Maqui BerriesMarch 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)|
|Maqui Berry||138 *|
|* 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!
Tags: Antioxidants, Berries, Heart Health
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Food and Drink, Nutritional Supplements