Acerola Cherry: Health Benefits, Facts, and Myths

Acerola

Acerola Cherry is a fruit belonging to the Malpighiacaea family of flowering plants. It’s other popular names include Barbados Cherry, West Indian Cherry, and Wild Crapemyrtle. It’s been used in Latin America and the Amazon as a health promoting and medicinal plant for hundreds of years and has recently become popular with westerners for some of its remarkable health properties. Nutritionally, the acerola cherry is remarkable for its high concentration of vitamin C and anti-oxidant activity, among other benefits.

Nutrients

The acerola cherry is mostly noted for its high concentration of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Fresh acerola can contain as much as 3.5% ascorbic acid by weight, and a 180mL glass of fresh squeezed acerola juice can contain as much vitamin C as 14 liters of orange juice! The vitamin C in the acerola cherry also has a higher absorbance into the body than other natural sources. One study found that the bio-availibility of vitamin C in acerola is 1.63 times higher than that found in synthetic sources. Acerola is also a source of vitamin C, iron, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin B, although levels do not typically exceed 10% of your recommended daily allowance.

Anthocyanins

Like other berries found in the latin american region, the acerola cherry is an excellent source of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid molecule that have been the subject of intense scrutiny by the medical community because of their alleged health benefits. Laboratory based experiments suggest that anthocyanins may help prevent or appease a variety of health ailments including cancer, diabetes, fibrocystic disease, inflammation, bacterial infections, and aging and neurological impairments.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry studied the anthocyanin concentrations of four amazon berries and found that acerola concentrate contained the chemical backbones of anthocyanin compounds cyanidin, delphinidin, peonidin, pelargonidin, petunidin, and malvidin.

Anti-oxidant activity

Acerola has also demonstrated a high anti-oxidant activity. Anti-oxidants are molecules that prevent the transfer of electrons, which can cause large chain reactions within the cell that can cause damage to enzymes, proteins, lipids, and other biologically important molecules.

A study published in 2006 in the journal Rural Science compared the anti-oxidant capacity of 14 different amazonian/latin american berries and found that acerola scored the highest. Another study published in the April, 2004 issue of Phytotherapy Research found that acerola cherry juice extracted in acetone and hexane helped inhibit tumorous cell growth in oral squamous cell carcinoma and human submandibular gland carcinoma cell lines. Acerola may also improve the anti-oxidant capacity of other nutrients when they are consumed together. For example, a study published in December of 2000 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that certain soy and alfalfa extracts displayed increased anti-oxidant capacity against LDL cholesterol when consumed with acerola cherry extract.

Potency

The health benefits of acerola can vary widely depending on the age and state of the fruit when it’s consumed. In general, the younger and fresher the fruit is the more beneficial it will be when consumed. For example, a study published in the journal Food Science and Technology International found that immature acerola had a vitamin C and polyphenol content roughly twice as high as mature acerola. Anti-oxidant capacity in the immature cherry against the molecule methyl linoleate was also double that of the mature fruit. A similar study published in the Journal Plant Foods and Human Nutrition found that unripe acerola had a greater ability to protect DNA from oxidative stress and inhibited the free radical DPHH.

Mayan
History

In addition to being eaten, Acerola also has a long history as an ornamental plant. It’s been used in the japanese practice of bonsai, and in latin america it’s frequently used to decorate tables, kitchens, and living rooms. The plant typically grows to be 2-5 meters high, and its branches are thin and brittle, making it easy to prune and mold.

It’s believed Acerola first began to grow in southern Mexico, but its cultivation quickly spread into other parts of the caribbean and latin america as news of its usefulness spread. Research on the health benefits of Acerola first showed up in the 1940’s from Puerto Rican researchers and continues to this day.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to act as a substitute for dietary advice from licensed health professionals. If you have questions about the suitability of a particular food, it’s best to consult with a doctor before making any decisions. While this post does reference scientific studies to make its point, it is not intended to be conclusive and other research may contradict the evidence presented here.

References:

Soy and Alfalfa Phytoestrogen Extracts Become Potent Low-Density Lipoprotein Antioxidants in the Presence of Acerola Cherry Extract. Juliana Hwang,*Howard N. Hodis, and, and Alex Sevanian Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2001 49 (1), 308-314

Motohashi, N., Wakabayashi, H., Kurihara, T., Fukushima, H., Yamada, T., Kawase, M., Sohara, Y., Tani, S., Shirataki, Y., Sakagami, H., Satoh, K., Nakashima, H., Molnár, A., Spengler, G., Gyémánt, N., Ugocsai, K. and Molnár, J. (2004), Biological activity of barbados cherry (acerola fruits, fruit ofMalpighia emarginata DC) extracts and fractions. Phytotherapy Research, 18: 212–223. doi: 10.1002/ptr.1426

A. M. Righetto, F. M. Netto, and F. Carraro “Chemical Composition and Antioxidant Activity of Juices from Mature and Immature Acerola (Malpighia emarginata DC)” Food Science and Technology International August 2005 11: 315-321, doi:10.1177/1082013205056785

Anthocyanins Present in Selected Tropical Fruits: Acerola, Jambolão, Jussara, and Guajiru Edy Sousa de Brito, Manuela Cristina Pessanha de Araújo, Ricardo Elesbão Alves, Colleen Carkeet, Beverly A. Clevidence, and Janet A. Novotny. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2007 55 (23), 9389-9394

KUSKOSKI, Eugenia Marta et al . Frutos tropicais silvestres e polpas de frutas congeladas: atividade antioxidante, polifenóis e antocianinas. Cienc. Rural,  Santa Maria,  v. 36,  n. 4, Aug.  2006

Berry Fruits: Compositional Elements, Biochemical Activities, and the Impact of Their Intake on Human Health, Performance, and Disease Navindra P. Seeram Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2008 56 (3), 627-629

A. Simopoulos, C. Gopalan, “Plants in Human Health and Nutrition Policy.” Karger Publishers, 2003. Pages 67-74. Meri P. Nantz, Cheryl A. Rowe, Carmelo Nieves, Jr., and Susan S. Percival

Immunity and Antioxidant Capacity in Humans Is Enhanced by Consumption of a Dried, Encapsulated Fruit and Vegetable Juice ConcentrateJ. Nutr. 2006 136: 10 2606-2610

R. Silva-Nunes, V Silva-Sarmento, et al. “Antigenotoxicity and Antioxidant Activity of Acerola Fruit (Malpighia glabraL.) at Two Stages of Ripeness” PLANT FOODS FOR HUMAN NUTRITION Volume 66, Number 2, 129-135, DOI: 10.1007/s11130-011-0223-7

Berry Fruits: Compositional Elements, Biochemical Activities, and the Impact of Their Intake on Human Health, Performance, and Disease Navindra P. Seeram Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2008 56 (3), 627-629

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Comments

  1. This is a great article on the acerola cherry and all the facts are true. The one thing that I would like to add is that all cherries have great health benefits, with the sour or dark cherries having the most. It is a nice plus that something that taste so delicious is also good for you. Too bad cherries have such a short growing season.

    • Technically, the Acerola cherry is not even a cherry, but a berry. It’s just called a cherry because it looks like one.

    • Hello, so that you know, the acerola/Barbados cherry has multiple(Up to five) fruit harvests in one year! I have been offering this species for sale at my nursery hear in S. California for over 20 years and we typically get at least three crops per season right here in the San Fernando Valley.

      Alex/PapayaTreeNursery

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