Superfood series - A C A I
I began using Acai Powder in my smoothies as I knew of it's incredible antioxidant power and thought that it could help with my symptoms and overall health and vitality, but that's about where my knowledge ended on the topic. As I've discovered, Acai actually has a whole lot more going for it - including being rich in amino acids, fibre, essential fatty acids and a healthy array of vitamins and minerals as well as being an incredibly rich source of antioxidants, almost one of the top food sources.
This dark purple coloured berry which is very similar in size and shape to a grape, comes from the Amazon Rainforest's of Brazil, where they grow in large clusters near the tops of palm trees. Each Acai berry contains very little fruit at all, only about 10% fruit and pulp, the rest is taken up by a large seed, so the harvesting process is laborious. Which would explain why it's so expensive to buy. It's not unaffordable, but it is pricey compared to other superfood powders.
For centuries Amazonian tribes have known of the medicinal properties of Acai and have used it for a number of purposes, including fighting infection, boosting immunity, healing wounds and illness and increasing vitality. It’s estimated that some of these native tribes derived 40% or more of their daily nutrition from Acai berries alone. The berries themselves perish very easily hence the fact the health food industry has resorted to freeze drying it. Freeze drying Acai is the best way to package it and get it to market whilst maintaining its nutrients, colour and flavour.
So what can these little wonders do for those of us with MS?
1. ANTIOXIDANTS POWERHOUSES
Acai has one of the world’s highest ORAC scores (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) at around 100,000 on the ORAC chart. The only other food sources that sit above it are a few herbs and a few spices. ORAC is a measurement of how well antioxidants can neutralise free radicals, free radicals are cell damaging and are what we should avoid as much as possible to stay healthy. Free radicals are caused by air pollution, smoking, alcohol, stress and fried foods. The higher the ORAC value of a food or beverage, the better the body utilises it to fight the cell damaging free radicals. Acai has nearly ten times the antioxidants than grapes and more than double that of blueberries.
To give you a quick overview on how free radicals left rampant in the body can affect your health, I found an expert in the field called Debra Fulghum Bruce, PhD, she's an expert in health and award winning writer in over 89 health books, she says...
"Substantial evidence implicates oxygen-free radicals as agents of inflammation and tissue destruction in many types of pain disorders. Free radicals are the unstable byproducts of oxidation, the chemical process that causes iron to rust and a peeled apple or banana to turn brown. In the body, free radicals cause similar deterioration, as they destroy cell membranes and make cells vulnerable to decay and pathogens. These free radicals damage DNA and mitochondria, the basic building blocks of all tissues, and leave in their path many health problems."
The antioxidants in Acai are anthocyanin compounds such as resveratrol and cyaniding and ferulic acid, which not only give fruits and vegetables their distinct pigment, but also team up with flavonoids to defend the body against harmful free radicals. In fact, Acai berries contain 10 to 30 times more anthocyanin power than red wine.
Anthocyanins, are excellent for heart health and cholesterol however in terms of MS how can they help us?
2. COGNITIVE HEALTH
With regard to cognitive function Denise Web Phd, RD writes on Todaysdietitian.com ...
"Research suggests that flavonoids, including anthocyanins, have the ability to enhance memory and help prevent age-related declines in mental functioning. Extensive research in animals has shown that the flavonoids found in fruit and fruit juices can improve memory and slow age-related loss of cognitive functioning. Several other studies have found that berries which are rich in anthocyanins, can effectively reverse age-related deficits in certain aspects of working memory. Anthocyanins and other flavonoids are thought to work by inhibiting neuro inflammation, activating synaptic signaling, and improving blood flow to the brain. It appears that some dietary anthocyanins can cross the blood-brain barrier, allowing the compounds to have a direct beneficial effect...
...modern science is affirming that anthocyanins are a medicine chest in a vibrant package, foods and herbs with these particular hues have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer properties. Research indicates that purple and red fruits, vegetables, and herbs - as well as supplements of concentrated anthocyanins - may help to protect against cancer, cognitive decline, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity...
...Anthocyanins have a wide range of biological activities including: redox/antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-carcinogenic, fostering eye health, neuro-protective, prevention of LDL oxidation, improvement of capillary stability, supporting collagen, and increasing intercellular levels of vitamin C."
3. SUPPORTS NEUROLOGICAL HEALTH AND RESPONSE
Certified nutritionist and clinical master herbalist Donnie Yance sums it up...
“anthocyanins have been associated with increased neuronal signalling in brain centres, mediating memory function as well as improved glucose disposal, benefits that would be expected to mitigate neuro degeneration. A 2012 study reported in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias found that eating more berries reduces cognitive decline in the elderly."
I had no idea antioxidants played such an important role in brain health.
4. AMINO ACIDS
19 different amino acids have been identified in Acai. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of protein in the body, they help promote muscle performance, energy production, endurance and strength and are capable of forming tissues, organs, muscles, skin and hair. So why are they great for people with MS? not only are they utilised to build new tissues and muscle in the body, but they are showing to be of great benefit to the immune system, aminoacids.org explains here and here and in the following quotes from their website...
"The importance of amino acids as the precursors of enzymes and neurotransmitters is often underestimated. As such, amino acids regulate almost all of the metabolic processes in the human body, and they are essential for a healthy body....
...Whilst primarily used for building the various proteins which make up the body, amino acids have other essential roles in regulation of the body’s defences, and deficiencies in certain amino acids can result in decreased immune function and a greater chance of developing serious infections. As a result, it is important to maintain adequate levels of important amino acids in the body, either purely through a balanced diet or with the use of specific supplements depending on the individual.
Furthermore, amino acids are currently being used to combat certain illnesses and diseases which can affect various bodily systems, and have shown to be increasingly effective in reducing symptoms and helping control disorders without the adverse side effects of addictive drugs and medications."
After learning about the gut micro-biome in one of my previous posts I now know how important fibre is for a healthy and diverse gut flora and therefore healthy immune system. Acai berries are a great fibre source, they offer about 14g in every 100g of freeze dried Acai powder. Fibre is essential to the proper function of our digestive system and helps all other body systems work together smoothly. Fibre can help prevent or relieve constipation, which aids detoxification, and may help support a healthy cardiovascular system.
6. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
The brain is made up of about 60% fat. We need fats as they are essential for keeping the neurons and axons in our brain well coated in myelin sheath, the fatty outer layer that lets brain signals travel uninterrupted and faster. Essential fatty acids are really important for brain health as our bodies cannot make them, we need to get them from our diets. Acai is naturally high in essential fatty acids having a fatty acid profile similar to olive oil. Essential fatty acids are also great for heart health and a healthy nervous system. Acai berry is rich in medium chain fatty acids like oleic acid (omega-9) and linoleic acid (omega-6). These compounds help reduce bad LDL-cholesterol levels and raise good HDL-cholesterol levels in the body and thus help cut down heart disease risk. Additionally, the essential fats in acai help prevent skin dryness by maintaining adequate moisture in the skin.
7. PLANT STEROLS
Three plant sterols (or phytosterols) have been identified in Acai - B-sitosterol, campesterol and stigmasterol. Phytosterols have been shown to have numerous health benefits for maintaining a healthy heart and digestive function.
8. VITAMINS & MINERALS
Acai has over 1000 IU of Vitamin A for every 100 grams. It also has a good amount of vitamins A, C, K and E plus B complex vitamins. In addition Acai also contains potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron and zinc.
At the outset of this post I wasn't expecting Acai to have such an impressive nutrient profile, I really just thought they were rich in antioxidants and that was about it. But Acai is a force of nature when it comes to our general health, ours brains and fighting MS. Benefits include better heart health, blood flow, brain health, eye health, cognition, muscle & tissue repair, digestion, immunity, protective against cell damage, pathogens and illness, anti-inflammatory, neuro-protective, anti-viral, anti-cancerous and anti-ageing.
So check-in with yourself next time you have Acai and see how you feel - do you have more energy and clarity of mind? or do you just generally have more vitality? I know I certainly do when I have it and I consider it a MUST for me now.
Find out more in a post I did on "My energy & mental clarity go-to's".