and time-dependent manner. The mechanism of action is associated with polyphenolic phytochemicals activating caspase-3, leading to cell death or apoptosis.Del Pozo-Insfran 2006 In mice and rats, acai administered orally as a supplement over 14 days to 10 weeks was shown to reduce the incidence and proliferation of induced urinary and colon cancer, and exerted a protective effect against doxorubicin-induced damage.Fragoso 2013, Fragoso 2012, Ribeiro 2010
A clinical trial is ongoing regarding the anticancer potential of acai juice in patients with prostate cancer who have rising prostate-specific antigen.NIH 2013
In a small pilot study (N = 10) in healthy overweight volunteers, acai pulp daily over 1 month decreased fasting glucose and insulin levels.Udani 2011 A significant acute treatment (P=0.02) and time effect (P<0.001) was seen on postprandial serum insulin following a single dose of acai relative to placebo in a crossover randomized trial. Consumption of acai resulted in a higher maximum insulin concentration (P=0.009); although, the clinical relevance of this result is unknown. However, no significant difference in serum glucose was seen between treatments in the otherwise healthy overweight men (n=23) who were at slight increased risk of metabolic disease.Alqurashi 2016
Oxidative stress generated during vigorous exercise can induce muscle damage leading to fatigue, impaired recovery, and possibly even contribute to respiratory control. In a single-blind, randomized interventional crossover study, 14 male elite athletes who completed all phases of the study experienced significant improvements with acai for both baseline and post-exercise biomarkers of oxidative stress. Prior to exhaustive exercise, consumption of acai beverage for 4 days led to improved baseline values for lymphocytes (−19%; P=0.017), creatinine (−11.5 micromol/L; P=0.02), and lactate dehydrogenase (+48 units/L; P=0.005) compared to the control drink. Additionally, postexercise values revealed less of an increase in oxidative and muscle stress biomarkers (eg, creatinine, urea, ammonia, lymphocytes, malondialdehyde [MDA]) with the acai beverage than with the control beverage (P=0.024 to P=0.051). Mean time to exhaustion was also statistically significantly improved with the acai drink than the control condition (mean difference, 69 seconds; P=0.045).Carvalho-Peixoto 2015 In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial that enrolled 23 overweight, otherwise healthy men, plasma total peroxide concentration was also found to be significantly lower over the 7-hour time frame after a single-dose of acai smoothie compared to placebo (P=0.02). The acai smoothie intervention consisted of 150 g frozen acai pulp plus 50 g banana (694 mg polyphenols, 493 mg anthocyanins).Alqurashi 2016
Acai induced an endothelium-dependent vasodilator effect in a rat mesenteric vascular bed. The mechanism of action appeared to be dependent on the activation of the nitrous oxide-cyclic guanosine monophosphate pathway and might involve endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor release.Rocha 2007 Laboratory studies show antioxidant effects of acai preparations, with improvements in biomarkers of oxidative stress.de Souza 2010, Xie 2011 Hypertensive rats fed acai pulp 200 mg/kg daily over 40 days showed decreased hypertension.da Costa 2012
In a small pilot study (N = 10) in healthy overweight volunteers, acai pulp 100 g daily over 1 month failed to demonstrate an effect on blood pressure.Udani 2011 Similarly, a single dose of commercially available acai berry (1,000 mg total dose) given to young healthy adults (n = 18) failed to produce any significant electrocardiogram or hemodynamic effects compared with placebo, except for a significant reduction in standing systolic blood pressure at 6 hours postdose.Gale 2014 Although no significant acute changes were found in blood pressure or heart rate over time in 23 overweight, otherwise healthy men who consumed a single dose of acai smoothie, a significant treatment effect was observed on vascular endothelial function (P<0.001). Flow-mediated dilatation, an early biomarker of cardiovascular disease risk, was significantly improved at 2, 4, and 6 hours with acai compared to placebo (P=0.001, P=0.003, and P<0.000, respectively). The plasma total peroxide concentration was also found to be significantly lower over the 7-hour time frame with the acai smoothie compared to placebo (P=0.02). The acai smoothie in this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial consisted of 150 g frozen acai pulp plus 50 g banana (694 mg polyphenols, 493 mg anthocyanins), while the control was a fat-matched smoothie with 50 g banana (less than 10 mg polyphenols). Additionally, although no significant difference in serum glucose was seen between treatments, a significant treatment (P=0.02) and time effect (P<0.001) was seen on postprandial serum insulin with acai (P=0.009) relative to placebo. Consumption of acai resulted in a higher maximum insulin concentration (P=0.009).Alqurashi 2016
Studies in zebrafish, mice, and rats using both acai fruit pulp and acai seed extract have demonstrated improved lipid profiles in hypercholesterolemic laboratory animals.de Oliveira 2010, de Souza 2010, de Souza 2012, Kim 2012 Improved cholesterol homeostasis was demonstrated in rats.de Souza 2012 Atherosclerotic plaques in the aorta were diminished in rabbits fed acai fruit extract over 12 weeks.Feio 2012
In a small pilot study (N = 10) in healthy overweight volunteers, acai pulp 100 g daily over 1 month decreased serum total cholesterol and showed a trend toward improved low-density lipoprotein levels and total cholesterol/high-density lipoprotein ratio.Udani 2011
Mean time to exhaustion was statistically significantly improved in elite athletes with consumption of an acai drink for 4 days compared to the control condition (mean difference, 69 seconds; P=0.045) in a single-blind, randomized interventional crossover study (n=14).Carvalho-Peixoto 2015
There is little clinical evidence on which to base dosing guidelines. The Center for Science in the Public Interest warns that most claims attributed to acai products are not supported.Schardt 2013
A small pilot study (N = 10) in healthy overweight volunteers used acai pulp 100 g daily over 1 month and showed decreased serum total cholesterol as well as decreased fasting glucose and insulin levels, but no effect on hypertension.Udani 2011
The kinetics of orally administered acai pulp and clarified liquid was reported in a healthy population. A low bioavailability of anthocyanins was reported.Mertens-Talcott 2008
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.Felzenszwalb 2013
Iron in acai fruits was not effective in improving hemoglobin concentrations in a rat study.Toalari 2005
Limited clinical studies exist; however, no adverse events have been reported and no adverse events are recorded for studies in laboratory animals at doses of 2 g/kg body weight.Udani 2011
Numerous reports exist for the transmission of American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) via contaminated acai berry juice in Brazil.de Souza-Lima 2013, Nóbrega 2009 A case report of rhabdomyolysis was due to a mislabeled supplement that did not contain acai berry.Elsayed 2011
Avoid use if hypersensitivity to acai palm or any of its components, or to members of the Euterpe genus, exist.
Mutagenicity, clastogenicity, genotoxicity, and cytotoxicity studies found no evidence of toxicityRibeiro 2010, Schauss 2010; however, 1 study reported mutagenicity in the S. typhimurium TA97 assay and clastogenicity with highly concentrated pulp.Felzenszwalb 2013
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