Acai berries have taken over the health food market after a February 2008 endorsement by Oprah and Dr. Oz, during which the doctor included the acai berry on his anti-ageing checklist. Reports that the berries help facilitate weight loss, increase energy and have massive amounts of antioxidants have got people's attention. According to SPINS, a Shcaumburg, Illinois-based market research firm, American spending on acai-based products doubled last year, adding up to a whopping £67 million. Information about the fruit's positive effects is readily available to anyone with a computer or television, but what about the negative effects? The acai berry has recently been associated with environmental damage, low-quality products, scams and even health risks.
Cost to Environment
The jungles the acai are found in are already suffering, and so are the native people who live there. According to acaiberryinfo.org, harvesting previously done using naturally growing palms in the jungle cannot meet the current needs of the market, resulting in clear cutting and widespread use of pesticides and fertilisers. Brazilian agronomist Alfredo Homma has expressed concern about the situation becoming harmful to the rainforest, he refers to it as "a form of green deforestation" in which "they bring down diverse forests and replace them with one single culture--acai." Bloomberg.com is reporting that the native people of Brazil are now losing out on a food source they have depended on for countless years due to this uncontrolled deportation of the acai berry.
In addition to the harm it is doing the environment, the acai can also harm the human body. Since it only grows in a specific region, it must be processed and sealed there on the same day, otherwise it will rot. The product is rarely sold as an actual berry, but in pill form. Many consumers may be unaware of added ingredients, such as sugar and caffeine, empty ingredients often used to cut costs that may have cause negative effects for the consumer. Some ingredients are listed, but some may not be, leaving the consumer in the dark.
Even after his endorsement, Dr. Oz published a "buyer beware" online about the problems with extraction methods and harvesting techniques. His review team "spent 6 months testing 20 different acai products and found some to have no effect whatsoever." Scams to sell fraudulent products claiming to contain the real thing are all over the Internet and there's no way to tell which product you can trust.
The acai berry can also be a threat to the human body, especially if you have pre-existing conditions. Like any fruit, acai berries can cause diarrhoea, any more than 3,000 milligrams could prove problematic. Diabetics should look out for hidden sugar content, and people with pollen allergies have reported complications after eating acai berries.
The fruit can interfere with any type of medication. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center makes the important point that while the antioxidant effects may help fight illnesses such as cancer, those same antioxidants may hinder chemotherapy drugs, thereby rendering certain cancer treatments less useful. They recommend speaking with your physician before making any decisions about diet change.
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