The acerola is a berry from a shrub called Malpighia emarginata that belongs to the malpighiaceae family. It is usually mistaken for a cherry due to their similar appearance. However, if we look closely, we will be able to see that they are actually very different.
What is the Acerola?
This fruit is also known as the Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry, wild crepe myrtle, or seriz. Its remote origins are in the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico), from where it spread in two different directions:
- On the one hand, to the north, in the warmest areas of the United States of America, like Florida or Texas.
- On the other hand, to the south, it colonized Central America, the northeast of South America. In fact, its cultivation is quite important in the Caribbean Antilles and the subtropical regions. But nowadays, Brazil and Puerto Rico are the biggest world farmers of this plant.
The botanical and cultivation characteristics of Malpighia emarginata
The acerola comes from a plant that could be described both as a small tree and a dense shrub. Its aspect causes confusion due to the fact that it looks like a cherry. Moreover, its name is very similar to the azerole (Crataegus azarolus), which belongs to Rosaceae family. However, this plant usually grows in the Mediterranean ecosystem. On the contrary, the acerola needs a tropical and subtropical climates, since it is extremely sensitive to low temperatures. This is due to the scarce depth of its root system, since its roots are quite superficial.
It is a very practical plant, because when it reaches full growth around 4-5 meters high, it projects a nice shadow.
We will now mention some morphological features about this plant. For example: its branched top, its dark green leaves that measure between 5 and 12 mm. Its flowers are integrated by a corolla with five petals of different colors which later become the fake cherry fruit.
The best place to plant it would be a place where it will get at least four hours of direct sunlight for its proper growth. It is advisable to leave a distance of at least 2 or 3 meters between other similar plants. Although it does not take a lot of space and its roots are not particularly invasive
When it comes to its edaphological needs, it is not quite demanding since it easily adapts to substrates with different physio-chemical features.
But it does require a good drainage, since it is quite susceptible to rot. This occasionally happens due to the accumulation of water in the roots.
If you want to plant it in a pot, use a universal substrate enriched with pearls. Make sure it has the optimal grading for the acerola roots and a high silica content. To finish with the substrate, it is quite advisable to add a of volcanic clay as a lower substrate. This will reduce the water consumption, since the layer between the substrate and the atmosphere reduces the evaporation.
Its watering needs are quite high though. This makes sense if we take into account that it is a species whose natural habitat are regions where it constantly rains. That is why we should avoid leaving the soil or substrate dry for a long period of time.
In practice, it should be watered around three or four times a week during the summer. It should be enough to water it every four or five days during the remaining seasons. But if you truly want to make sure, you will have to measure the degree of humidity of the ground.
To do this, we just have to pick a thin wood-stick and prod the soil. If we pull it out and it has barely picked any humidity, it means that we have to water the plant. Of course, you can do it in a more sophisticated way and use a digital machine. But the previous method can work too.
Throughout the growth season, from the beginning of spring to the end of the summer, the plant requires a careful treatment. Use organic fertilizers, either guano or worm humus, among others. If you are planning to plant it in a pot, you will have to use liquid fertilizer so that the drainage is not compromised.
It is a species that is sensitive to the cold. Even though it can resist temperatures of -2 ºC, it grows better if the temperature is at least 10 ºC. Because of this, if you plant in a continental climate with frequent frost, you should put it inside a room with enough sunlight and away from air currents.
How is the acerola cherry: aspect, limitations and consumption
The cherry-like fruit of the plant holds three tiny and hard seeds in its pulp. It is used to produce food supplements, as we will see later on. This berry has a lobe format and the size of a cherry, even though it is very similar to the shape of an apple. It is red on the outside, but yellow on the inside. Technically, we could say it is a juicy drupe that weights around 20 grams.
Its flavor goes from bittersweet to acid due to its ascorbic acid content (1 to 2 grams per 100). Its characteristic sweet scent holds a lot of properties for our health.
The acerola cherries stand out due to the fact that they are highly perishable. So much so, that once they are detached from the bush, they tend to deteriorate almost immediately. They will go to waste after a period of approximately four hours after their harvest. This deterioration alters their external aspect, which quickly loses its attractiveness.
It undergoes a quick fermentation due to its amount of sugars, so that after 3 days they stop being edible. Mold will appear and they end up losing their organoleptic properties for health. If we freeze them, they will lose their consistency when we defrost them. Therefore, they are more suitable for a technological processing to produce jams, syrups, and juices.
The consumption of the acerola has spread throughout all the five continents due to its double nutritional and medicinal properties. According to historical records, the Amazonian Indians were the first ones to use it. They blindly believed that this cherry like fruit could combat certain common disorders such as the fever, headaches or liver and kidneys disorders. Moreover, they used it as an antidote against snake bites and other venomous animals.
Apart from being consumed by people, some animals also eat the acerola berries. More specifically, some different primate species, which is obviously not a coincidence. We share the biological inability to synthesize vitamin C. So their organism wisely encourages them to consume great amounts of these cherries to prevent a deficiency. Apart from this, they get an additional effect, regulating the motility of the intestine, acting somehow as a purifier.
Even though the acerola is a fruit that is mostly related to natural medicine, we need to know its limitations. It is mainly used for pathologies and disorders that affect the bone and muscle system. In addition, it is capable of providing a lot of energy. This is why it is an element that supports a quick post-workout recovery.
The acerola is a true delicacy due to its delicious flavor with a characteristic acid touch. Another excellent way of consuming it is by making a juice, succulent sweets and even licorices.
What are the main chemical components of the acerola?
The star component of the acerola: vitamin C
The high vitamin C content from the acerola puts it in the top five fruits that have more vitamin C: the remaining are the Australian kakadu, goji berries, camu camu and rose hip.
As we can see, none of the western citrus fruits equals the richness of vitamin C of these emblematic fruits.
In fact, the natural acerola has between 600 and 4800mg per 100g of pulp, twenty times more than an orange. The acerola has a concentration of 2g/100g.
This abundance is even higher in the ripe fruit and lower when it is close to its harvest. As it happens with any other fruit, the atmospheric phenomena will deteriorate the vitamin C content.
But regarding the nutritional benefits for health of this fruit, it would not be the fair to limit its healthy properties to its ascorbic acid content. It provides a nutritious catalog of micronutrients that are equally important. For example, vitamins B6, B1, pantothenic acid or B5 and A, flavonoids. Moreover, it also has some indispensable minerals to keep the organism healthy like calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Vitamins A and BVitamin A is one of the main micronutrients that acerola provides, the same amount per grams than a bunch of carrots = 4000 to 12500 international units per 100 grams. Let’s not forget that these vitamins play a crucial role in the sight, the development and integrity of the mucosa, the production of red cells and the functioning of the immune system.
On the other hand, complex B vitamins provide a quick metabolization of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in order to obtain ATP or energy.
Fiber and other components
The dietary fiber supply of this berries contributes to the maintenance of the digestive system by stimulating the intestinal peristalsis. That is why it controls and regulates digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea or dysentery.
Its use for weight loss diets is always welcome, since it is extremely low in fats and energy.
Its interesting antioxidant complex
There is something that significantly characterizes the acerola in terms of its biochemical composition. It is rich in polyphenols, anthocyanins, quercetin, tannins, chlorogenic acid and other substances. This is a common feature among red and purple fruit. In fact, they create an extraordinary synergy with vitamins C and A with their antioxidant effects.
Therefore, taking acerola is a way of preventing infections and of slowing down cell aging. This is mainly due to its ability to neutralize the harmful free radicals produced by the oxidation in the cell membranes.
Acerola can be consumed as a nutritional supplement or in bakery recipes.
To back up this theory, we can mention a study published in 2005 by the “Journal of agricultural and nutritional chemistry”. It gathered some findings about how the flavonoids from the acerola are capable of neutralizing the free radicals.
The acerola berries have a high chlorogenic acid content. This compound is capable of regulating the insulin production, delaying the glucose release to the bloodstream. Consequently, it improves the control of the sugar levels and lowers the risk of suffering diabetes.
Some professionals are already recommending acerola for people with type II diabetes. This is due to its antioxidant protection on the blood vessels against the oxidation produced by a glucose excess.
We should also mention that polyphenols absorb some of the sugars from food. Therefore, they also help to decrease the postprandrial glycemia (the sugar levels after the meals).
The acerola berries also contain anthocyanins, which produce an anti-inflammatory properties that grant the acerolas the ability to partially treat migraines and headaches that could be compared with acetylsalicylic acid and ibuprofen.
Recent studies also reveal that we are dealing with a fruit with an extraordinary potential to prevent the onset of tumor cells. This benefit is intrinsically related to its antioxidant substances.
The same happens with degenerative diseases such as senile dementia or Alzheimer.
Its antioxidant content also protects the cardiovascular system against the free radicals, which cause oxidative stress.
The 10 most important Properties of the Acerola
Source of vitamin C
It is fruit with the highest vitamin C content (ascorbic acid). Although orange has always been known for its vitamin C content. To illustrate this point, oranges contain between 500 and 4000 parts of vitamin C per million. On the other hand, acerola has between 16000 and 172000. This means that acerola has around 2000mg/100g of vitamin C.
It is a powerful toner in cases of physical stress, fatigue or nervous exhaustion. Acerola is involved in the production of “anti-stress hormones”, such as melatonin (this hormone regulates the circadian cycle)
Rich in antioxidants
It is rich in carotenes, bioflavonoids and polyphenols. The antioxidant properties eliminate toxins and strengthen the body to protect it against new invaders. Moreover, it contains micronutrients such as magnesium, vitamin B1, B2, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.
It cleans the body and it is advised for those who are overcoming an addiction like smoking or alcohol. Moreover, it has the ability to stop or delay the destruction of the cell membranes.
It supports the formation of collagen in the bones, cartilages, teeth, skin, blood vessels and all the connective tissues.
It stimulates the liver thanks to its pectin content (a vegetable polysaccharide that is present in the juice of many ripe fruits) and its acidity.
Better iron absorption
Acerola has vitamin C, which is necessary to absorb iron. There are two types of iron: HEME iron (from animal origin) and NON-HEME iron (from vegetable origin, the one present in the egg yolk and dairy products). Vitamin C has the ability to reduce the iron and avoid the production of insoluble salts that inhibit its absorption.
It helps to keep the skin and hair hydrated. This is due to its high mucilage (a viscous substance from some plants which tends to have a protective function) and protein content.
- Acerola has the ability to hydrate the body while stimulating the integrity of the capillaries at the same time.
It strengthens the defenses of the scalp against germs and viruses by activating natural anti-bodies from the organism. Moreover, it is an useful preventive element against the flu or common colds.
It prevents anemia, rheuma, tuberculosis, liver disorders. In addition, it is capable of controlling the cholesterol levels.
But what is truly important is that it does not lose all the vitamin C. That is why acerola products are so interesting due to the vitamin C that remains.
The most relevant tasks of acerola
Mainly due to its richness in ascorbic acid, it is a good way of stimulating the collagen synthesis in the connective tissue. Collagen is a very important and necessary protein for the skin, bones, cartilages, teeth, and the blood vessels.
The acerola is a food that remineralizes the body during periods of growth (childhood and adolescence). Moreover, it provides support during physiological or pathological situations such as a pregnancy, lactation, bone fracture, osteoporosis…
Its toning effect is quite useful during stressful situations, fatigue and tiredness due to neurological causes (not just physical wear). This is due to the fact that it improves the synthesis of melatonin. This hormone is directly involved in the circadian rhythm.
Moreover, it produces detoxifying effects specially regarding addictive substances such as drugs, tobacco and alcohol.
In some way, this function relates to what we have already explained about its antioxidant effects. This is where its ability to hinder the progressive damage to the cell membranes comes from. This is why the acerola is a food that supports those who want to stop smoking.
At the same time, it also has an interesting diuretic property thanks to its pectin content. This substance is a polysaccharide from the acerola berry pulp, also found in the ripe fruit juice due to its high solubility.
It improves the iron absorption in the intestine
An advantage that is closely related to vitamin C. This task applies both for the so called heme iron from animal products (except for eggs, milk, and its derivatives), as well as for the no-heme iron from vegetables, eggs and dairy products.
Vitamin C content
The effects of vitamin C consist of chemically reducing the iron atoms that oxidize in the food. This prevents them from becoming insoluble salts that our body cannot absorb.
It is a hydration factor due to its high percentage of mucilage, which is a hydrophilic and viscous compound that protects the acerola. This effect is particularly noticeable in the aspect of the skin and hair, apart from an increased amount of hair follicles.
In fact, the topical administration of acerola powder is quite renowned due to its mucilage and vitamin C content. In this case, it is due to its ability to enhance the endogenous formation of collagen, an essential protein of the connective tissue that ensures the elasticity of the skin surface.
Moreover, the acerola contributes to the reconstitution of the epithelium after a loss of the substance that facilitates the wound healing process.
At the same time, the external application of acerola powder hinders the synthesis of melanin, which results in a healthier aspect of the skin.
It also has an immuno-stimulating role which apparently improves the efficacy of the organic defenses against microorganisms. To do so, our body activates the synthesis of specific anti-bodies against the antigens which carry said germs.
It helps to treat and prevent anemia, rheum and liver disorders, since it has the ability to balance the cholesterol levels in the blood. More specifically, it contributes to blocking the accumulation of fatty acids and transaminase enzymes in the liver.
The acerola also has other important benefits for health due to its high content in one of the main minerals: potassium. This is a key element to balance the blood pressure, for the integrity of the venous walls, and the functioning of the heart.
One of its main effects is it vasodilating effect, which increases the amount of blood flow. In this way, it indirectly prevents the deposit of atheroma plaques that trigger arteriosclerosis and for a healthy coagulation process.
It works as a catcher of heavy metal atoms (such as lead), which indirectly protects the organism against the atmospheric contamination and even the one that is transported through the water and foods.
It can be an effective supplement for a treatment against herpes, since it helps to relieve the typical symptoms of pain, mucus and skin inflammation.
Finally, we cannot forget a very outstanding and recurring property of the acerola: its effect on the respiratory tracts. This could be due to its antihistamine effect produced by its vitamin C content. Perhaps, it is the fact that it can strengthen the immune system. Or maybe, it could be due the anti-bacterial potential of its phenolic compounds. Either way, eating acerola is an interesting choice to keep these disorders at bay, except during the summer.
It is also a weight-loss factor
Apart from its quasi-therapeutic attributes, the acerola deserves a special place in weight-loss diets. Doctors tend to suggest taking this product because it barely has any calories (absence of fats). In addition, it has a great satiating effect, which is perfect to cook fitness recipes.
You should consume it just before the fruit is ripe, when it is still a little green, which is the moment when its healthy properties are most appreciated.
The other side of the coin: side effects and contraindications for health
Even though the acerola can be labeled as a quite safe food for our daily nutrition, we must always control the amount.
Side effects of taking Acerola
One of the possible side effects of an overconsumption of acerolas is a transitory diarrhea, which is due to one of its properties, more specifically its detoxifying benefits; this happens because vitamin C, who is responsible for this effect, mobilizes the intestinal peristalsis in order to promote the evacuation of any toxin within the organism.
Another highly unlikely side effect involves the onset of stains distributed throughout the skin, sharing trigger with the previous side effect.
If the symptoms of these two cases are severe, you should reduce the dose and take some time until these symptoms are mitigated.
It is all about getting used to the substances from this amount of acerola, until we can begin to increase the dose gradually.
Contraindications of the Acerola
When it comes to its consumption during pregnancy or lactation, there is no reason why it should not be consumed. However, the best thing to do would be to adjust the amount and lower the dose, mainly due to the strong personality of this food, and consult it with your doctor. The same approach should be taken with children.
Those who can experience complications when taking it are those who suffer any metabolic disorder, such as the gout or kidney stones, due to its vitamin C content.
In fact, it is a predisposing factor for the formation of kidney stones. Even though a study in the University of Washington revealed that two grams of ascorbic acid daily increased the oxalate salts in the urine, which can entail a significant risk for the formation of kidney stones in a 40% of the tested individuals. The truth is that we need more concluding data to determine the real connection between high doses of vitamin C and the onset of these stones.
It can cause stomach ache if it is excessively consumed, which is something that would happen with any other fresh fruit.
As a cautionary measure, those people who are allergic to latex could experience an allergic reaction to the consumption of acerolas, which is why they should be completely discarded from their diet.
Acerola supplements, an extraordinary source of vitamin C
When it comes to acerola supplements, they are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) as long as we follow the prospect and the indications of the manufacturer.
An acerola concentrate supplement also runs the risk of interacting with prescription medicines, which means that we should consult our doctor before using it. Particularly, contraceptive pills and other medicines made of estrogens and with anti-coagulant elements.
The daily consumption of an amount that exceeds two grams of acerola supplement can cause, although it is quite unlikely, nausea, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Some patients have reported these symptoms after taking one gram.
Dose and format
The experts highly advise taking acerola tablets. But when we measure the dose, we need to take into account that a 2265mg tablet has 1000mg of dry acerola extract with 17% of vitamin C. Therefore, neat amount of ascorbic acid is 170mg.
Starting with a tablet daily should be enough to meet a fourth part of our vitamin C requirements. Once we get used to this dose, we can increase it to two tablets (a 50% of the necessary amount of vitamin C). A few weeks later, you can even increase it to three.
Four grams daily are too much, but it is a dose that is commonly well tolerated. There are even cases of people who suffer from asthenia, tiredness, or chronic fatigue who need high amounts of vitamin C. In fact, they tend to take doses of 6 grams daily without experiencing any problems (even though some people report migraines, dizziness and fainting).
The specialists advise following a treatment for 4 or 5 months, using a 3-1-3 pattern. That is, taking it for three weeks and stopping for a week.
We should avoid taking it from three o’clock in the evening onward, otherwise it could affect our sleeping cycle. The best thing to do is taking it in the morning with breakfast.
There are ready to mix acerola extract powders with water or fruit or vegetable juices. They are safe and effective food supplements, since most of its compounds are water soluble and easy to excrete.
How can we combine acerola?
Certainly, the acerola allows different and quite interesting combinations with medicinal plants and other nutritional supplements.
If you need a quick stimulation of the immune system, an excellent combination would be the one with Ganoderma lucidum (reishi). It is an oriental macroscopic mushroom renowned for its beneficial properties for health. Its cap is of a brown-reddish color and its sporocarp stores all the therapeutic principles.
They can treat some degenerative diseases, such as muscle dystrophy and atrophy. Reishi has adenine and uracil, which are two nitrogenous bases that make up nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) that support the cell division process.
Echinacea and Griffonia simplicifolia
Its combination with the well-known Echinacea and Griffonia simplicifolia can help to combat stress, anxiety, and even a mild depression. Griffonia simplicifolia is a species of African origin whose seeds are particularly rich in hydroxytryptophan (L-5-HTP).
The importance of this substance lies on the fact that it is a precursor form of serotonin, which means that the synthesis of this essential neurotransmitter of the brain cannot take place without the other.
It becomes an effective tool to improve the quality of sleep when we combine it with the acerola. This is due to the fact that helps to deal with stress, depression, and anxiety, which do not allow us to enjoy a restful sleep.
Moreover, the L-5-HTP from Griffonia simplicifolia lacks the side effects of pharmacological antidepressants, as well as the risk of becoming addicted.
Combining it with Ashwagandha (also called Indian ginseng or winter cherry) can stop the evolution of Alzheimer’s disease.
Goji berries and royal jelly
Pregnant women can benefit from combining its special nutritional properties with goji berries and royal jelly. However, we need to take into account that we must be extremely careful when consuming certain medicinal plants at this stage.
If you want to get an energy boost, combining it with royal jelly is a perfect combination to combat chronic fatigue and tiredness, specially for athletes.
Consuming acerola tablets vs other sources of vitamin C
Apart from capsules, there are also creams that can be directly applied on the skin. This will improve its firmness and elasticity, and even treat external fungal infections.
The natural acerola also has vitamin C. However, we suggest going to a reliable store and purchasing high quality acerola tablets.
On the other hand, it is very rare to find fresh acerola berries in shops. If we do, we need to take into account that they lose part of its properties when exposed to the air, sun… Therefore, the most effective way of obtaining its vitamin C is by consuming nutritional supplements.
To sum up, the best way to take this food is tablets due to the following reasons:
- They have all the properties and benefits of the fruit.
- We can make sure that we are taking an adequate amount of vitamin C.
- It will be easier to avoid any of the side effects that we mentioned at the beginning.
We need to take into account that not all the products that are available have a good quality. That is why we need to make sure that the product comes from a reliable manufacturer.
Many of the vitamin C supplements which can be frequently found in stores are marked with 500mg of ascorbic acid. However, this tends to mark the weight of the tablet. In fact, its vitamin C content (which is usually synthetic and not natural) never exceeds 120mg, which is testament to the inefficacy of these products.
This is why it is advisable to analyze the composition of vitamin C nutritional supplements. We suggest checking if it comes from natural fruits and the concentration of their active ingredients.
In general, the results of multiple studies have proven that acerola supplementation is safe for the body.