Information, effects, deficiency, dosage, side effects
Acerola, the cherry-like fruit from Central and South America, is considered a natural vitamin C miracle. In addition to the main ingredient vitamin C, the tropical superfood contains a multitude of essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. The Mayans, one of the indigenous groups in Central America, already had knowledge about the positive properties and used Acerola specifically to strengthen the body's defenses.
With its highly effective antioxidants, the power fruit boosts the metabolism, ensures cell renewal and protects the cardiovascular system from the harmful consequences of arteriosclerosis. Scientific studies suggest that regular acerola consumption can reduce the cancer risk.
The acerola tree, Malpighia glabra (also called Malpighia punicifolia or Malpighia emarginata), is a species of plant that belongs to the Malpighia family. The vines are among its best known representatives. In German-speaking countries, the names for acerola fruit are also Barbados cherry, maple cherry, Antilles cherry, Jamaican cherry or Puerto Rico cherry.
Acerola is undemanding and does not have any demands regarding the location. The evergreen plant thrives on moist river banks, on the roadside or on dry limestone as well as on rocky grounds. As a tree or shrub, the acerola reaches a height of 1 to 3 meters. The plant tolerates longer periods of drought without any problems, in exceptional cases it loses its leaves.
During the rainy season, the acerola tree produces either white or light red to pink coloured flowers. The acerola fruits ripen within 25 days, so that up to 4 harvests are possible in the tropics per year. The spherical stone fruit has a diameter of 1 to 3 cm and has a reddish to orange-yellow color. Since the outer skin is thin and tears quickly, the acerola fruit is not suitable for long transportation ways.
Although the juicy fruit flesh is very sour, acerolas are preferably eaten fresh in the area of cultivation. The fruits are also processed into jams, juices, and various extracts. The high proportion of ascorbic acid often results in large amounts of sugar being added during production.
The acerola is native to different regions of Central and South America. Plant researchers suspect the Mexican peninsula Yucatán as the exact place of origin. Nowadays the tree is found in many tropical and subtropical areas.
The most important cultivation areas of the plant are in Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Florida, and Jamaica. The name Acerola comes from the Spanish conquerors, who believed they recognised relatives of the sweet cherry varieties of Europe in the exotic fruits from the New World. Despite the external similarity, the acerola is not related to our local cherries.
The traditional medicine in Latin America uses the fruits to prevent and treat numerous diseases. In addition to inflammation, fever or diarrhoea, Brazilian naturopaths often use acerola cherries against flu infections and lung diseases.
It was only in the middle of the 20th century that scientists became aware of the nondescript fruit. During a jungle expedition, South American researchers discovered the bright red fruits and determined the content of vitamin C. In the meantime, the most important bioactive substances of acerola have been detected.
For centuries, the mysterious sea sickness scurvy took out entire ship crews until the cause was accidentally discovered in 1907: a pronounced vitamin C deficiency. In 1926, the Hungarian doctor and biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi isolated vitamin C from various tissue and plant extracts, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1937.
A short time later, other researchers managed to synthesise the biomolecule in the laboratory. Thanks to the groundbreaking findings of the American chemist Linus Pauling, interest in vitamins grew, especially vitamin C. In addition to the production of synthetic ascorbic acid, some producers also rely on natural vitamins that are obtained from fruits.
Research on secondary plant substances triggered a veritable boom in plant sources of vital substances. Due to its incredibly high vitamin C content, the fruit of the acerola tree quickly became the focus of health-conscious people.
There are now many different dietary supplements on the market that are made from the fresh acerola cherries. The cultivation and drying method differ significantly in some cases, so that there are large quality differences between the offered products.
Numerous manufacturers worldwide produce around 80,000 tons of ascorbic acid with an upward trend. China has discovered the multi-billion dollar market now and is flooding western countries with cheap imports. According to the advertising statements of the producers, synthetic and natural vitamin C are identical. But is this really the case?
From a chemical point of view, vitamin C is ascorbic acid. There are no deviations in the structure of these two molecules. To understand the difference between a natural product that contains vitamin C and artificial ascorbic acid, you should look at the results of clinical studies.
In the 1970s, Scottish doctor Ewan Cameron investigated the effects of high-dose vitamin C in cancer patients. In collaboration with the two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, he subsequently published the results in renowned journals. The studies show that vitamin C can relieve the symptoms of end-stage cancer and extend the lifespan of patients.
With the help of a placebo-controlled double-blind study, doctors at the world-famous Mayo Clinic in the USA tried to confirm the results, which failed. For this reason, the promising therapeutic approach with vitamin C has not yet prevailed in conventional cancer treatment. But why did both research groups come to different results?
In all cases, the scientists used synthetic ascorbic acid. The only difference was the dosage form: while Dr. Cameron injected vitamin C into his patients, the Mayo Clinic doctors only used tablets or capsules. The positive study results are therefore due to the intravenous administration of vitamin C.
The problem with using synthetically produced ascorbic acid is pharmacokinetics. This term is used by biochemists to understand the absorption, conversion, breakdown, and excretion of an active substance in the human body. When using oral dosage forms, it is not possible to achieve a sufficiently high vitamin C concentration, so that the health-promoting effect is only small.
Our body tolerates artificially produced vitamin C in the form of tablets, capsules, or powder within narrow limits. After taking a vitamin C-containing food supplement, the concentration of the active ingredient in the blood only increases slightly. The attempt to supply higher amounts of ascorbic acid is mainly blocked by the absorption in the intestine.
In addition to this, vitamin C is quickly excreted through the urine. In comparison, the acerola fruit not only contains vitamin C, but also has a large number of different biomolecules. The pharmacokinetics of this natural mixture behave fundamentally different and cannot be compared with pure ascorbic acid.
A Japanese study showed that our body absorbs vitamin C from acerola juice more effectively and excretes it more slowly than artificially produced ascorbic acid. The researchers attribute this effect to the phytochemicals of the acerola cherry. According to recommendations of the Federal Research Institute for Nutrition and Food in Karlsruhe (Max Rubner Institute), consumers should choose carefully processed acerola extracts over artificial vitamin C supplements.
The acerola cherry contains a multitude of vital and nutrients necessary for life. Their health-promoting effect is based on the perfect interplay of the high-quality ingredients. The nutritional values and nutrients listed below are official data from the American Department of Landscape (USDA) and refer to 100 g of acerola cherries.
The small amounts of proteins, carbohydrates and fats that the pulp provides hardly play a role in our metabolic processes. Acerola's strength lies in its valuable vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
The acerola fruit consists of more than 90% water and contains only water-soluble vitamins. The most important ingredient is vitamin C, which is found in large quantities in the pulp. Depending on the location, growing conditions and degree of ripeness, 100 g of the fruit contain between 700 mg and 4.8 g of natural vitamin C. The less mature the fruit, the higher the vitamin content.
In comparison, there is only about 50 mg of vitamin C in the same amount of lemons or oranges, which are often praised as vitamin C miracles. Therefore, the small acerola cherry has a 30 to 90 times higher vitamin C value than a citrus fruit. These amazing numbers are only surpassed by the Australian bush plum and the fruits of the Camu Camu shrub from the Amazon region.
The acerola contains the following vitamins:
The abbreviation μg means microgram. The following applies to the conversion into milligrams: 1000 μg corresponds to 1 mg.
In addition to the high vitamin C content, the special combination of phytochemicals is particularly important for human health. The term secondary plant substances or secondary plant substances is a group of around 100,000 substances with different chemical structures, of which between 5,000 and 10,000 can be found in our food.
According to scientific knowledge to date, although they are not essential human nutrients, they influence numerous metabolic processes in our organism. The German Nutrition Society therefore recommends a good supply of these phytochemicals by eating fruits and vegetables.
The acerola cherry contains mainly anthocyanins, carotenoids, pectins, and various flavonoids such as rutin, which have various effects on the human organism. Flavonoids and anthocyanins belong to the class of polyphenols, which, as antioxidants, protect our organism from oxidative stress. Researchers have recently been able to isolate a novel flavonoid from acerola that has not yet been found in other fruits.
The great importance of phytochemicals has been proven several times by scientific studies. In addition to their antioxidant properties, flavonoids have an anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-allergic effect. They also support the body's own healing reactions and prevent the spread of viruses, bacteria and fungi in the body.
In addition to vitamins and phytochemicals, the acerola fruit contains numerous vital minerals and trace elements. Strictly speaking, the latter also belong to the mineral group. However, since the body only needs them in very small quantities, these substances are scientifically called trace elements.
With a content of 146 mg per 100 g, potassium has the highest concentration of all minerals in acerola fruit. As an electrolyte, the positively charged potassium ion is an essential component of our body cells. It regulates the water balance and performs important tasks in various metabolic processes.
Our nerves and muscles need sufficient amounts of the versatile mineral. Together with sodium and calcium, potassium affects the heart and blood pressure. A potassium deficit can therefore have serious consequences for our health.
The following minerals are contained in the fruits of the acerola cherry:
In addition to calcium, phosphorus is the most common mineral in our body. As a phosphate, the vital mineral is part of the energy metabolism and stores the released energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
Without major sporting activities, every person can convert adenosine triphosphate daily in the order of their own weight. Competitive athletes even have short-term ATP activity of up to 200 kg.
As a component of numerous enzymes, the trace element zinc is involved in important biochemical processes in our body. It plays a crucial role in cell division and strengthens the immune system. Zinc also ensures healthy hair and skin growth and supports wound healing.
Acerola fruits contain numerous fibres. Based on 100 g of pulp, their share is around 1.1 g. The term fibre is misleading because these important components do not constitute an unnecessary burden for our organism. On the contrary: we urgently need them for a healthy digestion.
The body cannot absorb the fibre because it consists of indigestible structural substances and support substances of the plants. They fill the stomach and cause a rapid onset of satiety that lasts for a long time. In addition, the insoluble substances swell in the large intestine and thereby stimulate digestion.
Acerola is available in different dosage forms. Since the fruits are very delicate and spoil quickly, there are no fresh acerola cherries offered in Europe. If you want to benefit from the advantages of the superfood, you have to use durable forms.
There is a wide range of high-quality acerola products in pharmacies, health food stores, organic grocery stores, and online shops. The fruits are dried or snaü-frozen in the producing countries immediately after being harvested. The gentler the process is, the higher the amount of valuable vital substances it contains.
After removing the water, the acerola is available as a dry fruit. It can either be sold in this form or processed into an extract. The dried fruits have a significantly higher nutrient density than fresh acerola cherries. The vitamin C content is more than 5 g per 100 g of the dried fruit.
The dried fruits of the acerola are rarely found in Europe. However, they are increasingly being offered as a component of tea or fruit bar.
Outside of the cultivating countries, acerola powder is the most popular and cheapest form of administration. Both the fresh pulp and the acerola juice are suitable for the production of the powder. The main difference lies in the proportion of fibre.
While the processed pulp has all the natural fibre of the acerola cherry, it is hardly contained in the dried fruit juice powder. The consistency of the two variants differs due to the different fibre content: the fruit powder is much coarser than the finely structured acerola juice powder.
Most acerola powders are produced by spray drying or freeze drying. Both processes deliver high-quality acerola powder with different vitamin C content depending on the manufacturing method.
When freeze drying, the juice or pulp is first deep frozen. In a second step, the ice crystals are carefully removed by sublimation. Avoiding the liquid aggregate state, the water molecules go directly from the solid (ice) to the gaseous phase (water vapor). Because water has a high vapor pressure even when frozen, freeze drying can take place at room temperature. In contrast to the hot air process that was often used in the past, freeze drying almost completely preserves the valuable ingredients of the acerola cherries. To prevent the powder from sticking and hardening, some manufacturers add pouring aids.
The second manufacturing process is spray drying. The water contained is evaporated within seconds during the drying process and the dried acerola powder remains. Due to the very short drying time, which lasts only a few seconds, almost all of the valuable ingredients of the acerola cherries remains in the cherries.
The biggest difference to freeze drying is that spray drying uses maltodextrin instead of pouring aids to prevent the powder from clumping together.
After the acerola powder, the acerola juice is at the top of the popularity scale of health-conscious people. The juice is easy to dose and can be enjoyed either neat or with other drinks. In addition to direct acerola juice and juice concentrate, retailers can also find acerola fruit juice drinks and fruit nectar.
However, only the first two juices contain sufficient amounts of bioactive substances to achieve a measurable effect in our body. While a fruit nectar contains between 25 and 50% fruit pulp and contains up to 20% sugar, fruit juice drinks are not covered by the fruit juice regulation. They are considered to be soft drinks and may also contain flavourings in addition to sugar.
The manufacturing process is crucial for the quality of the acerola juice. In order to obtain high-quality natural products, the fruits must be seeded after harvesting and processed immediately. The first pressing delivers the direct juice, which is also called mother juice.
Its fruit content is almost 100%. Since the acerola direct juice tastes very acidic, it is usually diluted with water or mixed with other drinks. Recipes for healthy smoothies with acerola are popular with health-conscious people, especially in the cold season.
The fruit concentrate is created by removing more than 90% of the water content from the acerola juice after pressing. By reducing the weight and the packaging volume, the transport costs can be significantly reduced. After arriving in the target country, the missing amount of water is added again.
The natural product is then marketed under the name acerola juice from concentrate. Raw food lovers should take into account that all fruit juices are preserved by pasteurisation before being sold. Some nutrients are lost by briefly heating to at least 80° C.
The dried powder from the acerola fruit can be easily processed into other dosage forms. In order to manufacture tablets, binders must be added to the acerola powder so that they can be compressed into tablets.
Many manufacturers also use flavourings and sugar so that there is no unpleasant taste when swallowing. The tablets dissolve in the stomach, releasing the active ingredients of acerola. People with a sensitive gastric mucosa may experience symptoms.
Various lozenges and chewable tablets are available for children and adolescents. The acerola lozenges can often be found on the market under the name Vitamin C Taler. Since the tablets are sucked or chewed, the natural acid can make the cervix of the tooth sensitive or damage the tooth structure. It simply depends on how long the teeth are exposed to the acid.
Capsules usually consist of cellulose or gelatine, which contain the acerola powder. The manufacturer does not use release agents such as magnesium stearate or other additives for high-quality products. In contrast to the lozenges or chewable tablets, the acerola capsules only dissolve in the stomach and thus protect the teeth.
There is a large number of acerola products in specialty shops and online stores, so that interested parties can easily lose track of things. What information is important and what should you pay attention to when buying?
The valuable ingredients of acerola have numerous positive effects on the human body. In addition to the high vitamin C content, the secondary plant substances are very important to our health. Those who consume the power fruit regularly benefit in several ways.
Scientists attribute the effects of acerola to the antioxidants that are found in large numbers in the pulp. In addition to the main ingredient vitamin C, the polyphenols play a major role. The perfect collaboration of all ingredients results in an antioxidant power that far exceeds most other foods.
Free radicals are the main cause of many chronic diseases and represent the most important reason for premature skin ageing. The extremely aggressive substances are unstable oxygen compounds that damage our body cells. Scientists often speak of oxidative stress in this context.
From a chemical point of view, radicals are particles with an outer electron shell that is not completely closed. In a stable molecule, all electrons are in pairs and cannot participate in chemical reactions without further activation. The reactive radicals, on the other hand, have at least one unpaired electron that is looking for a partner.
When a radical hits another molecule, it snatches one of the electrons from it and closes its outer shell. This 'theft' means that the other particle lacks an electron, so that it changes into a new radical. In a chain reaction, new free radicals are always formed and thereby destroy important components of our cells.
The reactive particles are created in many of the body's own processes. They can also be fed in from the outside. Smokers ingest around 100 trillion free radicals on their cigarette each time. Antioxidants are opponents of these dangerous substances and are able to effectively neutralise them.
The molecules of ascorbic acid voluntarily give one of their electrons to the free radicals without transforming themselves into a radical. In this way, the cells remain protected from electron theft and there is no cycle of oxidative stress. The electron-free ascorbic acid is then excreted by the body without causing any damage.
With its high antioxidative potential, acerola naturally supports our organism in combating oxidative stress caused by free radicals. For this reason, the ingredients of the power fruit have a positive effect on the course of various diseases.
Our immune system needs a good supply of vitamin C to be able to fulfil its important tasks. An insufficient intake manifests itself among other things through an increased susceptibility to infections. As a natural source of vitamin C, acerola strengthens the body's defenses and can therefore protect against pneumonia.
Numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of vitamin C in infectious diseases. A sufficient supply of the vital substance can shorten the symptoms and the duration of illness with respiratory infections. The combined intake of vitamin C and zinc also reduces the frequency of diarrhoea, malaria and respiratory diseases in children in developing countries.
The tasks of vitamin C in the context of immune defense are related to the antioxidant properties. In order to fight dangerous pathogens, the immune system activates special white blood cells, the so-called phagocytes. Especially in inflammatory processes, phagocytes produce large amounts of free radicals, which play a crucial role in the fight against bacteria and viruses.
Sufficient amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants are necessary to stop the chain reaction of radical formation at the end of the immune response. Laboratory studies have shown that vitamin C also influences the maturation of T lymphocytes and the production of interferons. Interferons form a group of signal proteins that play an important role in the defense against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and tumor cells.
The excellent antioxidant properties of acerola cherry not only support the body's own defenses, but also have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. The high percentage of vitamin C prevents the formation of atherosclerosis (arteriosclerosis), which is also known colloquially as arteriosclerosis.
Arteriosclerosis arises from the fact that blood lipids and other components are deposited on the walls of the arteries. The diameter of the artery becomes smaller, which changes the flow properties of the blood. The dreaded consequences of atherosclerosis include circulatory disorders in the legs (peripheral arterial occlusive disease, PAD), diseases of the blood vessels in the brain and coronary heart disease (CHD).
In the worst case, there is a complete vascular occlusion that leads to a heart attack or stroke. From a conventional medical point of view, the 'bad' cholesterol (LDL) is significantly involved in the formation of arterial calcification. The meta-analysis of 13 clinical studies showed that vitamin C can significantly lower blood cholesterol levels and thus prevent arterial calcification.
Oxidised LDL cholesterol, which arises from the action of free radicals, is a particularly high risk factor for arteriosclerosis. In several studies, the scientists were able to prove that vitamin C prevents the oxidation of LDL. As a high-quality source of vitamin C, acerola can prevent the development of atherosclerosis and thus contribute to the health of the cardiovascular system.
Vitamin C plays a crucial role in more than 300 enzymatic metabolic processes. Since the vital vital substance influences the renewal of our skeleton, it can counteract the dreaded osteoporosis. Vitamin C activates the new formation of collagen, the main component of the connective tissue.
Among other things, collagen fibres ensure that our skin remains elastic and flexible. Collagen has been used in cosmetics to rejuvenate the skin for many years. Since vitamin C boosts the body's collagen production, it is no wonder that the ingredients of acerola cherry are found in many anti-ageing supplements.
The level of vitamin C has a major impact on copper and iron metabolism. A good supply of vitamin C not only improves the absorption of iron from food, but also ensures the transport and storage of the vital trace element.
Furthermore, the versatile all-rounder regulates the production of the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and adrenaline as well as the stress hormone cortisol. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that serve to transmit nerve impulses. Vitamin C plays a crucial role in maintaining the overall level of neurotransmitters in our nervous system.
Vitamin C, the main ingredient of the acerola fruit, has a significant influence on our body cells. Thanks to its antioxidant properties, the powerful vital substance counteracts cell ageing. The so-called telomeres are considered to be decisive factors in the ageing process. They form the end caps of the chromosomes and become a little shorter with each cell division.
If the telomeres are too small, the cell can no longer divide and dies. In other words, the length of the end caps of our genome indicates the actual biological age of the cells. With a good supply of all important vitamins, the telomeres are longer than with a diet low in vital substances.
A high stress level also leads to premature shortening of the telomeres and premature cell ageing. The body's enzyme telomerase is able to reverse this effect and to build up the end caps. Chinese scientists were able to demonstrate in a study that vitamin C activates telomerase and is therefore directly involved in cell renewal.
Very overweight people have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes mellitus, fatty liver, or cancer. Free radicals have long been suspected of being responsible for these complications. Studies on animal models that were carried out as part of a doctoral thesis at the University of Würzburg have recently been able to demonstrate that obesity triggers oxidative stress in the body.
In an animal study, Brazilian researchers investigated the effects of acerola juice on overweight mice. The results show that acerola as a dietary supplement helps reduce the concentration of free radicals in obesity.
Thanks to its high antioxidative potential, Acerola counteracts the development of oxidative stress. In this way, the power fruit reduces the risk of obesity on the one hand, and on the other hand protects the antioxidants from the consequences of obesity and at the same time supports weight loss.
Because of its high vitamin C content, acerola fruit has a reputation for counteracting the development of cancer in the body. As with most natural products, convincing human studies have so far been lacking for the acerola cherry.
While treatment with high-dose vitamin C has become established in naturopathy, conventional medicine continues to focus on chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. A recent study published in the renowned scientific journal Science in 2015 could cause a rethink in the medical profession.
The scientists have used cell cultures to demonstrate that vitamin C can destroy certain colon cancer cells. A comparable study was previously carried out with various acerola extracts. The result: The ingredients of the power fruit have a cytotoxic effect on certain cancer cell lines (cell damaging).
In 2002, a Japanese research group in animal experiments on mice showed that the acerola extract inhibited the growth and spread of lung cancer. Corresponding clinical studies in patients have not yet been carried out. It is therefore still unclear whether the results are transferable to humans.
Since the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents, people's fear of nuclear disasters has increased. Why is radioactivity so dangerous for living beings? The reason is the ionising radiation emitted by radioactive substances.
When this affects the body, free radicals develop in the affected cells. Our genotype (DNA) is particularly susceptible to ionising radiation. As a result, there is damage to the DNA that cannot be reversed by the cell's own repair enzymes. In the long run, the risk of developing cancer increases.
Doctors use ionising radiation for X-ray examinations. You are also exposed to an increased radiation dose when travelling by air. It is worthwhile for those affected to take a dietary supplement with acerola beforehand: using cell cultures, Brazilian researchers have been able to demonstrate that the ingredients of fresh acerola cherries protect DNA from the effects of ionising radiation.
To date, official agencies have not issued any dosage recommendations for tablets, capsules, juices, or powders made from acerola cherries. Nevertheless, consumers should not dose the dietary supplement at their own discretion, but always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Since vitamin C is the main component of the power fruit, it makes sense to take the specified vitamin C reference values into account when taking it. In order to prevent a deficiency, the German Nutrition Society recommends adults to take 95 to 110 mg of vitamin C daily. The individual reference value depends primarily on the age and gender.
If you take up to 1 g of vitamin C with a dietary supplement in addition to meals, you do not have to fear any harmful side effects. The symptoms of an overdose are usually only to be expected from a daily intake of 3 to 4 g. This primarily includes temporary gastrointestinal complaints.
In the experience of numerous users, the side effects mostly manifest themselves in the form of loose stool or diarrhoea. In contrast to the fat-soluble vitamins E, D, K and A, vitamin C is water-soluble. Since a healthy body excretes an excess of vitamin C in the urine, a long-term overdose usually also has no dangerous consequences.
For people who suffer from a kidney dysfunction, there is an initial risk of very high vitamin C doses. Since large amounts of vitamin C lead to an increased formation of oxalic acid in the body, an overdose increases the risk of kidney stones.
After consuming the recommended amounts of acerola powder or acerola juice, generally no side effects are expected. Only after taking extremely high doses, consumers reported about stomach cramps, nausea, loose stool, or diarrhoea.
If an undesirable side effect occurs, you should stop taking the supplement for a few days and then continue in a lower dose. In the event of continuous complaints, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
People who are prone to kidney stones or suffer from gout should be careful when taking vitamin C-containing food supplements. The same applies to people with iron metabolism disorders (thalassemia, hemosiderosis, hemochromatosis). So far, there is no knowledge about the possible side effects of acerola products in pregnant women and nursing mothers.
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