Acai. Little Berry, Big Results

April 20, 2015

From the Amazon River Basin comes a potent berry that’s not only touted as a miracle superfood, but a skincare ingredient that’s said to rejuvenate and revitalise tired skin beyond measure. But just how real are the claims and is acai really the answer to many of our health and beauty concerns?

The Amazon’s acai is a little berry with a big reputation. Said to possess powerful antioxidants that boost metabolism, reduce weight and enhance athletic ability, it has also made a splash in the skincare industry, with promises of reducing signs of ageing while keeping skin supple.

Found in clusters 25 feet above the ground in native palm trees that grow in the Amazon River basin, local tribes have long revered the acai (pronounced ah-cye-EE) berry, initially eating them for heightened energy before discovering their anti-bacterial properties that quickly reduced fevers, healed wounds and infections, while making those who ate them regularly, more resistant to sickness and disease.

Yet it wasn’t until the 1990s that this tiny antioxidant powerhouse made its way into the Western mainstream and into the kitchens of those seeking better health and longevity. More than 20 years on, the acai, which has low sugar content, continues to grow in popularity thanks to its impressive nutrient profile that has also caught the attention of health experts such as Dr Memet Oz who calls it “the world’s number one superfood.”

With a combination of all three essential fatty acids, omegas 3, 6 and 9, it’s also a storehouse of phytosterols, which inhibit the absorption of intestinal cholesterol, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, E as well as skin-loving Vitamin C, and important minerals such as calcium, potassium and phosphorus as well as essential amino acids.

However, it’s not just anecdotal evidence that has thrust the acai into the health food spotlight. In a 2005 study conducted by Dr Steve Talcott at the University of Florida, the fruit destroyed cultured human cancer cells, with the berries triggering “a self-destruct response in up to 86 percent of leukaemia cells tested.”

“We’re just beginning to understand the complexity of the acai berry and its health-promoting effects,” Dr Talcott says, who continues to study the fruit as a researcher at the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Texas A&M University. “Compounds that show good activity against cancer cells in a model system are most likely to have beneficial effects in our bodies.”

Just two years after this study, Dr Talcott discovered a cold-press method to extract oil from the berries in a composition that is almost identical to the original acai, making its health benefits readily available as a food, dietary supplement and perfect for use in cosmetics. Yet, while eating the berry or its dark green oil is proving to be a wellness wonder, how effective is it when applied topically?

The acai, which has low sugar content, continues to grow in popularity thanks to its impressive nutrient profile that has also caught the attention of health experts such as Dr Memet Oz who calls it “the world’s number one superfood.”

According to popular health expert Dr Mercola, who has developed his own range of skincare featuring acai, the berry’s active ingredients are readily absorbed into the skin, helping to treat dry or cracked skin, while reducing the appearance of premature ageing.

“It’s an excellent emollient and an effective moisturiser and it absorbs into the skin quickly,” he says.

However, Dr Mercola adds that despite the fruit’s definite benefits, it has become the focus of a media-hyped fix-it-all, spawning inferior products that can’t live up to their labelled promises. This makes choosing the right acai products a challenge for the consumer who doesn’t know what to look for.

Skincare companies worldwide have jumped on the berry bandwagon, introducing lotions, balms, anti-ageing serums, after sun formulations, anti-wrinkle creams and other facial products infused with acai. Yet a close up look at many labels will reveal small amounts of acai alongside toxic parabens and other chemical skincare additives—making any promises of being a skin saviour, defunct.

Key Considerations

  • When selecting an acai oil, be sure to check that it has been extracted using a cold press method, which keeps much of the berry’s nutrients in tact.
  • Choose a natural product with a high percentage of organic ingredients. As the body’s largest organ, the skin readily absorbs whatever is applied to it. Feed it as you would feed your body.
  • Check the label thoroughly. If harmful ingredients such as mineral oil, fragrance, dioxane and parabens make up just some of the formula you have your eye on, steer clear.
  • Is the skincare company you’re buying from harvesting the acai berry ethically and does it give back to the Amazon?
  • Acai isn’t known to have any contraindications, but as with any food or skincare ingredient, monitor what works for you.

Start from Within

Regardless of how much acai you put on your skin, it will never embody a true healthy glow unless you start from the inside out. As Hippocrates said, “All diseases start in the gut.” With our skin a reflection of what’s happening inside, start adding beneficial nutrients to you diet, along with caring for your skin from the outside. Many health food stores sell high quality acai berry powders, elixirs and supplements. Find one that ticks all the “good quality” boxes and add it to a daily smoothie or green juice. Finding the fresh fruit is rare, as the berry is fragile and can rarely be shipped long distances.

Acai’s Antioxidants

While acai’s abundant antioxidant properties are well known, just what effect do these have on the body and skin? Include them in your diet if you want to foster good health, longevity and energy. While helping the immune system to function more efficiently, antioxidants help to fight of the effects of germs, viruses and bacteria, as well as exposure to pollution and chemicals.

Did You Know?

Acai’s antioxidant value is higher than prunes, pomegranates, cranberries and mangosteen, giving it the highest per unit value of antioxidant power of any edible fruit in the world. Meanwhile, its anthocyanin content is said to be 10 to 30 times higher than that of red wine.

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