A recently completed University of Florida study has added to the buzz surrounding the Brazilian acai berry. The study is one of the first to research the many claims attributed to the acai fruit.
In it's study, six different chemical extracts were made from acai berry pulp, and each extract was prepared in seven concentrations.
At least 4 of the extracts killed a great many cancer cells when applied for 24 hours or more. Anywhere from 35 percent to 86 percent of the cancer cells were destroyed, depending on the particular extract and concentration.
According to Stephen Talcott, an assistant professor with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the study showed extracts from acai berries triggered a self-destruct response (apoptosis) in up to 86 percent of leukemia cells tested
Talcott, however, cautioned against reading too much into the results, noting that the tests were run against cancer cell cultures and not on human test subjects.
Still, the results are exciting. In the last year, the Brazilian berry has really taken off in the United States. It has also caught the attention of many companies who are now creating products that include the acai berry.
Although, acai berries are thought to be one of the richest fruit sources of antioxidants, other antioxidant rich fruits have been shown to kill cancer cells in similar studies.
Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radical damage is theorized to be one of the main causes of cancer. A sufficient amount of antioxidants are thought by many to short-circuit this process by interacting with and stabilizing the free radicals and may stopping the damage that they do to healthy cells.
Experts are divided on just what effect antioxidants have on cancer cells in the human body, because of the many other lifestyle factors that have to be factored into the equation.
Many anecdotal claims have been made for the acai berry. And traditionally Indians in the Brazilian rain forest have used it in ways as diverse as food, house thatching, drink, diarrhea, jaundice, fevers, and as treatment for many other health diseases.
The University of Florida study is a welcome step towards getting away from some of the claims of acai and subjecting it to controlled studies.
"A lot of claims are being made, but most of them haven't been tested scientifically," Talcott said. "We are just beginning to understand the complexity of the acai berry and its health-promoting effects."