The acai tree grows well in Brazil, French Guyana, Panama, Ecuador, and Trinidad, yielding clusters of round, purple-to-black berries. Many parts of the plant are used in folk medicine, but the antioxidant-rich berry has garnered the most attention in the United States and Europe. Some health experts believe acai antioxidants lessen pain and improve joint function.
To test this theory, researchers invited 14 people with or without confirmed osteoarthritis, who had joint pain and limited range of motion in one more joints, to participate in a 12-week study of the effects of an acai beverage on their symptoms.
Study participants drank 4 ounces (120 mL) of MonaVie Active fruit juice daily for 12 weeks. The product contained mostly acai pulp, with lesser amounts of other fruit concentrates. Blood samples and information on pain, activities of daily living, and joint range of motion were collected at the start of the study and at 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks.
The participants experienced significant decreases in joint pain and improvements in range of motion throughout the study. They were better able to perform activities of daily living and blood tests showed a significant increase in antioxidant status beginning at week two and continuing to improve through week 12 of the study.
Putting acai in context
The results on acai are intriguing, but more research is needed to confirm them. One important test of whether a product truly provides a health benefit, such as pain reduction, is to compare it to a non-treatment, or placebo. In this case, a placebo would be a juice with a similar color and taste that did not contain acai.
Participants would be randomly selected to drink the acai juice or the no-acai juice and none would know which product they were consuming. This would take away the placebo effect, or the "power of suggestion," which can make people feel better simply because they believe a product is going to work.
Is acai for you?
The study was not randomized and didn't test MonaVie Active against a placebo, so we can't know with certainty that acai is the reason for improvements in joint pain and function. However, many people have used this product safely, and if your doctor gives you the go-ahead, you can give it a try. It may or may not help your joints, but it is unlikely to harm your health. Regardless of whether you decide to give acai a try, be sure you take tried and true steps to keep your joints healthy, including maintaining a healthy body weight, staying physically active, and seeking medical help if joint pain is more than mild or lasts more than a few days.
(J Med Food 2011; XX:1-10)