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Acai could be an important prebiotic

2 min read

Polyphenols found within Acai have been shown to survive through the entire digestive system, thereby potentially offering prebiotic benefits throughout the gastrointestinal tract right through to the colon, according to researchers in the UK.

Polyphenol is a generic term given to many thousands of compounds found abundantly in natural plant food sources that have antioxidant properties, i.e. they  protect the cells in your body from free radical damage. Foods rich in polyphenols are good for you and have been dubbed 'superfoods'.

One such superfood is Acai - long heralded as an Amazonian 'superfruit' and interest in its health benefits have seen continued interest from scientists.

In a recent study by researchers from the University of Reading and the University of Roehampton, it is suggested that Acai's rich anthocyanin content means the fruit may reduce the risk of age related diseases. The author's wrote in their report, published in the journal Food Chemistry:

"We hypothesize that both fiber and plant polyphenols present in acai provide prebiotic and anti-genotoxic benefits in the colon."

Translated, this means that the researchers believe acai to have a prebiotic effect within the digestive system. Prebiotics feed beneficial bacteria living within the digestive system - without prebiotics, the beneficial bacteria cannot survive. Fermentation that comes from the bacteria's digestive of prebiotics in turn provide health benefits to the human body such as anti-inflammatory effects as well as influencing metabolism and satiety.

In the study we look at here the researchers assessed how intact the polyphenols stayed throughout the digestive system using a laboratory setting.

Firstly the researchers freeze dried an acai pulp to make a powder and then simulated an intestinal digestion environment in order to conduct the experiment. This was done to look at the potential bioavailability and bioactivity of acai polyphenols.

From the process they found that 49.8% of the total initial polyphenols were available. They subsequently reported:

"Our work demonstrates that polyphenols present in acai may be degraded during the digestion process, but importantly, they are not fully destroyed and  significant percentage of these compounds may therefore reach the colon."

More human studies are needed in order to better establish the actual health benefits of anthocyanins but these results join many others that emerged in recent years to assess how anthocyanin rich fruits interact with bacteria in the gut and whether or not this interaction offers health benefits.

A systematic review by researchers from the Federal University of Sao Paulo did in fact provide some evidence in support of the prebiotic properties of anthocyanins by stating that the chemical compound does indeed feed beneficial bacteria in the gut, potentially offering health benefits to the host.

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.