- Acai berry
- Acai palm
- Cabbage palm
- Palm berry
For Patients & Caregivers
How It Works
Acai has antioxidant effects but it has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.
Acai is the fruit of a palm mainly found in South America. The berries and seeds contain compounds called flavonoids that have antioxidant effects. Some laboratory studies suggest acai may reduce cholesterol, prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels, and cause programmed cell death in leukemia cells. However, human stuides are needed to confirm these effects.
Consumption of contaminated acai fruit with insects carrying Trypanosoma cruzii, a protozoan that causes Chagas disease, resulted in 178 cases of acute disease.
- To prevent cancer In vitro studies show that flavonoids present in acai fruit have antioxidant properties. There are no animal or human studies to support that acai is useful in cancer prevention.
- To prevent heart disease and stroke In vitro studies show that acai fruit may be useful but human data are lacking.
For Healthcare Professionals
Acai is the fruit of a palm tree native to South America. It is consumed as food and used in traditional medicine. The pulp and skin of acai fruit are rich in anthocyanins (ACNs), proanthocyanidins (PACs) and fatty acids (1). It is marketed as a dietary supplement for lowering cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, allergies, and for cancer treatment.
Preclinical experiments have shown that acai has anti-inflammatory (11), antioxidant (10), pro-apoptotic (2) (17), antitumorigenic (18), athero-protective (13) and anticancer (21) effects. An acai extract inhibited beta-amyloid inhibition, which suggests it may also have neuroprotective activity (19). In a murine model nasal administration of acai polysaccharides potentiated innate immunity against pulmonary infections (16); and oral administration of acai extracts prevented the development of exercise intolerance, cardiac hypertrophy and dysfunction in rats with myocardial infarction (20).
Small clinical studies reported improvements in biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in individuals with metabolic syndrome (22); and in vascular function in overweight men (23). Consumption of an acai juice product was shown to lengthen prostate specific antigen (PSA) doubling time in patients with recurrent prostate cancer (24). These observations need confirmation in larger studies.
Due to its antioxidant effects, acai may interfere with the actions of certain chemotherapy drugs. Consumption of contaminated acai fruit with insects carrying Trypanosoma cruzii, a protozoan that causes Chagas disease, resulted in 178 cases of acute disease (12).
Mechanism of Action
Acai fruit has been shown to have antioxidant effects in vitro (5) (6) by scavenging reactive oxygen species (7). It also protects human vascular endothelial cells against oxidative stress and inflammation, downregulate IL-6 and -8 expression at mRNA and protein levels, and inhibits gene expression of adhesion molecules and NF-κB activation (14). The anti-inflammatory effects of acai may be via inhibition of nitric oxide production (8) or cyclooxygenase (COX) 1 and 2 (5). In a diabetic murine model, an acai seed extract was shown to protect against hepatic steatosis by reducing hepatic lipogenesis and increasing antioxidant defense and cholesterol excretion (25).
Additional studies indicate that Acai induces apoptosis in HL-60 leukemia cells through caspase 3 activation (2). The cytotoxic effects of acai extracts on various malignant cell lines were reported to be due to increased expression of LC3BII, a protein marker of auto-phagosome formation (18).