As far as berries go, there are few that have gained more notoriety in recent years as a “superfood” than the açaí berry, a small purple fruit oftentimes found deep within jungles or rainforests.
The berries are typically consumed in large quantities by surfers and other athletes, and are renowned for their ability to combat diabetes, high blood sugar, cholesterol, and several other ailments affecting people in modern mainstream society on an unsustainable level.
While these berries are capable of helping people in the United States and many other places faraway from their traditional source, the Amazon Rainforest, they also may offer protection against one of the most feared diseases faced by the people of their native region, according to recent research that could shed light on one of their most understudied potential abilities.
Açaí berry found to have anti-malarial properties
More than 200 million cases of malaria occurred in 2017, but the Plasmodium parasite that causes the disease is developing resistance to many anti-malarial drugs, according to a report from Sci News.
The good news is that the humble Amazonian berry may be useful in fighting the disease, according to research published in September 2019 by a team of international researchers from Brazil, the United States and Sweden.
The team found that polyphenols found in the berries of the palm (Euterpe oleracea) were able reduce malarial parasites in the blood of infected mice and prolong their survival.
The research sought to determine if açaí extracts could treat malaria in mice and if so whether polyphenols in the berries were responsible for the therapeutic effect. It was undertaken by Dr. Susanne Mertens-Talcott of Texas A&M University and Dr. Fabio Costa of the University of Campinas in Brazil.
They first found that polyphenols in the berries called nonanthocyanin phenolics inhibited the growth of both chloroquine-resistant and -sensitive parasites, Sci News reported.
Mice were given doses of the polyphenols orally. Researchers found that the treatment reduce the parasitic load in the mice’s body by 89.4% compared to untreated mice.
All of the mice given the açaí based treatment survived longer than 15 days, while none of the untreated mice were able to survive the disease.
“The açaí extracts appeared to interfere with the parasites’ protein homeostasis, or the balance between protein production and degradation,” the study authors said.
You can view the findings in the journal ACS Omega here.
How to take açaí berries and where to find them
In Brazil, açaí berries are one of the most widely consumed fruits, and are used to treat malaria-related symptoms such as fever.
The small purple berries have a taste far less sweeter than their cousins like blueberries and raspberries, which is why locals oftentimes eat them in sweetened dishes such as açaí bowls, which contain a sweetener like sugar, stevia, honey, or similar items.
These bowls also often include granola, other healthy toppings and may be eaten as a dessert or even as a breakfast or other meal.
While açaí bowls are hard to find in the United States except at high-end smoothie bars, many health aficionados make them at home using organic açaí packets sold by companies like Sambazon, as well as toppings like goji berries, organic cacao nibs, dragon fruit, pineapple chunks, and more.
Organic açaí powder and juices are also popular for those seeking a burst of antioxidants first thing in the morning. Açaí is also said to be highly beneficial for brain health.
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