In the nutraceutical or nutritional supplements market, there is never any shortage of bandwagons. One of the loudest and largest these days is the açaí bandwagon.
Harvested from a Brazilian palm, açaí (ah-SAH-ee) berries are a dietary staple in Brazil and have also been used medicinally by Amazonian tribes. Açaí juice was introduced in the U.S. in 2001, and there are now more than 50 new food and drink products containing açaí. As a juice, pulp, powder, or capsule, it is marketed as a magic path to weight loss, a wrinkle remover, a way to cleanse the body of "toxins," and indeed just a plain old miracle cure. It is often combined with other ingredients, such as glucosamine, so that the claims for benefits multiply exponentially.
Offers for açaí have flooded the nations email boxes. On the Internet you'll find a bouquet of endorsements from such celebrities as Oprah, Nicholas Perricone (the TV "skin doctor"), and Rachael Ray (the TV chef), plus statements by these same celebrities denying any such endorsement, or at least any endorsement of a particular brand, except that Dr. Perricone sells a brand of his own. You will also find a war of words among makers of açaí products, each one claiming safety and effectiveness for its particular formulation, and warning of scams by others.
Since açaí came on the market there have been a few studies pointing to potential benefits. Like many other fruits, açaí berries are high in antioxidants (molecules that quell cell-damaging free radicals) and other interesting compounds. But these were lab studies, and the results may not apply to humans. There is no scientific basis for weight-loss claims or any other health claims for açaí. The term "antioxidant" has become a sales tool.
Consumer protection groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have now come out against açaí marketers. "If Bernard Madoff were in the food business," said a CSPI nutritionist, "he'd be offering 'free' trials of açaí-based weight-loss products." Online ads regularly promise a free trial, saying that all you have to pay is shipping and handling. The catch is that you must supply your credit card number, and you'll automatically be signed up for $50 monthly shipments that will prove hard to cancel.
We urge you not to give your credit card number to anybody selling açaí products. Hundreds of complaints have been registered, and you may never get your money back. Beware of web-sites warning you of açaí scams far from helping you get your money back, most turn out to be just sales pitches for more açaí.
There is no magic berry for weight loss or good health. Açaí berries are no doubt a good food, like other berries, but why pay a fortune for them or supplements containing them?