Acai Berry and Cancer

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In vitro and in vivo data suggest that acai berry extracts have anticancer properties, and warrant additional studies in humans.
In vitro and in vivo data suggest that acai berry extracts have anticancer properties, and warrant additional studies in humans.

Acai berry is the fruit of a Brazilian palm tree that is consumed for its nutritional value and purported health benefits.1 Acai berry contains high levels of vitamins A, C, D, and E, minerals such as manganese, iron, zinc, copper, and chromium, as well as antioxidants. It is described as a “superfood” because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Several in vitro and animal studies have evaluated the potential anticancer effects of acai berry, though in-human studies have not been conducted.

Bladder Cancer

One study randomly assigned mice to a standard diet or a standard diet plus 2.5% or 5% of spray-dried acai pulp for 10 weeks.2 The group that ate the diet with 5% acai pulp demonstrated significantly reduced rates of transitional cell carcinoma (P = .019), and showed lower rates of tumor cell proliferation (P = .02), p63 expression (P = .007), and DNA damage from hydrogen peroxide exposure compared with the mice fed the standard diet.

Breast Cancer

Extracts of acai bark, seed, and fruit significantly reduced cell viability (P < .01) of MCF-7 breast cancer cells in several studies, and induced morphologic features and markers of autophagy, cytotoxicity, and necroptosis.3,4 

Colon Cancer

One study showed that the phenolic extract of acai berry had anti-inflammatory and cytotoxic activity in colon cancer cells, though another study found no anticancer effects with a hydroalcoholic extract of acai.3,5 

Several animal studies, however, showed anticancer effects. In a study of dimethylhydrazine-induced colon cancer in rats, a diet containing 2.5% or 5% of acai fruit pulp significantly reduced the number of aberrant crypts and aberrant crypt foci by 37% to 47% (P ≤ .042).6 The group receiving 5% of acai fruit pulp also showed a significant reduction in the number of invasive tumors (P < .005) and multiplicity (P = .001), as well as tumor cell proliferation (P = .003) and net growth index (P = .001).

Another study of azoxymethane/dextran sulfate sodium–induced colorectal cancer in mice demonstrated a significant reduction in the number of adenomas (P = .006) and cancers (P = .002) with downregulation of proinflammatory cytokines and inhibition of PCNA and BCL-2 expression.7

Melanoma

Acai oil in nanoemulsion was evaluated as a photosensitizer for photodynamic therapy in vitro and in a mouse model.8 The acai oil plus photodynamic therapy resulted in cell death of 85% of melanoma cells, but normal cells maintained high viability. Xenograft tumor-bearing mice received 5 treatments of photodynamic therapy, and the group first treated with acai oil demonstrated an 82% decrease in tumor volume compared with the control group.

Conclusions

In vitro and in vivo data suggest that acai berry extracts have anticancer properties, and warrant additional studies in humans. A nanoemulsion of acai oil may be an effective photosensitizer for photodynamic therapy of melanoma, but in-human studies are needed to confirm this finding.

References

  1. Neri-Numa IA, Soriano Sancho RA, Pereira APA, Pastore GM. Small Brazilian wild fruits: nutrients, bioactive compounds, health-promotion properties and commercial interest. Food Res Int. 2018;103:345-60. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2017.10.053
  2. Fragoso MF, Prado MG, Barbosa L, Rocha NS, Barbisan LF. Inhibition of mouse urinary bladder carcinogenesis by açai fruit (Euterpe oleraceae Martius) intake. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2012;67:235-41.
  3. Silva DF, Vidal FC, Santos D, et al. Cytotoxic effects of Euterpe oleracea Mart. In malignant cell lines. BMC Comp Alt Med. 2014;14:175-84.
  4. Freitas DDS, Morgada-Diaz JA, Gehren AS, et al. Cytotoxic analysis and chemical characterization of fractions of the hydroalcoholic extract of the Euterpe oleracea Mart. seed in the MCF7 cell line. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2017;69:714-21. doi: 10.1111/jphp.12679
  5. Dias MM, Noratto G, Martino HS, et al. Pro-apoptotic activities of polyphenolics from açai (Euterpe oleracea Martius) in human SW-480 colon cancer cells. Nutr Cancer. 2014;66:1394-405. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2014.956252
  6. Fragoso MF, Romualdo GR, Ribeiro DA, Barbisan LF. Acai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) feeding attenuates dimethylhydrazine-induced rat colon carcinogenesis. Food Chem Toxicol. 2013;58:68-76. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.04.011
  7. Choi YJ, Choi YJ, Kim N, et al. Açaí berries inhibit colon tumorigenesis in azoxymethane/dextran sulfate sodium-treated mice. Gut Liver. 2017;11:243-52. doi: 10.5009/gnl16068
  8. Monge-Fuentes V, Muehlmann LA, Longo JP, et al. Photodynamic therapy mediated by acai oil (Euterpe oleracea Martius) in nanoemulsion: a potential treatment for melanoma. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2017;166:301-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2016.12.002

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