Acai berries are beginning crop up in spa treatments as a super anti-oxidant and the next 'fountain of youth'. Dr Perricone has been touting them for three or four years now and they just turned up in Borba's gummi bears. All reason enough to don the skeptic's hat and take a closer look.

Acai (pronounced ah-saah-ee) palms are grown in Brazil and initial reports claimed they have exceptional nutritional and antioxidant properties. However, there hasn't been much since then to back this up. In fact, the one thing you can say about the acai is that it is woefully under-researched. Only 12 medical studies have been published since 2004, compared to over 400 on grapes, over 50 on blueberries and 20 on wolfberries.

When acai turns up in cosmetics (it is often listed under the botanical name, euterpe oleracea), it is way down the ingredients list. It seems that acai is difficult to harvest because the berries have high fat content and become rancid easily. It is, therefore, an expensive ingredient to obtain and process. This may also be why there hasn't been research done on it, compared to inexpensive grapes and blueberries.

So, is there really anything to this latest superfruit? As far as I can tell, acai is definitely full of fatty acids. One thing to be aware of is that the nutritional values seem to change significantly according to whether the fruit is fresh, freeze-dried or extracted as a powder. The polyphenols (tanins and flavenoids) and ferulic acid can degrade to the point of disappearing in storage or if subjected to heat.

How acai stack up to other berries is controversial. Some reports say they have have 10 times the antioxidant capacity of grapes or blueberries. Another study says they lag woefully behind the pomegranate (the problem is the the research was commissioned by a pomegranate juice maker. More convincing is a University of Florida study on acai's impact on cancer. Four diffferent extracts of acai were shown to kill significant numbers of leukemia cells when applied for 24 hours. Depending on the extract and concentration, anywhere from about 35 percent to 86 percent of the cells died.