If you’re concerned about toxins in the air you breathe, food you eat, and water you drink, chances are you’ve been thinking of ways to detox your body and improve your overall health. And if you’ve been searching online for the best way to detox your body, you’ve no doubt run across websites extolling the virtues of the acai berry cleanse, including its ability to help you shed excess weight. But what exactly is an acai berry cleanse, and does it even work? In this article, we’re going to take a look at this newest cleansing craze and separate myth from reality.
What Are Acai Berries?
Acai berries are tart, grape-like drupes that grow on palm trees native to Central and South America. With a flavor many people describe as reminiscent of blackberries with dark chocolate overtones, acai berries have been enjoyed by natives of the Amazon river delta for centuries.
However, the fruits didn’t become popular in the United States until the early 21st century, when they began to be touted as the “amazing Amazonian superfruit” due to their combination of healthy fats and antioxidants—compounds that protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
Health Benefits of Acai Berries
The antioxidant activity of food is measured using the oxygen radical absorbance capacity, or ORAC, scale. And acai berries have been found to have one of the highest ORAC values of any fruit, including blueberries, cranberries, pomegranates, and mangosteen.
While thousands of different phytochemicals exist, acai berries are known for a specific group of polyphenols called flavonoids, especially anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins—compounds that give acai berries their dark purple color.
Anthocyanins are known to possess powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties and have been found to protect the liver against injury, lower blood pressure, improve vision, and stop the proliferation of cancer cells.
Proanthocyanidins likewise possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties and are known to increase capillary strength and prevent lipid peroxidation—a potent risk factor in the development of heart disease caused by the destructive interaction of lipids and free radicals.
Acai berries also contain dietary fiber and 19 different amino acids as well as the non-flavonoid polyphenol resveratrol, which has been found to stop the proliferation of cancer cells at all stages of growth, and sterols, which can prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the GI tract.
What’s more, acai berries are a good source of several important essential fatty acids, including those found in olive oil.
This powerful combination of dietary fiber, phytochemicals, and healthy fats also means that acai berries may have specific health benefits.
Diabetes and Heart Disease
Several studies have found that acai berries may lead to lower fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels. For example, a study published in Nutrition Journal found that overweight adults who consumed 100 grams of acai pulp twice a day for 1 month experienced reductions in fasting blood sugar and insulin as well as total and LDL cholesterol levels. These findings led researchers to conclude that acai berries may be useful in preventing metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that increases an individual’s risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
While multiple studies have demonstrated the potential anti-cancer benefits of anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, studies involving acai berries have only recently begun. However, several studies have already found that acai berries may be effective in preventing various types of cancer, including lung and breast cancers.
As mentioned, acai berries are rich in antioxidants—a fact that has implications for the treatment of a number of medical conditions linked to oxidative damage. Interestingly, a number of recent studies have also found a possible link between oxidative stress and the development of mental health disorders.
In fact, several studies have found that the antioxidants in acai berries protect neurons, inhibit the buildup of protein fragments (beta-amyloid) strongly associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and reduce free radicals and lipid peroxidation.
Several studies have found evidence to suggest that acai can protect the liver against damage associated with both diabetes and alcoholism by preventing the buildup of fat in the liver. What’s more, acai has been found to increase levels of the master antioxidant glutathione and reduce numbers of inflammatory cells.
Acai may also be effective in the treatment of harmful bacteria. For example, a study in the journal Microbial Pathogenesis found that acai pulp extract was effective against both Staphylococcus aureus and the thick layer of biofilm that can make it resistant to standard treatment.
But what about detoxification? Can acai berries help with that too?
Acai Berry Cleanse: Fact or Fiction?
In an age of industrial agriculture and rampant pollution, it’s no wonder so many of us are looking for ways to detox from all the bad stuff we have to deal with every day.
And, in an effort to help us with that quest, a number of companies offer countless products pledging to do just that, from colon cleanses that promise to clear the digestive tract of toxins and excess waste and return us to healthy intestinal function...to total body cleanses that guarantee an end to toxin-laden fat, puffiness, and bloating and a return to a flatter abdomen, vibrant health, and glowing skin.
But let’s face it. Most of these products are more hype than anything else.
Is that true of the acai berry cleanse as well?
Case Study: Applied Nutrition 14-Day Acai Berry Cleanse
The most popular acai berry cleanse currently on the market is the 14-day acai berry cleanse put out by Applied Nutrition. This 14-day cleanse contains an “acai cleanse blend” of acai berries, blueberries, cranberries, lychee, mangosteen, and pomegranate, plus a “cleansing flush blend” of cascara sagrada, slippery elm bark, and ginger.
According to the manufacturer, two tablets taken before meals, once in the morning and once at night, with a full glass of water for 2 weeks will get rid of the excess matter “clogging your digestive system” that leads to weight gain and bloating.
That sounds great—on the surface. But when you have a clearer understanding of what each of these ingredients actually does, things look a lot different.
And that’s because this 14-day cleanse is basically just an antioxidant formula combined with soothing digestive herbs and a powerful laxative.
However, we don’t mean to imply that the Applied Nutrition 14-day acai berry cleanse tablets are alone here. After all, this product is certainly not the only acai berry cleanse on the market.
But although other products may combine acai berries with green tea extract or garcinia cambogia to assist with weight loss, they’re still marketing antioxidants as detox agents.
In fact, dietary supplements touting the so-called powerful natural cleansing properties of acai berries became popular when acai berries first appeared on the market.
But the real secret to the supposed detox prowess of these acai cleanse blends is the stimulant laxative effect of ingredients like cascara sagrada—a potent substance that’s known to cause cramping and loose stools.
In fact, so many companies began flooding the market with false celebrity endorsements, promises of massive weight loss, and claims of curing cancer that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began cracking down.
However, the truth is that there’s no quick fix. Because, while there’s no denying the antioxidants, dietary fiber, and healthy fats in acai berries are good for you—and may even help protect your body from the free radicals that can lead to inflammation and chronic disease—there’s no scientific proof that they act as detox agents.
But when you think that detoxification is something our bodies perform on their own each and every day, as long as we provide them with the proper fuel—think daily intake of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats—it makes sense that acai berries can be a part of that.
So don’t feel you have to give up on acai berries just because they may not be the magic detox bullet you were hoping for. Instead, make the most of their powerful antioxidants and the potential health benefits they offer by treating yourself to an acai smoothie, whipping up a tasty acai bowl, enjoying a refreshing glass of acai juice, or swirling some fresh acai berries in your morning oatmeal or yogurt today!