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What do you know about the acai berries?

The acai berry comes from a special variety of palm tree that is native to South America. The scientific name for this palm tree is Euterpe oleracea. The food called "hearts of palm" is sometimes harvested from this tree and shipped worldwide, but the fruit of this palm has remained part of a much more local tradition. In the herbal medicine traditions of Brazil, fruit seeds from this palm have long been used for treatment of certain health problems, especially conditions involving fevers.

The acai berry has been receiving a lot of attention recently in the mass media for its proposed health benefits including those related to the following areas: anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-mutagenic, and improving the cardiovascular system. While it seems to be a potentially healthful fruit, it has not been included as one of the World's Healthiest Foods for two reasons. First, it does not fit the criteria of being accessible and familiar to a large segment of the U.S. population. Second, there is currently little research on the consumption of the acai berry as a human food. What does exist is test tube research on chemical qualities of the food itself, but no clinical trials with human beings to determine the effects of the acai berry when it is consumed as a food. We would point out that current research on the acai berry shows that it is a rich source of some important antioxidant nutrients — especially anthocyanins — and that it seems to have a definite impact on the metabolism of a substance in our body called nitric oxide. This connection would open the door to some potentially important benefits from the acai berry on cardiovascular health — although we are going to need a good number of human studies to determine if this possibility is correct.

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