If you're interested in herbal medicine, you might have heard of the acai berry, the fruit of a palm tree, also known as Euterpe oleraceae, that's native to Central and South America. The berries are small and dark purple when ripe, with a thin skin and edible layer of pulp that are rich in potentially healthy natural compounds. Sometimes used to brew tea, acai berries may help you stay healthy and avoid several chronic health problems.
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Acai berries contain phytochemicals called flavonoids, including a class of flavonoids called anthocyanins, both of which are potent antioxidants that help protect your body from free radicals. These unstable molecules form during digestion and after you're exposed to toxins such as cigarette smoke. Over time, free radicals promote oxidation that's involved in several harmful processes, such as those that can damage the lining of arteries and contribute to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Many laboratory studies, such as one published in the November 2006 issue of the "Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry," found that acai compounds have exceptionally high antioxidant properties, proving the ability of flavonoids from acai berries to prevent oxidation. However, the benefits of acai anti-oxidation in humans still need confirmation in clinical studies.
Compounds in acai berry tea might also help suppress inflammatory responses that are involved in allergies and autoimmune diseases, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center website. The study in the "Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry" found that compounds in the berries inhibit the action of enzymes called cyclooxygenases that play a role in inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, while another study published in the July 2011 issue of the same journal found that acai components decrease the body's production of inflammatory chemicals called interleukins. These effects may help lower your risk of inflammatory disorders, but clinical trials with humans are needed to confirm this potential benefit.
Other Possible Benefits
Compounds in acai berries might also have anti-cancer properties, helping stop the growth of cancer cells. A laboratory study published in the February 2006 issue of "Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry" found that exposing cultured human cancer cells to compounds from acai berries prevented the cells from dividing and caused them to die through a process called apoptosis. Acai compounds could also help fight off infection, according to a study published in 2012 in "PLos Pathogens" in which laboratory animals given a nasal spray containing acai compounds had significant protection against lung infections, compared to a placebo group. As of 2014, however, acai's possible benefits in preventing cancer and infection have not been evaluated in clinical trials with human subjects.
Acai berry supplements are made by freeze-drying berry pulp and skin -- and are available as loose powder from health-food stores. Acai powder is also available in tea bags, either alone or mixed with other powdered berries, or combined with green or black tea. To brew a tea, add powdered acai or acai-containing tea bags to hot water and allow it to steep for 5 to 10 minutes, then consume the tea. Although acai berry tea is generally considered safe, its safety for pregnant or breast-feeding women hasn't been confirmed. Acai might interact with certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs, and could cause a reaction if you're allergic to palm products. Before adding acai tea to your regimen, discuss its use with your doctor to decide if it might be helpful for you.