Complementary & Alternative Medicine Acai for Great Skin? Sarah L. Taylor, MD, MPH, DABFM This darling of the media has been hailed for its anti-aging properties. While it does contain anti-oxidants, Dr. Taylor finds no evidence that this translates into an impact — good or bad — on human skin. Surely you have heard about the acai fruit by now. It’s a hard to ignore, with it showing up in health food products, promoted on the Internet as a supplement and written about in health magazines. The Acai fruit (Euterpe oleracea) has become very popular in the last few years. People use it for weight loss, erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol, aging of the skin, and general body “detoxification.” Acai skyrocketed in popularity in the United States when celebrity dermatologist Nicholas Perricone touted it as a “Superfood for Age-Defying Beauty” on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2005.
What is it and How is it Used in Products?
Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is a small grape-like fruit with a deep purple color that grows on acai palm trees in the rainforests in South America. Acai berries have been used in traditional medical practices in the native people of the rainforest to treat digestive disorders and various skin conditions. The Acai fruit is highly perishable and is traditionally used immediately after picking. For that reason, acai is available outside of South America only as juice or as products that incorporate the juice such as smoothies, powders and capsules. It can also be found commercially in jellies, ice cream and syrups. The acai berry is also used as a natural purple food colorant in manufacturing. In the beauty business, the oil from the fruit also can be found in various topical skin preparations and cosmetics, marketed for healthy skin and reversing the aging process.
What are the Research Findings?
Research on the acai fruit has focused on its antioxidant capabilites, which in vitro studies have demonstrated. The fruit is rich in flavonoids, polyphenols and anthocyanins, all potent antioxidants. However, there are conflicting reports regarding the amount of antioxidants in the acai berries, ranging from medium to high levels of antioxidants. The juice from the acai is viscous and contains about 2.4% protein and 5.9% lipids. Other nutrients found in this little fruit include vitamins A, C and E, calcium, phosphorus, iron and thiamine. Research on acai berries in general is limited, and claims about the health benefits of acai have not been proven. Other than functioning as an antioxidant, there is no research pertaining to açai having any effect whatsoever on human skin.
What Should you tell your Patients?
Other than sharing that there’s no research to support the seductive media claims, you might refer them to the WebMd article (see sources below), which notes possible antioxidant activity and a theoretical ability to help prevent diseases caused by oxidative stress. It also calls acai oil “a safe alternative to other tropical oils used in beauty products.” Dr. Taylor, a resident in the Department of Dermatology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, is board-certified in Family Medicine, which she practices in Winston-Salem, NC. Disclosure: Dr. Taylor has no conflict of interest with any materials presented in this article.