The acai berry is the berry of the acai palm (Euterpe Oleracea) that grows in parts of South America. The acai berry is taken as a food and as a dietary supplement and evidence suggest that it may possess important health effects. In particular, studies have show the berry to contain very high concentrations of antioxidants and these may confer particular benefits against oxidative stress. Increasingly oxidative stress is being shown to play some role in the aetiology of the cluster of disorders termed the metabolic syndrome. The metabolic syndrome is a dysfunction that centres on the development of insulin resistance, and this leads to downstream metabolic changes including detrimental changes to the liver, which affects many metabolic pathways including energy homeostasis and lipid profiles. Developing the metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and may be a primary driver of obesity. Treating metabolic syndrome may therefore reduce the prevalence of these diseases.
The health benefits of fruits and vegetables may stem in part from the presence of high amounts antioxidants in the tissues of plants. A number of foods with high antioxidant capacity (such as tea, red wine, olive oil, cinnamon and blueberries) have been shown to be useful at treating insulin resistance and beneficially affecting some of the markers of the metabolic syndrome. Because acai berry has been shown to possess very high levels of antioxidants, it may be a useful functional food for the treatment of metabolic syndrome. Some studies have investigated the effects of acai berry on parameters that are used as markers for metabolic syndrome. For example, in one study1, researchers fed 10 overweight subjects with body mass indices of over 25 kg/m2 100 grams of acai berry pulp twice daily for 1 months. Following this time they measured levels of fasting plasma glucose, insulin, cholesterol, triglycerides, exhaled nitric oxide metabolites and plasma levels of C-reactive protein.
The results of the study showed that consumption of the acai berry caused reductions in fasting glucose and insulin levels, suggesting that insulin sensitivity had been improved. The acai berry also reduced the glucose response to a meal, further supporting the contention that insulin homeostasis had been improved, perhaps through an insulin sensitising effect. There was also a reduction in plasma levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), although the reduction was small, but his reduction did cause a significant improvement in the low to high density lipoprotein ratio. Although the subject number was small in this study, the result indicate that acai berry may be a useful functional food in the treatment of metabolic syndrome. The insulin sensitising effects support previous studies showing that antioxidant rich foods are able to reduce insulin resistance and provide downstream health benefits. Acai berry may therefore be a useful supplemental addition to the diet of those wishing to improve their health.