What are acai berries, and what are their possible health benefits?

Answers from Brent A. Bauer, M.D.

The acai (ah-sigh-EE) berry is a grapelike fruit harvested from acai palm trees, which are native to the rainforests of South America.

Acai berries are widely touted as a so-called superfood, with proponents claiming that they are helpful for a variety of health concerns, including arthritis, weight loss, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, skin appearance, detoxification and general health.

Acai berries contain antioxidants, fiber and heart-healthy fats. They may have more antioxidant content than other commonly eaten berries, such as cranberries, blueberries and strawberries. But, research on acai berries is limited, and claims about the health benefits of acai haven't been proved.

And, many fruits besides acai berries provide antioxidants and other nutrients that are important to your health. If you'd like to try acai, check your local health food or gourmet stores — acai can be consumed raw, in tablet form, in beverages such as juice, smoothies or energy drinks, or in other food products such as jelly or ice cream.

Acai is safe to consume, as long as you're not allergic to the fruit. But, use caution when consuming products made with acai that may have other ingredients, such as caffeine.

If you're taking amounts of acai higher than you'd normally eat as food, such as in dietary supplements, be sure to check with your doctor. This is especially important for people taking medications for high cholesterol or diabetes, and for people with kidney disease, as large amounts of acai might affect the management of these conditions.

It's also important to let your doctor know that you've been eating acai berries if you're scheduled to have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. Very large doses of acai might affect the results of MRI scans.

Mar. 25, 2015