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Many fruits and especially low-sugar berries have beneficial effects on cancer recovery and prevention. The Açaí berry, an Amazonian fruit, and a food staple for many Amazonian populations is now becoming more recognized and used worldwide for its nutritional value and health benefits. But what is Açaí?

What is Açaí?

Açaí berries grow on the Açaí palm tree, Euterpe oleracea, belonging to the family Arecaceae. This palm tree is characteristic of the rainforest in the Amazon region, and is native to Central and South America, including the northern region of Brazil, Guianas, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

The fruit of the açaí palm tree, popularly known as “açaí,” is a small berry, weighing approximately 2g and is dark purple when mature1. Açaí berries are consumed for their nutritional value and potential health benefits. Fresh berries have been a staple in the diet of native Amazonians for centuries because açaí has a high content of lipids, carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals2,3.

The seed of açaí is approximately 85 to 90% of the fruit’s weight, with its pulp (10%) and peel (2%) comprising the rest. The pulp contains a high percentage of dietary fiber, carbohydrates, and lipids, while also being a good source of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. It is also characterized by significant contents of anthocyanins, oleic acid, fiber, and phytosterols4. Açaí is considered a “superfood” because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Macronutrient Composition of Açaí

The pulp of the açaí berry is composed of approximately1:

  • 48% lipids
  • 13% protein
  • 8% amino acids
  • 25% of total sugars
  • fibers

Micronutrient Composition of Açaí

Açaí also contains several vitamins and minerals1,5:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B1, B2, B3
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Chromium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus

Bioactive Compounds of Açaí

Açaí berry is rich in phytochemicals with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer activities1,2,3,4,6:

  • Lignans
  • Phenolic compounds, like anthocyanins, pro-anthocyanidins, flavones, carotenoids, and other flavonoids
  • Polyphenolic anthocyanin compounds:
    • Resveratrol
    • cyanidin-3-galactoside
    • ferulic acid
    • delphinidin
    • petunidin
  • Pro-anthocyanidin tannins:
    • Epicatechin
    • protocatechuic acid
    • ellagic acid
  • Carotenoids:
    • α-carotene
    • β-carotene
    • lutein
    • zeaxanthin

Cyanidin 3-glucoside is the predominant anthocyanin found in açaí and correlated to antioxidant content, but other 16 polyphenolics have been identified on açai7. Açaí pulp has a high phenolic content, with the highest concentration found in unripe fruits and decreasing gradually as the fruit ripens4. Furthermore, the concentration of polyphenols varies in different parts of the açaí plant1.

  • Highest concentration on the seeds of – 28.3%
  • Then the whole fruit – 25.5%
  • Lastly the bark – 15.7%

Phytochemicals such as phenolic compounds and carotenoids, have been associated with beneficial effects related to the prevention of cardiovascular disease risk factors, inhibition of inflammation, reducing oxidative stress, and preventing or delaying oxidation by scavenging free radicals4.

Several studies have evaluated the potential health benefits associated with açaí consumption, especially their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential, which may reduce the risk and lead to improvements in illnesses like cardiovascular and metabolic disturbances11,12 Alzheimer’s disease13, and cancer1,2,5,8. Some of the potential health benefits associated with açaí and açaí berry extract consumption are2,4,8,9,10:

  • free radical scavenging and antioxidant activity
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antiproliferative
  • antimutagenic/ antigenotoxic
  • antitumorigenic potential
  • metabolic health
  • antidyslipidemic
  • anti-hyperglycemic
  • vasodilator
  • antihypertensive
  • cardioprotector
  • renal protector
  • antiobesity
  • antidiabetic
  • anti-cholinesterase

Benefits of Açaí Consumption for Cancer

There have been several in vitro and animal studies evaluating the potential anticancer effects of acai berry, with encouraging results that suggest that açaí berry extracts have anticancer properties. Additional studies need to be performed in humans, but some recently published papers support these results.

A study published in 2021, suggested that “açaí seed extract has a high cytotoxic capacity and may induce autophagy by increasing ROS (reactive oxygen species) production in breast cancer.” Adding that “besides açaí’s antioxidant activity, flavonoids with high radical scavenging activity present in açai seed extract also generated NO (nitric oxide), contributing to its cytotoxic effect and autophagy induction8.”

In a systematic review published in 2018, researchers concluded that “the anticarcinogenic and chemopreventive activities of açaí were observed in all experimental models of cancer and reduced the incidence, tumor cell proliferation, multiplicity and size of the tumors due to the anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties of açaí.” Furthermore, no genotoxic effects were observed after açaí administration, suggesting that “açaí is safe and can be used as a chemoprotective agent against cancer development1.”

In sum, açaí is super nutritious and delicious, and its consumption is safe and has been associated with many health benefits. Furthermore, studies evaluating the relationship between açaí consumption and cancer generated encouraging results and suggest that açaí may be a novel strategy for preventing and treating cancer1.

What are you waiting for – go out and buy your açaí!

References

  1. Alessandra-Perini J, Rodrigues-Baptista KC, Machado DE, Nasciutti LE, Perini JA. Anticancer potential, molecular mechanisms and toxicity of Euterpe oleracea extract (açaí): A systematic review. PLoS One. 2018 Jul 2;13(7):e0200101. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200101. PMID: 29966007; PMCID: PMC6028114.
  2. Silva DF, Vidal FC, Santos D, Costa MC, Morgado-Díaz JA, do Desterro Soares Brandão Nascimento M, de Moura RS. Cytotoxic effects of Euterpe oleracea Mart. in malignant cell lines. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 May 29;14:175. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-175. PMID: 24886139; PMCID: PMC4047259.
  3. Nutrition and You. Acai Berry Nutrition Facts. https://www.nutrition-and-you.com/acai-berry.html, accessed Sept 30, 2022.
  4. Belmonte-Herrera BH, Domínguez-Avila JA, Wall-Medrano A, Ayala-Zavala JF, Preciado-Saldaña AM, Salazar-López NJ, López-Martínez LX, Yahia EM, Robles-Sánchez RM, González-Aguilar GA. Lesser-Consumed Tropical Fruits and Their by-Products: Phytochemical Content and Their Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Potential. Nutrients. 2022 Sep 5;14(17):3663. doi: 10.3390/nu14173663. PMID: 36079920; PMCID: PMC9460136.
  5. Primeau A. Cancer Therapy Advisor. Acai Berry and Cancer. March 30, 2018. https://www.cancertherapyadvisor.com/home/tools/fact-sheets/acai-berry-and-cancer/, accessed Sept 29, 2022.
  6. Rodrigues RB, Lichtenthäler R, Zimmermann BF, Papagiannopoulos M, Fabricius H, Marx F, Maia JG, Almeida O. Total oxidant scavenging capacity of Euterpe oleracea Mart. (açaí) seeds and identification of their polyphenolic compounds. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Jun 14;54(12):4162-7. doi: 10.1021/jf058169p. PMID: 16756342.
  7. Del Pozo-Insfran D, Brenes CH, Talcott ST. Phytochemical composition and pigment stability of Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.). J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Mar 24;52(6):1539-45. doi: 10.1021/jf035189n. PMID: 15030208.
  8. Silva MACND, Costa JH, Pacheco-Fill T, Ruiz ALTG, Vidal FCB, Borges KRA, Guimarães SJA, Azevedo-Santos APS, Buglio KE, Foglio MA, Barbosa MDCL, Nascimento MDDSB, de Carvalho JE. Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) Seed Extract Induces ROS Production and Cell Death in MCF-7 Breast Cancer Cell Line. Molecules. 2021 Jun 10;26(12):3546. doi: 10.3390/molecules26123546. PMID: 34200718; PMCID: PMC8230419.
  9. Neri-Numa IA, Soriano Sancho RA, Pereira APA, Pastore GM. Small Brazilian wild fruits: Nutrients, bioactive compounds, health-promotion properties and commercial interest. Food Res Int. 2018 Jan;103:345-360. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2017.10.053. Epub 2017 Oct 31. PMID: 29389624.
  10. Moura RS, Ferreira TS, Lopes AA, Pires KM, Nesi RT, Resende AC, Souza PJ, Silva AJ, Borges RM, Porto LC, Valenca SS. Effects of Euterpe oleracea Mart. (AÇAÍ) extract in acute lung inflammation induced by cigarette smoke in the mouse. Phytomedicine. 2012 Feb 15;19(3-4):262-9. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2011.11.004. Epub 2011 Dec 3. PMID: 22138278.
  11. Figueiredo AM, Cardoso AC, Pereira BLB, Silva RAC, Ripa AFGD, Pinelli TFB, Oliveira BC, Rafacho BPM, Ishikawa LLW, Azevedo PS, Okoshi K, Fernandes AAH, Zornoff LAM, Minicucci MF, Polegato BF, Paiva SAR. Açai supplementation (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) attenuates cardiac remodeling after myocardial infarction in rats through different mechanistic pathways. PLoS One. 2022 Mar 4;17(3):e0264854. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0264854. PMID: 35245316; PMCID: PMC8896726.
  12. Alqurashi RM, Galante LA, Rowland IR, Spencer JP, Commane DM. Consumption of a flavonoid-rich açai meal is associated with acute improvements in vascular function and a reduction in total oxidative status in healthy overweight men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Nov;104(5):1227-1235. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.128728. Epub 2016 Sep 28. PMID: 27680990.
  13. ALNasser MN, Mellor IR, Carter WG. A Preliminary Assessment of the Nutraceutical Potential of Acai Berry (Euterpe sp.) as a Potential Natural Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. Molecules. 2022 Jul 30;27(15):4891. doi: 10.3390/molecules27154891. PMID: 35956841; PMCID: PMC9370152.