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Acaí berries come from a palm tree in South America. While a traditional food there for centuries as well as a treatment for diarrhea, acaí has recently become popular in the U.S. because of its supposed health benefits.

Why do people take acaí?

Acaí berries contain a number of substances that could boost health. For one, acaí berries seem to have very high levels of antioxidants -- comparable to cranberries, but higher than blueberries, strawberries, and other fruits. In lab studies, antioxidants appear to protect cells from damage that can lead to diseases like cancer, in addition to possibly directly inhibiting the growth of some types of cancer. Substances in acaí berries may reduce inflammation and could possibly slow the spread of cancer cells. Also, some lab studies of acaí extracts led to positive effects on blood vessels that could be useful for many different medical conditions.

Acaí berries also contain healthy fatty acids, such as oleic acid, one of the same oils found in olive oil.

However, the potential benefits of acaí are based on preliminary lab studies. So far, we don’t know the extent of acaí’s possible health benefits in people.

Acaí has been sold as a dietary supplement for conditions like high cholesterol, heart problems, allergies, and cancer. These uses of acaí are unproven.

How much acaí should you take?

While acaí is an unproven treatment, it has a long history of use in traditional medicine, which offers an appropriate guide to some of its uses.

Can you get acaí naturally from foods?

Acaí fruit is a common food in some areas of South America. In the U.S., it’s available in some health food stores and supermarkets. Acaí is also an ingredient in some juices, drinks, liquors, jellies, ice creams, and other foods. It’s also used as a natural food coloring.

What are the risks of taking acaí?

  • Side effects. When eaten as a food, acaí seems to be safe. Since they have not been well-studied, the typical side effects of acaí supplements are not known.
  • Risks. It’s possible that acaí may trigger or worsen swelling, high blood pressure, ulcers, or intestinal bleeding. If you’re using acaí, check with a doctor before getting an MRI, because there’s a possibility it could interfere with the test.
  • Interactions. If you take any medication regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using acaí supplements. They could interact with over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen and other NSAID painkillers, as well as prescription drugs for pain. Don’t take acaí without first speaking with your doctor if you’re taking cancer drugs, because it could block their effectiveness. Don’t use acaí along with other antioxidant supplements without your doctor’s approval.

When acaí berries are eaten as food, they appear safe. But given the lack of evidence about the safety of acaí supplements, they are not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

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