New trials test acai berry extract as means of combating COVID-19

If the trials prove successful, it could lead to a new low-cost treatment to help strained healthcare systems.

Acai berries (photo credit: Courtesy)
Acai berries
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Canadian scientists are looking at a popular super fruit, the acai berry, as a means of fighting the ongoing coronavirus, CTV News reported Sunday.
Acai berries have been considered by many as a super fruit with numerous health benefits, including supposed anti-inflammatory properties, weight-loss solutions and anti-aging treatments. It's the anti-inflammatory properties, however, that are of most relevance, as studies have amassed a growing body of evidence showing that COVID-19 is able to trigger acute inflammatory responses that can result in serious consequences for the heart and lungs.
However, researchers at the University of Toronto believe acai berry extract might be able to help combat this inflammation. This was hypothesized after Dr. Ana Andreazza, an associate professor of pharmacology and psychiatry at the university, who has been studying acai berry extract's anti-inflammatory properties as a means of helping combat mental health disorder, found that the inflammation in COVID-19 patients seemed to be mediated by NLRP3.
NLRP3 is an inflammatory sensor, and is used to trigger the body's anti-stress and infection response. The inflammation it can trigger is also exactly what Andreazza says acai berry extract can help treat.
This discovery motivated her to partner with Dr. Michael Farkouh, who is the lead researcher in these trials.
The trials will see some 580 COVID-19 patients in isolation be given pills, some with acai extract and others being a control group with placebos. Every eight hours, patients will take one pill. This will add up to a daily dose of 520 mg. Researchers will asses their condition every 15 days.
"If we can prevent hospitalization of patients and deterioration of patients early in the course of COVID-19 infection, then it could have immense effect,” Farkouh told CTV News.
Another advantage is location. While half of all subjects involved in the test are based in Toronto, the other half is based in Brazil, which has the second highest number of infections in the world after the US. This is especially important, as while high-cost treatments aren't easy to obtain in Brazil, acai berries are. As such, a low-cost treatment that also happens to be native to Brazil could do a world of good for the country's strained healthcare system, Farkou told CTV News.
“You can also imagine that on the global front -- in low and middle income countries where they can't afford to take care of patients who are hospitalized, ventilated for up to three or four weeks,” he explained.
 “This is a preventative strategy that we think will have global impact.”
But on the other hand, this treatment has no strings attached, meaning there's no company, government agency or any financial incentive backing it. Rather, "it becomes a labor of love for those of us that are into public health and into prevention," Farkouh explained.
"In a sense, it's a Hail Mary," he added. "But because of the easy accessibility to the berries, to the extract, that it's safe and cheap, it's really worth a shot.”