Is an Acai Berry Cleanse right for you? – Cleveland Clinic
When you hear acai berries, the first thing you may think of is a bowl of bright purple smoothie.
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Due to its reputation as a superfood, this vibrant berry has become a popular staple for healthy breakfasts and lunches. You may also have heard of something called the acai berry cleanse, which involves taking acai supplements as a weight loss tactic. Despite the hype surrounding acai berries, this particular cleanse is best skipped.
Registered Dietitian Alexis Supan, RD, breaks down what you need to know about this cleanse.
How does an acai berry cleanse work?
Contrary to what the name of the cure might imply, an acai berry cure does not actually involve while eating acai berries. It actually involves taking store-bought supplements for a period of time, depending on the brand.
For example, some brands are tablets that you take for two weeks or even daily. Another type comes in the form of a detox drink, which you drink for a few days.
“If someone is talking about an acai berry cleanse, they’re referring to taking the supplements a few times a day for a few weeks,” says Supan.
Like many other cleansers, the acai berry cleanser claims to rid your body of toxins during the time you do it. Fans of this cleanse claim it can help with things like bloating, weight loss, and bowel movement regulation. But there is no scientific research to support these claims.
Acai berry cleanse concerns and disadvantages
Another concern is that these supplements are unregulated, so you can’t be sure what you’re taking is entirely safe or helpful for your health.
“They’re pretty much barely regulated,” says Supan. “And of all these supplements I’ve seen, the acai berry is just one of many ingredients.”
Here are some concerns you should know about an acai cleanse.
Although the acai berry has a good reputation for its nutritional value, the supplements in question do not contain many berries. But what they do contain could be cause for concern. Most of these supplements contain large amounts of laxatives, a drug used for short-term constipation relief. “The acai cleanse contains a stimulant laxative, which is not the same as a Benefiber® or some of the other more common stool softeners,” says Supan.
“A stimulant laxative only dehydrates you. And it’s very risky to take it for even a week. You can really mess with your electrolytes.
Dangerous while breastfeeding
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, doing an acai cleanse is downright dangerous. A common ingredient that these acai berry supplements contain is cascara sagrada – an herbal laxative. Studies have shown that it can cause serious harm when it enters breast milk.
“This specific laxative can be very dangerous for nursing mothers,” warns Supan. “Not necessarily because of the effect on the mom, but the effect on the child. So you definitely want to avoid those things if you’re breastfeeding.
In general, you shouldn’t do any kind of cleansing while pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have nausea or constipation, be sure to talk to your health care provider or gynecologist to find a healthy solution.
May mask other health conditions
You may have seen before-and-after photos of users of this cleanser claiming it reduces bloating. And while this supplement may temporarily relieve a bloated stomach, Supan points out that this may not be a good thing.
“It’s like putting a bandage on a wound without addressing what’s causing it.”
Any chronic bloating you are experiencing could actually be due to some food intolerance. In other words, you might be sensitive to something like gluten or dairy. Supan recommends working with your healthcare provider or nutritionist to determine which foods trigger symptoms.
May disrupt your gut microbiota
You’re probably doing your instincts a favor with a cleanse like this.
“In recent years, the more we study the gut microbiome, the more we know that gut health is important to your overall health,” says Supan. “So by taking that kind of supplement to mask that bloating, you’re kind of delaying what could be a serious problem.”
Supan explains that a healthy gut microbiome requires a delicate balance of good bacteria. You keep these bacteria in tune by eating a healthy diet that doesn’t feel disrupted. “Chances are that if you take a supplement with ingredients that you don’t know enough about, it could start to bother those good bacteria,” she continues. “And then you cause more problems than you initially had without it.”
Does acai berry cleanser help with weight loss?
Short answer: Not really.
Long answer? This may cause you to think you lose weight, but in reality it will not be sustainable. Supan explains that because these supplements contain different types of laxatives, they act as a stool softener and make you go to the bathroom more often. This can lead to rapid weight loss, which can harm your health. Supan adds that you can regain that weight right away.
“In reality, you are taking a laxative which dehydrates you. So you weigh less for the few weeks you do it,” notes Supan. “But the reason is that you’re taking a laxative, which isn’t necessarily the safest thing.”
Supan emphasizes that losing weight has to be a slow process to be sustainable and healthy.
Healthy ways to lose weight
The hard truth is that there are no shortcuts to weight loss. It largely depends on many factors such as your metabolism and your medical history. But Supan says small steps can make a big difference.
“I encourage everyone to find two simple changes you could make to improve your diet. Start from there and build on it. It will be slower weight loss, but it will be more sustainable.
There are many healthier alternatives for weight loss, including:
- Switch to healthy snacks. Opt for baby carrots at snack time rather than a high-sugar granola or candy bar. Sometimes it’s not the drastic steps that make the difference, but rather the small incremental steps.
- Try a more Mediterranean diet. If you want a simple plan to include healthier foods in your meals, this diet comes highly recommended by doctors. It includes a good balance of lean proteins, whole grains, and vegetables that keep your weight balanced and other parts of your body healthy.
- Keep a light exercise routine. Although exercise is only one piece of the weight loss puzzle, staying active can be beneficial for several reasons. Aim for around 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week (so you’re looking at around 30 minutes per day for five days). A brisk walk or bike ride with a friend each day can do the trick.
Benefits of acai berries
Acai berries are healthy fruits; however, more research is needed to truly understand whether claims of specific health benefits – whether anti-aging, improving sleep or relieving arthritis – are supported by the science.
“These are great fruits to include in your diet,” says Supan. “They look a lot like all the other berries. Nutritionally, they’re probably the closest to blackberries, and they’re a bit lower in sugar — they’re only a few grams.
But it’s better to stick to a smoothie bowl, rather than taking an over-the-counter supplement.
If it’s antioxidants you’re looking for, there are plenty of other fruits and berries to add to your rotation, like:
- Goji berries.
The bottom line? Forget acai cleansing
It’s easy to get excited when you see a new trend in your social media feed. But Supan says the acai cleanse isn’t generally recommended as a healthy detox you should try. Due to the risk of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and possible harm to nursing mothers, this cleanse involves supplements you’ll want to avoid. If you have symptoms of constipation or want to find healthy weight loss options, be sure to talk to your health care provider or nutritionist.