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Acerola Cherry: the Trending Vitamin C-Rich Fruit

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Acerola cherry - Dr. Axe

If you’re looking to increase your intake of vitamin C, you may be wondering which fruits are the best to eat. While fruits including strawberries, oranges and kiwi are undoubtedly great sources of this nutrient, there’s another tropical fruit you may want to add to your diet, whether fresh or in supplement form: acerola cherry.

Researchers believe this that lesser-known fruit is one of the richest sources of vitamin C available to us, providing around 50–100 times more than oranges or lemons! Additionally, it supplies antioxidants such as carotenoids and anthocyanins— the same types found in nutritious foods like kale, carrots, blueberries and red wine. 

This explains why studies have linked acerola cherry consumption to skin health, improved digestion, cancer prevention and more. No wonder these cherries have recently been called “an untapped functional superfood” by nutrition researchers.

What Is An Acerola Cherry?

Acerola cherry is a type of small fruit, similar to a berry, that grows on a tropical shrub that belongs to the Malpighiaceae plant family. The acerola cherry tree (which has the scientific name Malpighia emarginata or Malpighia punicifolia) is native to tropical parts of the world, including Mexico, the West Indies and the Caribbean.

Today this fruit is grown in locations such as Mexico, Texas, Florida, Jamaica, Brazil and other parts of Central and South America. Other common names for acerola cherry around the world include: Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry, wild crepe myrtle, Puerto Rican cherry, Antilles cherry, cereso, cereza and others.

Nutritionally, acerola fruit has many things in common with both berries and other types of cherries, which botantically are considered “drupes” (or stone fruits) that belong to the broad Rosaceae family. What do acerola cherries taste like? Most people describe this bright-red fruit as tasting similar to berries, with a sweet and sharp taste, rather than a very tart or sour cherry taste.

Like other cherries and berries, studies show acerola is low in calories but a great source of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. Each acerola fruit has several tiny seeds, which are edible and where some of the fruit’s antioxidants are found. Eating the skin, which is green when the fruit is immature but then changes to orange and finally bright red  once matured, is also encouraged to obtain fiber and phytonutrients.

Nutrition Facts

What is acerola good for? The most common reason that people consume this fruit in extract or powder supplement form is because it’s very high in vitamin C. In fact, historically it was used to prevent vitamin C deficiency and related conditions such as scurvy. Eating just about three small acerola fruits per day can satisfy the vitamin C needs of an adult. 

Acerola also supplies another important antioxidant, vitamin A, as well as small amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc and iron. You’ll find about the same amount of vitamin A in acerola fruit as you will in carrots, which are well-known as one of the greatest vitamin A sources.

According to the USDA, 100 grams of raw acerola cherries (about one cup) has about:

  • 32 calories
  • 0.5 grams protein
  • 8 grams carbohydrate
  • 1 gram fiber
  • 1680 milligrams vitamin C (1,800 percent DV)
  • 38 milligrams vitamin A (15 percent DV)
  • 0.8 milligrams copper (10 percent DV)
  • Pantothenic acid 0.309 (6 percent DV)
  • Riboflavin 0.06 mg  (5 percent DV)
  • 18 milligrams magnesium (4 percent DV)
  • 146 mg potassium (3 percent DV)
  • Thiamin 0.02 mg  (2 percent DV)

Studies find that the greatest concentration of nutrients and antioxidants is available in organically grown (as opposed to conventionally-grown) acerola cherries.

These cherries are rich in polyphenolic flavonoid compounds known as anthocyanin glycosides, which provide the fruit’s pigment. Anthocyanins are responsible for giving many fruits their deep red, purple or blue color, which is why these compounds are most concentrated in the skin of fruits.

Health Benefits

Why is acerola cherry good for you when it comes to defending against common illnesses? Due to its high vitamin C and antioxidant content, it may help fight off ailments like coughs and colds.

It may also help build your defenses against many other long-term health problems, such as heart conditions and even cancer, due to its ability to prevent free radical damage and oxidative stress, according to a number of studies.

1. Supports the Immune System and Fights Disease Development

Research has revealed that acerola is dense with antioxidants including polyphenols and bioflavonoids that are linked with cancer prevention and cognitive health.

A number of studies have shown that there’s an inverse association between the consumption of fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins like vitamin C and A, and the incidence of different chronic health problems. These include conditions like heart disease, gastrointestinal diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, some types of cancers, and vision-related problems.

Anthocyanins present in these cherries have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, which mean they may help provide relief from chronic, painful conditions like arthritis.

2. May Help Improve Digestive and Metabolic Health

Acerola cherry has been used in traditional systems of medicine for centuries, most often to treat liver dysfunction, digestive issues like diarrhea, and stomach pains. While research on these specific uses is limited, study findings suggest that acerola can support metabolic functions and digestion by reducing inflammation and providing essential nutrients, including vitamins C and A, plus some potassium, magnesium, iron and fiber.

As a good source of pectin fiber, but relatively low in sugar, these cherries can also help to improve bowel regularity, stabilize blood sugar, and reduce the risk for issues like insulin resistance and diabetes.

3. Can Help Protect Cognitive Function

Various types of cherries and berries are considered by experts to be “brain foods”, since they can help protect against memory loss and support cognitive function into older age. This is possible due to these fruits’ anthocyanins and other phytonutrients, which help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that damages brain cells and neurons.

In addition to supporting mental health, cherry consumption is linked to improved energy levels and reduced post-exercise symptoms like fatigue, not to mention pain and inflammation

4. Helps to Cleanse and Protect the Skin and Hair

There’s some evidence that acerola benefits the skin due to its natural astringent, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Because it has antioxidant effects and can help control the spread of bacteria and other microbes, it may be able to reduce breakouts and blemishes, loss of skin elasticity, and signs of sun damage.

The high vitamin C content of acerola supports the body’s ability to build collagen and heal wounds. Interestingly, some studies demonstrate that these cherries have natural skin whitening effects, meaning they can help to reduce hyperpigmentation and dark spots that are considered signs of aging.

Additionally, some people use cherry oil/acerola extract with other moisturizing oils, such as almond or coconut oil, on their hair and scalp to prevent damage, breakage and infections.

5. Supports Oral/Dental Health

Because it has the ability to kill microbes, acerola is sometimes added to antimicrobial mouthwashes. It may help to prevent infections from developing in the mouth, fight tooth decay, and protect the gums.

How to Use

While not commonly found in grocery stores, acerola cherries can be eaten raw. You can also cook them, or consume the fruit in supplement form.

If you have access to fresh acerola, look for brightly-red colored fruits that are soft and have a pleasant smell. Studies have found that vitamin C content in this fruit drops quickly once its mature, so the best way to preserve the cherries is to freeze them, rather than keeping them at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

As a supplement, acerola cherry fruit comes in several forms.

  • Acerola juice — These cherries contain about 80 percent juice, making them a great choice for freshly squeezed juices. Look for this in health food stores or at certain farmer’s markets. Keep in mind that both the cherries and juice will spoil quickly, so it’s best to consume them within several days of the fruit being picked.
  • Acerola cherry powder (sometimes called vitamin C powder) or capsules. Both cherry powder and extract can be mixed into water, fruit or vegetable juices.
  • Extracts and tinctures.
  • Topical creams, which are applied to enhance skin elasticity and collagen production.

How can you use these supplements? Try mixing acerola cherry juice or powder into smoothies, oatmeal or yogurt. The taste pairs well with other berries and cherries, plus combining several fruits together provides you with even more nutrients.

Dosage

Regarding dosage recommendations, there isn’t a standard amount that’s been proven effective. A general dosing recommendation for adults is one level teaspoon, or 3.6 grams, of powder mixed with about 8 ounces of water or another beverage. This amount can be taken about three to five times per week to increase vitamin C intake.

It’s generally recommended that adults take a dose that provides more no than 2000 milligrams of vitamin C per day, as this is safe upper limit for most people. Since concentration of vitamin C depends on the specific product, read dosage directions carefully.

Risks and Side Effects

While acerola supplements should be tolerated well by most people, a few side effects are possible. In addition, acerola allergies may occur in people who are sensitive to berries, cherries or other similar tropical fruits.

Taking high doses can also cause accumulation of vitamin C in the body, which is linked with side effects such as: digestive issues like diarrhea and cramps, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, sweating and headaches.

Is acerola OK for pregnancy? Research focused on acerola cherry consumption during pregnancy is lacking, so at this time it’s recommended that you only eat the cherries in moderate amounts if pregnant, rather than supplementing with high doses of extract or powder forms.

If you take any medication that may interact negatively with vitamin C supplements, then avoid taking acerola without speaking with your doctor first. For example, potential drug interactions may occur in people taking Fluphenazine (Prolixin), Warfarin, estrogen-containing drugs, and medications to control kidney issues or blood-iron disorders.

Final Thoughts

  • Acerola cherry is a type of small fruit, similar to other cherries and berries, that grows on a tropical shrub of the Malpighiaceae plant family.
  • These bright-red fruits contain small seeds which are rich in vitamins C and A, as well as antioxidants like anthocyanins, fiber, B vitamins, calcium, and more.
  • Studies suggest that acerola benefits include reducing inflammation and free radical damage, protecting the heart and brain, supporting skin and eye health, and improving digestive and metabolic function.
  • You can consume raw acerola cherries or take this fruit in supplement form. Look for acerola dried powder, capsules, extract or juice in health food stores or online.
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