Berry Elixirs Are the Latest Health Fad, But Do They
(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
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
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.