Acerola fruit (Malpighia emarginata DC. or Malpighia glabra L.), also known as Barbados cherry or West Indian cherry, is one of the world's richest natural sources of vitamin C. Remarkably, this small cherry-like fruit has 50 to 100 times the vitamin C content of oranges or lemons. Eating just three acerola fruits per day can satisfy an adult's daily requirement of vitamin C.
Acerola fruit is also rich in phytonutrients like carotenoids, phenolics, anthocyanins, and flavonoids, along with the essential nutrients pro-vitamin A, iron, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamins B1, B2, and B3. Hence, some have called this fruit that flourishes in warm, tropical climates an untapped “superfruit”.
Due to acerola’s high vitamin C content, the acerola fruit may help to promote immune health and antioxidant status. Vitamin C promotes both arms of the immune system (innate and adaptive responses), healthy microbial balance, and wound healing, and as a potent antioxidant, it can help mitigate the effects of oxidative stress. Research suggests that vitamin C may be more efficiently absorbed when synergistically combined with polyphenols, such as in the acerola fruit.
In a crossover experimental design, healthy male subjects (aged 22 to 26) received 100 mL of acerola juice (containing 50 mg ascorbic acid) or oral ascorbic acid (50, 100, 200, or 500 mg). The plasma ascorbic acid was higher after ingestion of acerola juice than that of supplemental ascorbic acid. Additionally, the urinary excretion of vitamin C was significantly less after ingesting acerola juice than supplemental ascorbic acid. The results suggest that healthy subjects drinking acerola juice exhibited favorable vitamin C absorption and retention. One of the large limitations of this study was that the number of participants was not provided.
The same researchers performed an in vitro study to examine this further. The study concluded that acerola polyphenols help support cellular uptake of ascorbic acid in the intestinal epithelial cells by promoting the sodium-dependent vitamin C transporter 1 gene expression in Caco-2 cells. However, extensive clinical studies are needed to explore this subject further.
While acerola is gaining recognition for its vitamin C nutrient density, much is still to be discovered regarding its clinical benefits. Long-term clinical studies are needed to explore further the potential benefits of acerola in promoting immune health and antioxidant status.
By Danielle Moyer Male, MS, CNS, LDN