Maqui Berries

March 28, 2011 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Assume for a moment that you are looking for a new supplement to try at your local health food store. Now let’s say you happened upon a product that presented the following statements on its label or in the accompanying supplemental literature: “Age Defying Beautiful Skin”; “Nature’s Ultimate Antioxidant”; “Naturally Pure”; “Scientifically Proven”; “Supports Healthy Cholesterol Levels” and “Supports a Healthy Immune System”. What would your impression of this product be? If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, my hope is that your first instinct would be to do some research to try to verify these seductive claims.

Maqui (Aristotelia chilensis) berries are a relatively new entry into the so-called “superfruit” category of health foods and supplements. An unspoken prerequisite of almost all of these types of products is that they must have a compelling and/or exotic story to help spread their popularity. In the case of Maqui (pronounced: Mah kee), the allure stems from the fact that they’re indigenous to remote regions of southern Chile and western Argentina and have been used historically by the little-known, Mapuche Indians. The black, purplish berries and leaves of Maqui have been employed by native populations to manage  a wide variety of health concerns including fever, hemorrhoids, kidney pain, sore throat and ulcers. (1)

You may have noticed that quoted claims in the opening paragraph, which were taken directly from product descriptions found on the Internet, don’t quite mesh with the traditional usage of this fruit. This incongruity lead me to delve into the medical literature to see exactly what science has discovered about “Nature’s Ultimate Antioxidant”.

  • The current edition of the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry reports that Maqui extracts are capable of inhibiting enzymes (a-Amylase and a-Glucosidase) which are “involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates”. In practical terms, this means that Maqui may have a role to play in conditions ranging from diabetes to obesity because it could theoretically moderate blood sugar levels and calorie absorption. (2)
  • The May 2010 issue of the same journal documents potent antioxidant activity in Maqui fruits and identifies two primary classes of phytochemicals as responsible for this affect: anthocyanins and polyphenols. A review and separate scientific inquiries into the composition of Maqui support this assertion and go on to point out that the berries are also a rich source of several essential minerals. (3,4,5,6)
  • The health benefits ascribed to this traditional food and medicine may also have to do with a newly uncovered compound known as 3-Hydroxyindole. Little is known about it. However, one group of researchers recently described this substance as potentially “useful for the development of future nutraceutical and antioxidant protective agents.” This finding indicates that there may be untold chemicals yet to be detected within the richly pigmented fruits of Aristotelia chilensis. (7)
Food Anthocyanin Content (mg/100 g)
Bilberry 300–698
Blackberry 82.5–325.9
Blueberry 61.8–299.6
Bog Whortleberry 154
Chokeberry 410–1480
Cranberry 67–140
Crowberry 360
Elderberry 664–1816
Goji Berry 49.4
Gooseberry 2.0–43.3
Maqui Berry 138 *
Raspberry 20–687
Rowanberry 14
Sakatoon Berry 234
Strawberry 19–55
* Added to the original table. Source: Phytochem Anal. 2006 Jan-Feb;17(1):8-14

Source: Int J Mol Sci. 2010; 11(4): 1679–1703. (link)

The news just keeps getting better when you consider a 2002 publication which reveals that the juice and phenolic fractions of Maqui are capable of inhibiting LDL cholesterol oxidation and protecting endothelial cells from oxidative stress as well. The authors of that research concluded that Maqui juice “is a rich source of phenolics with high antioxidant capacity and suggest that it may have antiatherogenic properties”. (8)

What’s even more encouraging is that similar yet more recognizable berries such as bilberries and blueberries have been documented as promoting comparable health benefits in recent trials involving both animals and human subjects. One example harkens back to the first study I mentioned about Maqui inhibiting carbohydrate digestion. Black, blue and purple berries have a solid track record for benefiting carbohydrate metabolism and improving insulin sensitivity. (9,10,11)

After reading all of this, are you ready to go out and buy a bottle of Maqui capsules or juice concentrate yet? I’m not. Every stitch of Maqui evidence presented here today has been derived from preliminary examinations using in vitro or test tube models. No controlled trials in animals or humans have yet been conducted and/or published using Maqui berries or extracts. What’s more, I don’t know of any such study on the horizon. This tells me that manufacturers selling Maqui products are extrapolating health benefits in the broadest possible way. Just because a food or supplement tests well in a laboratory environment doesn’t necessarily mean that it will perform in the same manner in the human body. Modern research also tells us that similar looking and tasting berries are unique in terms of their affects and bioavailability when administered to living organisms. Assuming that all berries that look alike function alike is too distant a leap for me to reasonably take. In my opinion, Maqui is one food/supplement that isn’t yet ready for prime time. (12,13,14,15,16)

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


Tags: , ,
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Food and Drink, Nutritional Supplements

8 Comments & Updates to “Maqui Berries”

  1. Kris Says:

    Great post, when looking at studies for some of these superfoods or supplements it turns out that they really don’t prove anything, often done in vitro or with some other study flaws.

  2. Jacqui MacNeill Says:

    Not another “superfruit”! There are so many it’s hard to keep track of. More people are turning to natural health and wellness products nowadays, but it is hard to know which ones actually do what they claim. Thanks for providing this info on maqui berries.

  3. Mark Says:

    Another insightful article. I’m sure those trying to sell the product wish you’d not be so truthful. I appreciate the your straight forward approach.

    It’s the exotic nature of these berries that pull people in. As the chart shows there are more readily available berries with the same properties.

    Great job!

  4. JP Says:

    Thank you, Kris, Jacqui and Mark.

    I’m doing my best to help keep this industry on the up-and-up. The more this goal becomes a reality, the better off we’ll all be, IMO.

    Be well!


  5. Pradip Gharpure Says:

    Very interesting and useful post. It has been published at a time when the berries would be easily available in market in India. thanks for publication.

  6. JP Says:

    Thank you, Pradip. I’m happy to know it. 🙂

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Update 05/13/15:

    Nutr J. 2015 Mar 19;14(1):27. doi: 10.1186/s12937-015-0008-1.

    The intake of maqui (Aristotelia chilensis) berry extract normalizes H2O2 and IL-6 concentrations in exhaled breath condensate from healthy smokers – an explorative study.

    BACKGROUND: Respiratory diseases are associated with pulmonary oxidative stress and inflammatory processes. Though studies in animal models suggest that dietary polyphenols improve lung injury, no intervention studies were carried out in humans. The aim of this study was to determine whether the intake of an anthocyanin-rich maqui extract improved H2O2 and IL-6 concentrations in exhaled breath condensates (EBCs) from asymptomatic smokers.

    FINDINGS: 15 asymptomatic smokers with mild cigarette smoking (3 pack-year [2.4 – 7.7]) (mean [CI95%]) were recruited in this exploratory longitudinal study. They ingested 2 g of maqui extract (polyphenol content = 5.18 ± 2.00 g GAE/100 g; FRAP value = 27.1 ± 2.0 mmol Fe(++)/100 g), twice daily for two weeks. EBCs were collected before and after treatment and the changes in H2O2 and IL-6 concentrations were determined by fluorimetry and Elisa, respectively. The EBC contents of H2O2 and IL-6 H2O2 before and after treatment in smokers were also compared with those determined in single EBC samples from 8 healthy non-smokers subjects. At baseline, the H2O2 concentrations were higher and those of IL-6 lower in the smokers than in the non-smokers. Maqui extract significantly decreased H2O2 (p < 0.0002) and increased IL-6 (p < 0.004) in the EBC from smokers. The EBC concentrations of H2O2 and IL-6 after maqui administration did not differ between smokers and non-smokers. CONCLUSIONS: Maqui extract normalizes IL-6 and H2O2 concentrations in EBC from humans with mild smoking habits. If confirmed, these results suggest that dietary polyphenols might be considered as an interesting alternative for the dietary management of respiratory disorders. Be well! JP

  8. JP Says:

    Updated 11/13/16: (full text available for download)

    Panminerva Med. 2016 Sep;58(3 Suppl 1):1-6.

    Delphinol® standardized maqui berry extract significantly lowers blood glucose and improves blood lipid profile in prediabetic individuals in three-month clinical trial.

    BACKGROUND: Previous research has suggested that supplementation with delphinidin-rich maqui berry extract Delphinol® significantly alters postprandial carbohydrate metabolism and acutely lowers both insulin and glucose at fasting conditions. Additionally, the maqui berry extract affects absorption of glucose, which was attributed by other groups to SGLT1-inhibition.

    METHODS: Because this activity profile suggests promising potential for improving glucose metabolism in prediabetes, we investigated in a three months trial the effects of Delphinol® in 31 subjects, presenting just diagnose, moderate glucose intolerance, measuring HbA1c, glucose tolerance and lipid profile in monthly intervals.

    RESULTS: Average levels of glycosylated hemoglobin decreased from initial 5.65±0.09% (SE) to 5.50±0.08% (SE) (P=0.084) after one month, 5.39±0.08% (SE) (P=0.010) after two months and 5.35±0.08% (SE) (P=0.003) after three months of daily supplementation with 180 mg Delphinol® in the morning. Fasting insulin and glucose were non-significantly lowered. Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) performed in monthly intervals did not result in significant alterations compared to baseline characteristics. Blood lipid measurements showed significant reduction of LDL after three months (P=0.001), VLDL already decrease after one month (P=0.019). VLDL values subsequently raise again showing no statistical difference with the starting condition. HDL increased significantly over baseline during the entire treatment period. Total cholesterol and triglycerides did not present with significant changes.

    CONCLUSIONS: Our findings point to considerable health potentials benefits of Delphinol, particularly related to the improvement of glucose metabolism. Delphinol® was well tolerated and no adverse effects occurred.

    Be well!


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