Want a natural way to up your daily dose of vitamin C? Acerola Cherry may be the ticket.
Acerola (malpighia emarginata and malpighia glabra) is a tropical and subtropical tree that began gaining interest after World War II when it was discovered that its fruit has 50 to 100 times the amount of vitamin C you get from an orange or lemon. Its known health benefits come from its high vitamin C content, but it contains a wealth of other phytonutrients that research may prove beneficial.
Want to learn more about this tropical and nutritious fruit and how it may support your health? This article provides a full overview of the plant, its benefits and side effects, and how to find it.
The Acerola Cherry Tree
Acerola Cherry, also known as Barbados Cherry or West Indian Cherry, is a shrub or small tree that grows to about 12 feet, with red stone fruit. This small fruit resembles a cherry from the genus prunus tree. But unlike the common cherry we all know, its flavor is tangy and tart, not sweet. The fruit is rarely exported because it is fragile and loses vitamin C content as it ripens. Still, because of its growing popularity, it’s made into fruit juices, jams, and herbal supplements.
There are two species of Acerola — malpighia glabra and malpighia emarginata — that originated in different areas of the tropics and subtropics. Malpighia glabra is native to the West Indies and neighboring areas of northern South America. Malpighia emarginata is native to Mexico, Central America, and the northern part of South America and is the more common name of the species. The plant has been introduced to other tropical and subtropical countries in the Americas including Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, southern Texas, and Brazil, now the world’s largest producer. It is also cultivated in parts of Florida, Israel, and Australia. REF#1757 It is rated for USDA plant hardiness zones 9b through 11, which means it is happy where temperatures remain consistently warm.
Little is known about the use of Acerola by indigenous people in the Caribbean and Central America. It wasn’t recognized by the scientific community until World War II when it was planted in victory gardens in Puerto Rico, which prompted the School of Tropical Medicine in San Juan, Puerto Rico to research its health benefits. They discovered its high vitamin C content and from that point on, it was planted in school yards so that school children could increase their vitamin C intake.
Nutritional Makeup of Acerola
As mentioned previously, the fruit of the Acerola tree is one of the highest natural sources of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), ranging from about 1500 to 4500 mg per 100 grams of fruit. Compare that to the orange, with 45 to 70 mg per 100 grams, or rosehips, with 300 to 2,000 mg per 100 grams of fruit.
The vitamin C level in Acerola depends on how ripe the fruit is when picked, how much sunlight the tree gets, and its species. Processing also affects vitamin content. Vitamin C loses its potency when heated, so Acerola jams and jellies will have a lower vitamin C content than fresh fruit.
In addition to vitamin C, Acerola is high in vitamin A, potassium, carotenoids, anthocyanins, flavonoids, and phenolic acids — all plant constituents that play a part in supporting immune health.
Studies have shown that the fruit offers different levels of nutrients at different points of maturation. It is highest in vitamin C, phenols, and antioxidant activity when the fruit is picked before it has ripened. REF#1758 More mature fruit, however, has higher levels of flavonoid polyphenols.
The fruit itself should be consumed when ripe, but less mature fruit is used for extracts and health food products to take advantage of its higher potential to protect cells against oxidative stress.
Traditional Uses of Acerola
Traditionally, different countries have used Acerola for various ailments. Acerola is an obvious choice for protecting against vitamin C deficiency, which can cause scurvy and many other physical and emotional symptoms.
In Brazil, where it is now most widely harvested, Acerola is used for a range of ailments, including: REF#1759
- Wound healing
- Cardiovascular support
- Nutritional support for anemia, high cholesterol, diabetes, liver conditions, rheumatism, and tuberculosis
In Venezuela, it has also been used to support the treatment of tuberculosis and breast conditions.
No research has been done to validate the use of Acerola for any of these conditions.
Benefits of Acerola
Because Acerola is primarily used as a food item, few clinical studies have been done to research its potential health benefits. While it is believed that the combination of vitamin C and other complex nutrients in Acerola may offer greater benefits than vitamin C alone, no human clinical studies have proven those benefits.
Researchers have studied Acerola’s ability to slow skin aging and support liver and brain health. While they’ve seen some promising initial results, more research is required.
Currently, the known benefits of Acerola are based on its role as a natural, plant-based source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is critical for the biosynthesis (production) of:
- Collagen, a protein required for the health of connective tissue, skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, hair, and nails
- L-carnitine, a chemical that turns fat into energy and is critical for energy metabolism
- Neurotransmitters, chemicals that send nerve signals across synapses
Vitamin C has also been found to improve your body’s ability to absorb iron from plant-based foods. REF#1760
Vitamin C, itself, is a recognized antioxidant, which means it works to capture and remove oxidative free radicals (highly reactive and unstable molecules) from your body that can cause cell damage and chronic disease. While population studies suggest that individuals who consume high levels of vitamin C have a lower risk of developing heart disease, cancer, eye disease, and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, no research has determined whether this is from vitamin C or an overall healthier lifestyle. REF#1761
Your body can’t store vitamin C, so you need to consume an appropriate amount daily. The recommended daily dose is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. The tolerable upper level of vitamin C for adults is 2,000 mg daily and 1,800 for pregnant or nursing mothers.
Potential Side Effects of Acerola
There is no evidence that Acerola causes any serious side effects. Some people have complained of the following issues, most likely due to high doses of vitamin C:
- Abdominal cramps
If you do experience any of these symptoms, stopping or lowering your intake of vitamin C should resolve them without the need for medical care.
Higher than recommended doses of vitamin C have led to kidney stones and increased levels of uric acid (which can lead to gout). If you experience pain in your lower back, a potential sign of kidney stones, or frequent urination, contact your healthcare provider.
Since Acerola has a high vitamin C content, check the amount of vitamin C in any Acerola supplement you take and use vitamin C dosage recommendations to guide your intake. If you have health conditions or take any medications, always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplement.
The Best Way to Take Acerola
If you live in a climate where Acerola trees are grown, you have the benefit of eating Acerola cherries as part of your diet.
For the rest of us, Acerola is available in the form of juice, jam, jelly, or natural supplements.
Acerola supplements are available as extracts, powders, or capsules, either alone or in combination with other herbs or fruits,. When selecting a supplement, look for one made with organic, sustainably farmed fruit to ensure that you get the best product possible and help maintain a healthier environment for everyone.
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