The Internet is saturated with weight-loss ads for acai (pronounced "ah-sigh-ee"), a Brazilian berry that is turned into pills and juices. Sellers promise these supplements will melt fat and detoxify your body, in some cases implying that the products are endorsed by celebrities like Rachael Ray or Oprah Winfrey. Usually, they promise a free trial. There are so many of these products on the market that we're not covering all of them; rather, we're discussing acai berry as an ingredient in what's now hundreds of products.
You can find plenty of reviews for acai berry products, often linked to what appears to be somebody's personal weight-loss blog. However, experts say these purported reviews for acai berry weight-loss products are usually bougs. Furthermore, nutrition and health advocates say the supplements are ineffective, and many people complain of having been bilked by the "free" trials -- sometimes for hundreds of dollars.
Reliable research has shown that the berry does contain antioxidants. However, so do lots of ordinary fruits and experts say there is no proof that acai berries can improve health in any way or contribute to weight loss. Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray have both added disclaimers to their websites saying they don't endorse any specific acai berry products, even though they have both had guests on their TV programs discussing the health benefits of acai berries.
Thousands of people who have purchased acai berry weight-loss products have complained about Internet sellers to the Better Business Bureau. Most of them either have had trouble canceling their "free" trial (complaints include calling the toll-free number repeatedly and being automatically disconnected every time, finding the number out of order or being placed on hold for up to 75 minutes) or have been charged despite canceling their orders. Some consumers say they had to cancel credit cards and close bank accounts before the charges stopped, according to the BBB.
If you go looking for online reviews of acai berry products or acai sellers, be wary. Experts say many reviews, blog comments and entire blogs are staged by the companies themselves. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) credits a watchdog blog, WafflesAtNoon.com, for discovering that several weight-loss blogs -- supposedly belonging to ordinary women who lost weight with acai -- show the same fake before-and-after photos. At least 75 blogs show the same easily obtainable stock photo of a German model named Julia who has nothing to do with acai or any of the companies, CSPI says.
If you decide to try acai berry supplements or juices, buy them in a retail store so you're not sucked into a scam. Although there's no scientific evidence that acai berry products will help you lose weight, you might like the taste of the juices just as you would other fruit juices.
Government and nonprofit agencies -- including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Better Business Bureau and Connecticut attorney general's office -- have investigated allegations of acai-related online sales fraud. Both ABC News and The New York Times have reported on sellers' questionable claims. The blog WafflesAtNoon.com maintains a list of what the blogger says are fraudulent acai berry websites. DietsInReview.com says acai berry can have some positive health benefits, but is critical of the many impostor products out there. Both Oprah.com and RachaelRay.com deny any affiliation with specific acai products, although some doctors on Oprah.com recommend acai berry supplements in general, and Ray's site includes several recipes made with a specific brand of acai liqueur.
1. Center for Science in the Public Interest
This fraud alert by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest debunks acai berry's health claims, as well as the questionable Internet marketing practices used to sell it. Many online reviews of acai are fake, reporter David Schardt says.
Review: Web Self-Defense: How to Protect Yourself Against Internet Scams, David Schardt, April 2009
2. Good Morning America
This written report and accompanying video clip from ABC's "Good Morning America" outline the full-fledged scam that some researchers say is being perpetrated by some acai supplement companies. The reporter quotes experts from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Better Business Bureau, and she interviews a woman says she who lost nearly $200 in a "free" trial of acai.
Review: Warnings on Acai Berry Online Offers Amplify, Susan Donaldson James, March 23, 2009
3. The New York Times
This report concentrates on acai's health claims. Although acai berries do contain antioxidants, there is no reliable research to prove that they help with wrinkles, weight loss or detoxification. Reporter Abby Ellin also discusses consumer complaints about online sales of acai berry products.
Review: Skin Deep -- Pressing Acai for Answers, Abby Ellin, March 11, 2009
4. Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau warns consumers to "be wary" of acai berry ads on the Internet. This report discusses the many consumer complaints lodged against two acai companies: FX Supplements.com (which sells Acai Berry Maxx) and Central Coast Nutraceuticals.
Review: Weight-loss Berry Claiming Oprah Endorsement Makes Wallets Slim and Consumers Angry Warns BBB, Editors of Better Business Bureau, Jan. 5, 2009
The Center for Science in the Public Interest credits this blog -- which CSPI says is "written by an ad-industry insider" -- for first uncovering the fake weight-loss blogs used to tout acai. The blogger lists more than 120 acai review and blog sites that he or she believes to be phony, along with a brief synopsis of each site and a list of the various acai and detoxification products that are advertised. It looks like the list of fake sites is updated roughly every year.
Review: Acai-Cleanse Scams -- Update, Jan. 14, 2010
6. Connecticut Attorney General's Office
Internet-based acai supplement sellers have improperly charged customers up to $89 during their free trials, according to this press release from the Connecticut attorney general's office. The press release also calls acai's health claims "deceptive."
Review: Attorney General Announces Acai Berry Investigation Involving Improper Credit Card Charges, Weight Loss Claims, Richard Blumenthal, March 23, 2009
Acai is the No. 1 food on this list attributed to celebrity dermatologist Nicholas Perricone. He recommends unsweetened acai pulp to "combat aging" and promote a healthy heart, muscles and digestion. However, both Perricone and Oprah Winfrey have said they do not endorse any specific acai products.
Review: Dr. Perricone's No. 1 Superfood: Acai, Editors of Oprah.com, July 15, 2010
Celebrity doctor David Katz says acai contains antioxidants, but it's unclear whether drinking acai berry juice can help prevent heart disease and cancer. He adds that less expensive, less exotic fruits probably deliver the same amount of antioxidants.
Review: The Truth About Drinking Acai Berry Juice, Dr. David Katz, Feb. 2008
Yet another celebrity doctor on Oprah.com, Mehmet Oz, includes acai as one of the antioxidant-rich foods on his anti-aging checklist. Oz says acai has "twice the antioxidant content as a blueberry."
Review: Dr. Oz's Anti-Aging Checklist, Dr. Mehmet Oz, March 14, 2008
A RachaelRay.com spokeswoman -- identified here only by her blog name -- says chef and TV host Rachel Ray does not endorse any acai berry products, and any use of Ray's name or photo to sell acai products is unauthorized. The post is followed by more than 170 comments, many from people who bought an acai product because they thought Ray endorsed it.
Review: Rachael Ray Does Not Endorse Acai Berry Products, "Last minute lady", Jan. 29, 2009
DietsInReview.com takes a balanced look at various diet plans, including acai berry. They cite "The Oprah Winfrey Show" guest Nicholas Perricone's list of super foods, which includes Acai berries, and say that the berry does contain antioxidants. They note, however, that there are many impostors and that the product is expensive. Hundreds of comments by contributors are a mixed bag, but many say acai berry diet products did nothing for them.
Review: Acai: an Organic Super Food from Brazil Packing a Healthy Dose of Nutrients., Editors of DietsInReview.com