For such a small thing, an acai berry is stuffed with a lot--including amino acids, fat, protein, fiber and antioxidants. Research on the exact effects of acai products is still young, so information on what's popularly being called a "superfood" is likely to grow over time. The actual berry isn't available outside its native habitat in the Amazon rain forest, though some are trying to grow the acai-fruiting palm trees in other places. The deep-purple berry is about blueberry-sized, with a color so rich it's being looked at for possible use as a contrasting agent in medical procedures.
Acai berry products might help fight cancer though their antioxidants. A study at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences found that as much as 86 percent of cultured leukemia cells self-destructed thanks to acai extract. The researchers caution that such results in the human body would be influenced by many other factors like antioxidant absorption and the action of other biochemicals.
A study at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center found that the pigment in purple fruits and vegetables fights obesity through the action of anthocyanins. The benefits came when mice were given the extract--not the whole fruit. Acai berries, with their powerful pigmentation, contains anthocyanin as one of its major phytochemicals.
Effects of Fatty Acids
Both oleic acid (an omega-9 fatty acid found in olive oil) and linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) are "good fats." These fats, among other things, have been shown to lower cholesterol, which, in turn, helps the heart. Acai contains both fats, but this makes the berry a high-fat food. Moderation is key.
Possible Brain Tissue Protection
In the October 2009 study "Frozen fruit pulp of Euterpe oleraceae Mart. (Acai) prevents hydrogen peroxide-induced damage in the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and hippocampus of rats," Brazilian researchers found that frozen acai fruit pulp reduced damage to the brain tissue of rats, suggesting that acai may have a role in fighting age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Neurodegenerative diseases include Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.
Use Caution When Undergoing Chemotherapy
At its online page about the acai berry, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center cautions that the antioxidants in acai berries might affect the way chemotherapy drugs work. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy should beware.