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Açaí research brings good news to superfruit market

Açaí research brings good news to superfruit market
New human clinical research from açaí-giant Sambazon shows the superfruit may reduce risk factors in metabolic syndrome. Will clinical studies such as this one put more consumer trust back into açaí?

A new clinical pilot study by açaí manufacturer Sambazon and Medicus Research could position the superfruit to leave its bad press behind. The study, published in Nutritional Journal, found that açaí may reduce certain risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome including heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Sambazon acai juiceSambazon's co-founder Jeremy Black said the study gives scientific voice to the positive feedback consumers have shared with the company for years. "All these critics were saying that there's no proof that açaí does anything for you," said Black. "Well, now there is."

A group of 10 overweight, yet otherwise healthy adults consumed 100 grams of Sambazon acai frozen fruit pulp twice daily before meals for four weeks without otherwise changing their diet. After 30 days, fasting glucose, post-meal increases in blood glucose, insulin, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were significantly reduced.

Açaí is rich in antioxidants (notably anthocyanins), healthy omega fats similar to an olive oil and contains almost no sugar. The açaí in the study is Sambazon's pure açaí pulp, which is the basis for all of Sambazon's juices, smoothies, sorbets and powders.

Acai's storied history

In the natural products circuit, superfruits have gotten a mixed rap from media. A recent New Yorker article, "Strange Fruit: The Rise and Fall of Açaí" profiles how Sambazon introduced the superfruit into the U.S. market and rode its success after açaí was highlighted on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Then, in 2009 Oprah and Dr. Oz turned around and sued 50 acai businesses saying the companies used their personae without permission to market açaí.

Despite a few bumps in the road, The New Yorker article's headline suggests açaí's outlook is grim, which couldn't be further from the case explained Natural Foods Merchandiser's Pamela Bond in a recent blog. The U.S. consumer market for açaí supplements was $349 million in 2010, growing 18 percent over 2009 sales, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

Sambazon's clinical study comes at a time when unsubstantiated health claims still abound, however. The little purple palm fruit grown in the Amazon rainforest has been the unfortunate victim of those illegitimately capitalizing on the superfruit trend. But the Feds this year are starting to do something about it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't allow disease claims to be made on foods and dietary supplements, and in April FTC cracked down on many acai websites touting false marketing claims and açaí in weight loss pills.

"There's always going to be companies that come in, jump on trends and try to make a quick buck," Black said. "If you look at any of the companies rooted in açaí they're not making [unsubstantiated] claims."

Clinical evidence bodes well for açaí industry

“The initial clinical trial results were overwhelmingly positive and show the potential of whole açaí fruit pulp to reduce risk factors associated with metabolic disorders in mildly overweight adults,” said Jack Bukowski, MD, Ph.D., a member of Sambazon’s Scientific Advisory Board and current director of the Nutritional Science Research Institute. Sambazon formed the advisory board in 2009 and the board was integral in designing the study and keeping the company abreast of superfruit use in the medical community.

Sambazon hopes to do more studies in the future, noting this study could provide a stepping stone for further research. "I believe our study will help encourage other academic institutions to do studies," said Black.

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