Juiced Up! Berry Elixirs Are the Latest Health Fad, But Do They Really Help?

(As Printed in the L.A. Downtown News)

by Dr. Rick Morris

Acai or gogi berry? Pomegranate or mangosteen? Do these juices contain the hidden answers to health, happiness and longevity?

In the last month or so, I’ve been actively pursued by friends and patients who want (make that, need) me to try their new and life-changing elixirs. It’s always a berry, juice or water that comes from an exotic place (the Amazon, Central America or the Himalayas). They come with lofty testimonials, such as hailing from a land where “the locals, who consume these fruits, often live more than100 years.”

The manufacturers of these tonics frequently share common claims. First, they profess theirs to be the best antioxidant found in nature, with just the proper blend of complementary elements (minerals, polysaccharides or a special water). Second, they report that research validates their assertions and usually have a doctor or two on staff to add credibility. Third, there are plenty of testimonials from those cured or significantly helped by their products (frequently including the distributor himself).

Most, if not all, sell through multi-level marketing with the manufacturers citing “structure and function improvements” (which is legal) such as increased energy, strengthened immunity, deeper sleep and heightened concentration. But the distributors (at least on their websites) strongly allude or downright tell you their juices can help treat most major diseases, including diabetes, cancer and lupus (which is not legal). The claims are often couched in terms such as, “I can’t say we treat any of these diseases, but…” These are regularly followed by a testimonial of someone purportedly cured by the drink.

Ellen Reiss, a registered dietician and former clinical nutrition manager for UCLA Medical Center, said the research behind their effectiveness is “scanty and inconclusive.” She added, “They’re making claims which are just unfounded.”

Reiss supports her case with articles from such reputable sources as the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She also cites the journal Clinical Cancer Research, which surmises, “Bottom line: Don’t count on acai or goji berry juice to boost your health, and research on pomegranate and blueberries are still preliminary.”

The Department of Health and Human Services has even ordered some of these distributors to stop making such health related claims.

Do These Juices Make Us Healthier?

While assertions of miracle cures are likely farfetched, discounting the benefits of these fruit juices may be premature and unfair. Dennis Steigerwald, a GoChi distributor, summed up the feelings of many distributors in his field. “I have been very happy with my clients’ reported sense of better health and I have not had one complaint in 14 months.” He also notes his company’s 90-day return policy, which he reports has rarely been used.

He also quotes a few published clinical trials that demonstrate an increase in well being in patients using GoChi juice as well as evidence of its antioxidant benefit in humans. But even FreeLife, the parent company of GoChi, noted the head researcher in its studies was affiliated with the company and that a few small clinical studies do not warrant broad health claims.

GoChi is typical of the products on the market these days. Many have had very few clinical trials. In general, the ones performed were short term and followed a small number of people — hardly sufficient to make extensive health proclamations.

While clinical studies on humans are lacking, much research has shown benefits from antioxidants in general. In fact, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA concluded there is “overwhelming evidence that berry fruit has a positive and profound impact on human health.”

A study at the Geffen center ranked the following juices in order of their antioxidant potential (highest to lowest): pomegranate juice; red wine; concord grape juice; black cherry juice; acai and cranberry juice; orange and apple juice; and iced tea. The study cautioned that since the testing is not done within the body, real life benefits are not exactly known.

What Are the Differences?

Not all berries are created equal.

Goji berry is bottled as GoChi and is found in the Himalayas, or at least Tibet. According to FreeLife, its parent company, GoChi’s benefits are derived from its antioxidant content and its four polysaccharides, yet After attempting to contact the company and reviewing its material, these polysaccharides had no greater proof than did the berry itself.

Pomegranate juice is packaged in several products. According to the UCLA study mentioned above, it has a very high antioxidant content.

Acai berry, sold under the brand name Mona Vie, comes from Central and South America. It seems to be a healthy fruit that is high in fiber, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. The company literature touts its high polyphenol content, which it contends has both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. In fact, many other antioxidants provide the same benefits. It’s interesting to note that cinnamon, cloves, tumeric and oregano contain at least as much polyphenols as does this fruit.

Mangosteen juice is sold under the name Xan-Go. The company that manufactures it calls the juice “The best, most accessible source of powerful xanthones on the planet.” I found little evidence of this, though it is still an effective antioxidant.

Via Viente is described as a “whole food puree of 11 fruits, two roots and chelated minerals.” According to Rebecca Rice, vice president of communications at Via Viente, the juice is “the only product that supplies both healing and energy properties.” Again, that type of claim is difficult to verify. The company reports its minerals, vitamins and enzymes give the juice healing powers, but so do all fruits, vegetables and minerals. The company also says its fruit juice increases the body’s alkalinity, preventing bone loss. This is true for most citrus juices — not just this blend.

Summing Things Up: Fruits and vegetables are essential, yet we don’t eat enough of them (the daily recommendation is at least five servings). They make us healthier and probably prevent many serious and life threatening diseases.

These juices are most likely good for us, but at prices of up to $40-$50 per bottle, they may not be the most cost-effective method of consuming our fruit and berries. Additionally, a mixture of many fruits is always better than eating just one. There are many ingredients and antioxidants specific to each variety. So eat a diet rich in varied fruits and vegetables, in any form you choose, and don’t be fooled by exaggerated claims and testimonials.

Dr. Rick Morris is a chiropractor who’s been the team doctor for the U.S. Olympic, UCLA, CSUN Teams and the LA Clippers. He specializes in Spinal Stenosis, Disc Herniations and Disabling Spinal Conditions.

 

THE MORRIS SPINAL STENOSIS & DISC CENTER

Rick H. Morris, D.C., C.C.S.P., Q.M.E., A.B.A.A.H.P.

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