Acerola Cherry: health benefits, medical uses and side effects

Acerola Cherry: health benefits, medical uses and side effects
August 20, 2015 8:49 PM

Acerola Cherry has many health benefits and medical uses. This post features a detailed overview of them and also deals with possible side effects and risks of Acerola cherries. You will also find here some practical recipes with Acerola to help you get the most out of this great food.

What is Acerola Cherry?

Acerola is a cherry-like small fruit which grows on large shrubs and is present in the tropical regions of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Some common names for acerola cherry are West Indian cherry, Barbados cherry and wild crepe myrtle. The scientific name for acerola cherry is Malpighia emarginata. Acerola cherry is mostly found in Central America, Southern Mexico and South America. It has been recently grown in other parts such as subtropical regions of Asia including India and in the Texas region.

Place of origin

The place of origin of acerola is Yucatan. It distributed from there to Mexico, South Texas, Central America and Caribbean. It is cultivated now-a-days in almost all the subtropical regions of the world. It is also grown in Florida in the regions of Cape Canaveral. This cherry is also cultivated in all the tropical regions of the world, which include Ghana, Canary Islands, Ethiopia, Taiwan, Hawaii, Australia and Sri Lanka.

The main reason for the popularity of this fruit is that it is quite rich in vitamin C content. Other vitamins are also present like vitamins A, B, B1, B2 and B3. Some bioflavonoids and carotenoids are also present which give it antioxidant and nutritional properties.

Acerola is mostly found in wood-lands and dry areas in the form of a deciduous tree. It is mostly found in South California, San Diego and in other extreme areas. The trees are usually found in the riverside of California. The acerola plants can’t bear cold and the young plants die out when the temperatures are below 30 F. The trees are able to live at 28 degrees Celsius but they lose some leaves. The trees also are quite sensitive to wind. The acerola tree can tolerate drought and they adopt a deciduous habit. These plants can easily be put into pots with well-drained soil.

Description of Acerola plants

Acerola is a small tree with spreading branches. The normal height of acerola tree is about two to three meters but sometimes it can reach up to 6 m. A brief description of acerola leaves, flowers and fruits is shown below:

  • Leaves – The acerola leaves have a shape somewhat close to an ovate-lanceolate. This is actually a leaf form which is the intermediate between a lanceolate and ovate. The general length of the leaves is about 2-8 cm and are attached to petioles. The petioles are ovate to elliptical in shape and have some margins with small hairs which irritate the skin.
  • Flowers – The flowers are 1-2 cm in diameter and are bisexual. They have about 10 stamens, five red and pink petals and about 10 glands of calyx.
  • Fruits – Bright red drupes are produced by the tree after three years, which are about 1 to 3 cm and have a mass of about 3 to 5 grams. The drupes are either present in the form of pair or groups of three. These drupes are quite juicy and have a good amount of vitamin C in them. They are divided into three lobes which are from acidic to sub acidic. This is the reason why some of the fruits acquire sweet taste whereas others have sour taste. The vitamin C content in these fruits is about 4000 mg per 100g of fresh fruit. The green fruits have more number of mature fruits. Fruits become fully mature in about 25 days.

Taste

Acerola cherry has different tastes, according to the period of maturity. The fruit is quite acidic and juicy when ripe which gives it a sweet and apple like flavor. The taste of some acerola cherry can also be acidic because they aren’t fully mature.

Health benefits of Acerola Cherries

Acerola cherries have a number of health benefits. Some major health benefits of acerola cherries have been mentioned below:

1. Good source of Vitamin C

Acerola cherries are a good source of vitamin C. There is about 13 times more vitamin C in acerola cherries as compared to an equal serving of orange juice. There is about 1,644 mg of vitamin C in 1 cup of fruit and about 3,782 mg in 1 cup of juice. The normal daily intake of vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. Consuming too much vitamin C doesn’t cause any major side effects. But some of common problems which can be caused include nausea, cramps and diarrhea. Acerola supplements shouldn’t be taken in excess. The Office of Dietary supplements recommends that the daily intake of vitamin C shouldn’t exceed above 2000 mg to avoid any negative side effects.

2. Anthocyanins

Acerola cherry is quite a good source of anthocyanins just like other berries. Anthocyanins have been under strict observation by the medical community because of their many benefits. It has been seen that anthocyanins have many health promoting properties (1). Different experiments performed in the laboratory have shown that anthocyanins are quite beneficial in preventing different kinds of illnesses including diabetes, cancer, inflammation, aging, infections from bacteria and neurological disorders.

There was a study done recently on acerola cherries which was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The study showed that acerola cherries contain the backbones of anthocyanin compounds which include peonidin, malvidin, petunidin, and pelargonidin.

3. Acerola and skin health

If you want to improve your skin health, you should consume acerola cherries on daily basis. Collagen is a skin protein which provides support for the structure of skin. Acerola cherries are rich in vitamin C content, which strengthens the skin and prevents the tearing of skin that results from the deficiency of vitamin C.

Acerola cherries also contain vitamin A that beautifies and nourishes the skin. The presence of vitamin A in skin protects the skin from damage from the sun. One cup of acerola cherries contains about 753 mg of vitamin A. This is about 30-35 percent of the daily intake for men and 25 percent daily intake for women.

4. Beneficial for the immune system

Acerola cherries lead to a healthier immune system. New white blood cells are produced due to the Vitamin C and A present in acerola cherries. White blood cells are a part of immune system of the body and protect the body against the invasion of foreign particles. So, white blood cells protect the body against diseases and foreign particles (2). The functioning of white blood cells is also improved due to these vitamins. Vitamin C is also quite beneficial in controlling the flow of interferons, which are the chemicals that fight against the infections caused by different viruses.

5. Antioxidant properties

It has been seen that acerola cherries have a high antioxidant activity. A study was recently published in 2006 in the Journal Rural Science. The antioxidant capacity of 14 different American berries was analyzed and it was found that acerola cherries had the highest antioxidant capacity.

Another study was done in 2004 which was published in the Journal of Psychotherapy research. The study showed that the presence of hexane and acetone in acerola cherries stops the cell growth in human submandibular gland carcinoma cell lines. It was also found that acerola cherries increase the antioxidant capacity of other foods which are consumed along with it. For example a study found that the antioxidant activity of soy and alfalfa extracts is increased when they are consumed along with acerola cherries.

6.  Preventing diseases

Vitamin C in acerola cherries promotes the long term health by lowering the risk of chronic diseases. Acerola cherry lowers the risks of diabetes and prevents the risk of stroke. The consumption of about 500 milligrams of vitamin C (less than the amount present in half cup of acerola cherry) can improve the blood vessel reactions. This is beneficial especially if you are suffering from a cardiovascular disease. Vitamin A present in acerola also supports vision and is quite helpful against blindness, which is related with a deficiency of vitamin A.

7. Managing diabetes

A recent research has shown that the antioxidants present in acerola cherry are quite beneficial against diabetes and can help to slow the release of sugar in the blood (3). Insulin and glucose regulation is quite important for diabetic patients because it is quite dangerous if their levels rise or drop suddenly. Acerola cherries are quite helpful against this condition. These cherries are also helpful for regulating the blood sugar levels.

8. Preventing cancer

There are different kinds of antioxidants present in acerola cherries, which include bioflavonoids and carotenoids. These antioxidants are quite beneficial in neutralizing the free radicals present in the body. The free radicals are actually the byproducts of cellular metabolism due to which healthy cells mix up with cancerous and unhealthy cells. The antioxidants present in acerola cherries help in slowing down the rate of division and growth of cancerous cells (4).

9. Anti-aging ability

High levels of antioxidants in acerola are beneficial for cleaning the different toxins and substances present in the body. The bioflavonoids are also quite beneficial and boost the cognitive function. Moreover, use of these cherries can improve your skin appearance and glow.
 

10. Acerola cherry and metabolism

A person needs to regulate his metabolism for the normal functioning of his body. The most important vitamins that help in the regulation of metabolism are B vitamins. These vitamins include folic acid, riboflavin and niacin. They help in the regulation of metabolic and hormonal processes and make sure that the body keeps on running smoothly.

11. Promoting healthy heart

Acerola cherries are also quite helpful in promoting heart health. These cherries are a good source of potassium which boosts the health of the heart. Potassium is a vasodilator which means it helps in widening the blood vessels. Thus, it reduces the stress on the cardiovascular system by widening the blood vessels and allowing the blood to pass easily through the vessels which reduces the blood pressure of the body. Atherosclerosis can also be prevented which prevents the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Different antioxidants present in acerola cherries also prevent excess cholesterol to enter cardiovascular system; this stops oxidative stress.

12. Helpful in digestion

Acerola cherries are quite beneficial for boosting digestive health. Excess of fiber helps in the smooth passage of food through the digestive system. This helps against constipation, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and other serious gastrointestinal issues. Cholesterol is also removed from the heart by acerola cherries.

13. Cosmetic benefits of Acerola Cherry

Acerola cherries aren’t just beneficial inside the body. They are also quite beneficial outside the body. Acerola extracts are present in different products present in the market. Collagen is formed due to the high vitamin C content present in acerola cherries. Collagen is the compound which helps in the toning and youthfulness of the skin. The inflammation is prevented in outer skin tissues by anthocyanins. Acerola cherries are also beneficial when consumed internally. A recent study showed that acerola cherries stop the synthesis of melanin which gives the skin a lightening effect.

You can make acerola cherries by putting them in a colander and washing them with cold water. You can also wash them with additive-free soap solution before putting them in a colander. You can also eat the cherries as they are, or eat in the form of jams or jellies. You can also serve these acerola cherries with plain yogurt or blend them in a food processor. You can also prepare chocolate covered berries. You can put the cherries in melted chocolate and then put them in a refrigerator until the chocolate becomes solid.

Medical uses of Acerola Cherries

Now let us view some of the medical uses of acerola cherries. Acerola cherries are being used all around the world because they have a number of medical uses. Some popular medical uses of acerola cherries have been mentioned below:

  • A good amount of carotenoids, like lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene is provided by acerola cherries. A recent study showed that the carotenoid content in acerola cherries is at the same level as compared foods like guava and tomatoes (5). The most helpful benefit of the foods that are rich in carotenoid content is that they provide protection to the eyes. Different carotenoids can delay the process of macular degeneration and prevent the development of cataracts, reduce the risks of retinis pigmentosa (a hereditary eye disease in which the retina degenerates slowly) and improve night vision.
  • Acerola cherries are quite helpful for people suffering from dysentery, diarrhea and liver disorders. The different antioxidants present in acerola cherries makes them especially beneficial for digestive disorders.
  • These cherries are also helpful for people suffering from cold cough.
  • The juice of acerola cherries can relieve a sore throat. The immune system of the body is also boosted due to the presence of vitamin C in acerola cherries.
  • Different heart diseases can be avoided due to the consumption of acerola cherries. These cherries also protect the body from cancerous diseases.
  • A study showed that acerola cherries have antifungal properties. They are also used to treat different skin conditions.
  • It has been seen that the blood glucose levels in mice was lowered when they were given acerola cherries. The researchers say that this is due to the polyphenols present in acerola cherries. This research indicates that acerola cherries may have anti-diabetic properties.
  • Acerola cherries are used in the treatment of common cold.
  • Different pressure sores can also be treated due to the consumption of acerola cherries. About 2g consumption of vitamin C per day can make a person recover from pressure sores.
  • Acerola cherries can also improve clinical depression. The lack of vitamin C in the body can result in the depletion of norepinephrine which in turn results in the loss of alertness, depression and poor memory. These health problems can only be countered by a good supply of Vitamin C and this supply is provided by acerola cherries.
  • Acerola cherries also increase the production of collagen in the body. The collagen in the body is reduced due to the lack of vitamin C in the body. Collagen is quite important for the body and is quite important for the tendons, cornea, spinal discs and blood vessels.
  • Acerola cherries have also shown to reduce different gum infections and tooth decay.
  • Acerola cherries are also helpful in treating hay fever. The histamine levels which are increased during hay fever, are reduced by the bioflavonoids and vitamin C present in acerola cherries.
  • The Chlorogenic acid present in acerola cherries is helpful in lowering the blood sugar levels and for controlling the onset of different diabetic diseases like type II- diabetes mellitus condition.

Side effects of Acerola Cherries

Acerola cherries have a high vitamin C content in them. Vitamin C is quite beneficial for the body but too much consumption of vitamin C can cause many health related issues. Some common side effects of acerola cherries have been mentioned below:

1. Acerola cherries and tests

The author of the book “The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin interaction Guide” named George T. Grossberg suggests that acerola cherries can produce negative blood stool tests if they are ingested about 48 to 72 hours before a test. Consumption of acerola cherries can also lead to a false decrease in the glucose oxidase test if you intake more than 500 mg vitamin C from acerola cherries. These cherries can also cause a false increase in cupric sulfate test.

2. Interaction with other drugs

Acerola cherries can interact with different drugs like birth control pills and estrogen containing medicines. It is therefore a good idea to consult a doctor before consuming acerola cherries. Taking acerola cherries can also reduce the effectiveness of other drugs and actually decrease their levels in the blood.

3. Kidney stones

There has been a debate among researchers and medical professionals whether higher doses of vitamin C is associated with the formation of kidney stones or not. A recent study however showed that the consumption of about 1000 mg of Vitamin C can increase the urinary oxalate and lead to the formation of kidney stones.

4. Nervous system

Consuming more than 6 grams of acerola cherries on daily basis can cause mild headaches. Some other side effects caused by such a large consumption of acerola cherries include fatigue, dizziness and faintness. People who are prone to dizziness should avoid taking large quantities of acerola cherries.

5. Gastrointestinal problems

You should limit your daily intake of acerola cherries to about 2 grams per day. A person may suffer from diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps if he consumes more than 2 grams of acerola cherries on daily basis. Physicians in Purdue University Horticulture Department reported that children often need treatments for different intestinal inflammations caused by eating Barbados cherries. Sometimes esophagitis can also be caused due to the consumption of acerola cherries because of the acidic content present in them.

6. Hemolysis

Consuming large amounts of acerola cherries can increase the production of vitamin C in the body which can in turn, increase the iron absorption and this causes iron poisoning. This is especially a serious issue for people suffering from a rare iron overload disorder known as haemochromatosis. But still anemia can be caused by high doses of Vitamin C, even if you don’t suffer from this disorder. People suffering from glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency should also avoid the intake of acerola cherries.

Acerola cherry Puree

Now let us look at some acerola cherry recipes. There are many popular acerola cherry recipes. But first you should know the difference between puree and smoothies.

Smoothies – Smoothies are a high-performance and traditional blender. The drink becomes smooth and thick when the liquid or fresh fruits are passed through a blender. The drink becomes smooth and therefore it is called as a smoothie. Mostly the cored pieces of different vegetables and fruits are mixed with yogurt or juices till the fruits and vegetables are changed into a drinkable liquid. There is thickness and more filling capacity in smoothies as compared to juices because they have these mixtures in which pulp is present.

Puree – Now let us look at what is a puree. A puree can be called as a forerunner of a smoothie. You can consider the example that different companies sell fruit juice purees which are the base for smoothies. Fruit juice puree is a concentrated form of fruit juice. The making of puree is quite simple. Firstly the manufacturer takes out a certain fruit and takes out all the juice from it. Then he passes it through a process known as the clearing process in which all the resins and pulps are removed. The water is also removed after that. Then the resultant mixture is mixed with water again to make a puree.

Other Acerola recipes

1. Acerola and berries smoothie

The ingredients needed for this recipe are 1 cup frozen cherry, 1 pack of frozen acerola puree and 6 oz of water. This recipe is quite simple to make. Take all the ingredients and mix them in a blender together. Now take the mixture and put it in a glass and enjoy it.

2. Acerola and mango smoothie

The ingredients needed for this recipe are 1/2 cup mango, 1 pack acerola puree and 5 oz of water. Blend all the ingredients together in a blender. Put sugar or sweetener in it according to your needs. Now put it into a glass and enjoy.

3. Acerola ginger, mint and honey

The ingredients required for this recipe are 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 pack of acerola puree, 4 mint leaves and 4 oz water. Making this recipe is easy. Take all the ingredients and mix them in a blender. Put them in a glass after that and enjoy.

4. Acerola apple and carrot smoothie

The main ingredients of this recipe are 1 small carrot, 1 apple, 5 oz water, 1 pack acerola puree and mint leaves. Take all these ingredients and blend them in a blender. Now take the mixture out in a cup and enjoy.

5. Acerola chia lime popsicles

The ingredients required for this dish are 1 cup water, 3 limes, 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons chia seeds, 6 cups acerola cherries and 10 grams stevia. Firstly wash the cherries and blend them with a cup of water. Take out the juice so that all the solids are removed. Now add stevia, lime juice and chia seeds in it. Now put them into popsicle molds and freeze. The dish is now ready.

Conclusion

Now you know all about health benefits, side effects and medical uses of Acerola cherries. If you like this food you may try some of the recipes featured above. Do not forget about possible interactions with medical drugs and only eat Acerola cherries with a prior consent of your physician.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Article resources: See numbered references within the article.
Image resources: Dollarphotoclub.com
Published: August 20, 2015 8:49 PM
Next scheduled update: August 20, 2017 8:49 PM
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