June 30, 2010

"Loose weight now! Ask me how!"; An examination of the Acai berry

I remember driving around my home town of Victoria seeing, on virtually every other telephone pole, a small flyer with the title "Loose weight now! Ask me how!" on the top. Below was a tear away telephone number.  I always remember that poster because the heading was impactful on more levels than one.  Most importantly it was playing on the desire to loose weight NOW and the hope that this person had THE answer we all have been waiting for.
Just like this poster, we see new superfoods in the media every day exclaiming their miraculous effects on weight loss and overall health.  I'm sure the researchers can't keep up with these claims, but they do try (as I have learned through my own research of the literature).
One such claim that has popped up on my computer and news sites lately is the the amazing weight loss results you get from the Acai Berry.  "As seen on Oprah!" I believe I read at one time (and let's face it, if Oprah says it is okay, it must be okay since she has been so successful at life long weight loss herself).
Thanks to a comment I received from a visitor to my blog, I decided to do my own research (albeit quick and light).  I highly recommend it.  All I did was get on Google Scholar. This is a fabulous data base that focuses on academic research (hopefully non-biased, but you can never be sure). I do take particular care in analysing where this research is coming from, who is funding it, and if it is on a site that is selling something.
Although there is not a lot of literature, I found an interesting article from Dr. T.L. Dog (2009) entitled Smart Talk on Supplements and Botanicals from the publication Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Vol. 15, issue 4, pp 166-168.  Consider the following quote;
Acai is promoted for weight loss, cholesterol lowering, cancer prevention, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) treatment, and other conditions.  However, none of these claims have been proven with modern scientific methods.
She goes on to provide an interesting background on the berry and its capabilities / limitations. Dr. Dog notes that the berry is highly perishable and is eaten right after it is picked.  Therefore, the important question to ask is how effective is the technology / process of extrapolating the "good stuff" in the fresh berry (when it has such an urgent expiry date) and producing a dry or juice product that can be bottled, shipped, stored?

In addition to this, I found a "HealthWatch" newsletter from a fabulous website http://www.healthwatch-uk.org (check it out..it's all about critical thinking and reading the research). ANYWAY, I found this newsletter and from it, pulled this quote from Dr. David A Bender, a Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry for the University College London. He suggests the following;

A MedLine search revealed ten papers on acai berry up to August 2008.  Six report the nutritional analysis of the berry (it has a very high content of water-soluble antioxidants) and the oil from the seed.  The other four report investigations in vitro and in cell culture of pharmacological actions that may or may not lead to clinical uses of berry extracts.

There is no mention in any of these papers of any possible or likely weight reducing action.  ...The berry does not store or travel well, and what is being marketed is freeze dried powder or bottle juices, often together with other fruits.

What is less justifiable is the hype that this "superfood" is not just a very rich source of antioxidants, which it is, but that it can increase energy (whatever that means, see Lewis Wolpert's article on Scientific terms need protecting) and "flush out old food" and cause weight loss. 

A case, perhaps of "we know what we don't know, we know what they don't know either but think they know, even though they don't, and we can guess the rest."

So..in conclusion (and sorry for the long read) it is important to be critical of these claims. The good news is the Acai berry isn't bad for you and if you are finding increased energy and weight loss and you are happy with your supplement, that's good for you.  However, if money is tight and you are paying up to $60 for this product you think you NEED to loose weight successfully, you may want to consider general healthy eating and daily physical activity.  That is the true answer to life long health and looking good naked!

Any other supplements you want me to research????

K

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