Foods rich in polyphenols are known to improve brain health, and açaí berries contain lots of polyphenols and antioxidants, so perhaps that’s why they could be beneficial. If you’re only looking at polyphenols, though, there are more than a dozen foods that contain more per serving, such as black elderberry, regular fruits such as plums, flaxseeds, dark chocolate, and even just a cup of coffee.
As I explain in a video on my website titled “The Benefits of Açaí vs. Blueberries for Artery Function,” in terms of antioxidants, açaí berries may have 10 times more antioxidant content than more typical fruits, such as peaches and papayas, and five times more antioxidants than strawberries. But blackberries, for instance, appear to have even more antioxidants than açaí berries and are cheaper and more widely available.
Açaí berries don’t just have potential brain benefits, however. Might they also protect the lungs against harm induced by cigarette smoke? You may remember the study in which the addition of açaí berries to cigarettes protected against emphysema—in smoking mice, that is. That’s not very helpful. There is a long list of impressive-looking benefits until you dig a little deeper. For example, I was excited to see a “reduction of coronary disease risk due to the vasodilation effect” of açaí berries, but then I pulled the study and found they were talking about a vasodilator effect … in the mesenteric vascular bed of rats. There hadn’t been any studies on açaí berries and artery function in humans until a study published in 2016.
Researchers gave overweight men either a smoothie containing about two-thirds of a cup of frozen açaí pulp and half a banana or an artificially colored placebo smoothie containing the banana but no açaí. As you can see in my video, within two hours of consumption of their smoothie, the açaí group had a significant improvement in artery function that lasted for at least six hours, a 1 or 2 point bump that is clinically significant. In fact, those walking around with just one point higher tend to go on to suffer 13 percent fewer cardiovascular events like fatal heart attacks.
You can get the same effect from wild blueberries, though: about a 1 1/2 point bump in artery function two hours after blueberry consumption. This effect peaks then plateaus at about 1 1/2 cups of blueberries, with 2 1/2 cups and 3 1/2 showing no further benefits.
What about cooked blueberries? If you baked the blueberries into a bun, like a blueberry muffin, you get the same dramatic improvement in artery function.
Cocoa can do it, too. After having one tablespoon of cocoa, you gain about one point, and two tablespoons gives you a whopping four points or so, which is double what you get with açaí berries.
One and a quarter cups’ worth of multicolored grapes also give a nice boost in artery function, but enough to counter an “acute endothelial insult,” a sudden attack on the vulnerable inner layer of our arteries? Researchers gave participants a McDonald’s sausage egg breakfast sandwich and two hash browns. They weren’t messing around. As you can in my video, without the grapes, artery function was cut nearly in half within an hour, and the arteries stayed stiffened and crippled three hours later. But when they ate that McMuffin with all those grapes, the harmful effect was blunted.
Eat a meal with hamburger meat, and artery function drops. But if you eat that same meal with some spices, including a teaspoon and a half of turmeric, artery function actually improves.
What about orange juice? Four cups a day of commercial orange juice from concentrate for four weeks showed no change in artery function. What about freshly squeezed orange juice? Still nothing. That’s one of the reasons berries, not citrus, are the healthiest fruits.
For a beverage that can improve your artery function, try green tea. Two cups of green tea gives you that same effect we saw with cocoa, gaining nearly four points within just 30 minutes. That same crazy effect is also seen with black tea, with twice as powerful an effect as the açaí berries.
So, why all the focus on just that one plant? Why açaí berries? Well, sometimes it is because the author of a given study or article owns a patent on an açaí-based dietary supplement (as in Schauss’s case). Or sometimes a particularly food, fruit, or remedy just captures your interest.
Michael Greger, M.D., FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. He has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Colbert Report,” and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. This article was originally published on NutritionFacts.org.