Once the media grabs hold of something, whether it is a new gadget or technology, or a berry that has been used for thousands of years by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon; the public becomes completely inundated with a seemingly never-ending wave of news, talk and “miracle” products containing it. This is exactly what happened with the açaí berry.
The açaí berry (Euterpe oleracea) is a dark reddish-purple berry that grows on the açaí palm tree, native to Central and South America; primarily Brazil. Although other regions of the world have similar tropical climates, the açaí palm tree has never been successfully grown anywhere other than this particular region. The berry is about the size of a large blueberry or cranberry, yet unlike these, only 10 percent of the açaí is edible. The remaining portion is a large, dense, inedible seed.
The açaí berry is not only an important food source for those native to its growing region, but has also been used as a treatment, as well as preventative measure for a number of health concerns.1 Until recently, açaí’s benefits were confined to the people in its native region. That all changed in 2004, when it was endorsed as the “Number 1 Superfood” on the popular Oprah Winfrey Show.2 Soon after, a flurry of movie stars, professional athletes, supermodels and celebrity doctors all sang the açaí berry’s praise, calling it everything from the “fountain of youth,” to “the weight-loss super-berry,” to “the Viagra of the Amazon.”2 All of a sudden, açaí juices, smoothies, powders, supplements, dried fruits and skin care products hit the market, and everyone had to try them, regardless of the cost or potential scam.
The pulp of the açaí berry is extremely rich in nutrients vital to a healthy body including antioxidants such as vitamins C and E; flavanoids such as anthocyanins and proanthocyanins, polyphenols; and phytosterols. It contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any edible fruit, according to the standardized Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) chart, 10 percent higher than that of blueberries, cranberries and pomegranates.3
Açaí also contains essential fatty acids such as oleic acid, palmitic acid and linoleic acid, as well as other lipids; several of the B vitamins, and the essential minerals calcium, potassium, silicon and phosphorus. Additionally, it is low in sugar, and is a significant source of dietary fiber, amino acids and other proteins.
Although not clinically proven in human trials, açaí-believers testify that this combination of nutrients promotes weight loss, increases energy and stamina, combats serious illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and cancer; strengthens the immune system, improves the digestive system, improves vision, increases sex drive, aids in detoxification and reduces the visual effects of aging.4 Plus, its taste has been described as “a combination of red wine and chocolate.”5 It is easy to see why manufacturers have clamored to market this ingredient: It sells itself.
A recent study on humans confirmed that the açaí berry’s antioxidants are absorbed and used by the body quickly after consumption, as well as up to 24 hours following.5 This research is very encouraging, and calls for future, more specific human trials.
Is açaí a viable skin care ingredient?
Like any food ingredient, açaí presents challenges when considered for skin care product formulation. It is expensive, and it is perishable. Although it can be cold-pressed into oil, like other antioxidant ingredients, the molecules are large and cannot easily penetrate the epidermis. To be effective, it would have to be formulated in a way that it could be absorbed deep into the dermis, where most of the skin’s aging actually occurs.
The essential fatty acids and lipids will work on the surface to soften and smooth the appearance of the skin, but because of these factors, most doctors and nutritionists recommend reaping the benefits of açaí by taking it internally, preferably by eating the fruit or drinking the juice.
From a holistic standpoint, its nutrients will take care of any internal issues such as blockages, free-radical causing inflammation and cell/DNA damage, blood sugar issues, and immune system deficiencies that cause common skin problems such as acne, sensitivity, and premature aging due to dermal thinning and degradation of collagen and elastin.
1 "Acai Fruit - Acai Berry in the News. The Media Loves the Acai Berries from the Amazon Rainforest." Power Supplements: Acai Special Report. Power Supplements, LLC, 2007. Web. 15 May 2011. <http://www.powersupplements.com/acai/acai-media.html>.
2 "Acai [NCCAM Herbs at a Glance]." National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine [NCCAM] - Nccam.nih.gov Home Page. National Institutes of Health, Apr. 2011. Web. 15 May 2011. <http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acai/>.
3 "Acai Berry - Acai Berry Study - Acai Berry Benefits." Skin Care & Beauty Blog. 19 Nov. 2008. Web. 15 May 2011. <http://www.skincareblog.net/2008/11/19/acai-berry-acai-berry-study/>.
4 "Acai Berry Benefits." Acai Berry Products - BBB Certified. Acai Berry Site. Web. 15 May 2011. <http://acaiberrysite.com/benefits/>.
5 "Brazilian Acai Berry Antioxidants Absorbed By Human Body, Research Shows." Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. Science Daily, 17 Oct. 2008. Web. 15 May 2011. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081006112053.htm>.