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Wild Maqui Berry: A Superfood with Proven Health Benefits

Both fresh whole maqui berries and maqui powder made by grinding dried fruits of the South American Aristotelia chilensis plant frequently pop up on 'superfood' and 'superberry' lists. But do the health claims made about the maqui berry, also known as the Chilean wineberry, stand up to closer scrutiny? Let's take a look at some of the most interesting science-supported health benefits of the maqui berry.

Lab Studies Rank the Maqui Berry as a Top Source of Antioxidants

Many common wild berries that grow in the northern hemisphere, such as the black elderberry or the wild blueberry (bilberry), are famous in the US and UK for their exceptionally strong antioxidant properties. But it's not only the forests in North America and Europe that produce antioxidant-rich superfoods – in fact, in recent years researchers have discovered that South American forests are teeming with a host of superberries that have even more antioxidant power than the wild berries that grow in the US and UK.

One such antioxidant gem is the maqui berry which grows wild in the rainforests in Chile and Argentina (other South American superberries include the acai berry and certain wild blueberry cultivars native to Latin America). In 2006, Chilean scientists published a compelling study in the Latin American Archives of Nutrition comparing the antioxidant power of fruits and vegetables grown in Chile. Using the FRAP (ferric reducing activity power) method, the scientists discovered that no other food in this study had as much in vitro antioxidant power. Here's an overview of the antioxidant power of some of the tested fruits and berries (expressed in mmoles Fe/100g):

  • Maqui berry (Aristotelia chilensis): 12.3
  • Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus): 3.5
  • Strawberry (Fragaria ananassa): 3.1
  • White mulberry (Morus alba): 1.7
  • European Raspberry (Rubus idaeus): 1.6
  • Black grape (Vitis vinifera): 1.3
  • Kiwi fruit (Actinidia Chinensis: 0.5
  • Lemon (Citrus limon: 0.3
  • White grape (Vitis vinifera): 0.2

Furthermore, a study published in the March 2008 issue of the journal Food Chemistry found that maqui extract also has antioxidant properties in vivo.

Research shows that anthocyanins are the dominating antioxidant compounds, both in whole maqui berries and maqui juice. According to a study published in the journal Phytochemical Analysis, fresh maqui berries contain on average 138 milligrams of anthocyanins per 100 grams, and dried maqui berries contain even more: a whopping 212 milligrams per 100 grams.

Antioxidant compounds, such as the anthocyanins found in fresh maqui berries and maqui powder made from the dried berries, help protect your body from the toxic effects of free radicals, unstable atoms that are generated by things like cigarette smoke and pollution. Free radicals can cause DNA damage that can lead to age-related diseases and health problems.

Benefits of Wild Maqui Berries

Eating Maqui Berries (or Drinking Maqui Juice) May Promote Cardiovascular Health

Numerous animal and human studies have demonstrated that antioxidants have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health (this is also why the best cardioprotective foods are usually high in antioxidants). A study published in the March 2008 issue of the journal Food Chemistry specifically investigated the cardioprotective effects of maqui in rats and found that maqui extract protected the test animals from heart damage.

Could Maqui Berries Offer Benefits for Diabetics?

Maqui berries have also been shown to exert anti-diabetic effects. Scientists from Rutgers University and North Carolina State University discovered that a standardized anthocyanin-rich formulation made from maqui berry improved fasting blood glucose levels and glucose tolerance in hyperglycemic, obese mice that were fed a high fat diet. A treatment with maqui anthocyanins was also found to increase both insulin mediated and non-insulin mediated glucose uptake in insulin-sensitive muscle cells.

Anti-Viral Effects

A study published in the November/December 1993 edition of the journal Phytotherapy Research found that maqui extract had significant in vitro activity against HSV-2, the herpes simplex virus type 2 (but not against HSV-1 which causes cold sores). HSV-2 infection, also known as genital herpes, is a common STD that affects an estimated 16% of Americans aged 14 to 49 years. However, at this point it is not known whether maqui berries have anti-viral effects against HSV-2 in humans.

Where to Get Maqui Berries

If you live in the US or UK, you will likely have trouble finding fresh and frozen wild maqui berries in the stores. But don't worry, an increasing number of health food stores and online shops now carry maqui juice, dried whole maqui berries, and even maqui powder (a tiny spoonful of this highly concentrated powder can give your favorite smoothie a serious antioxidant kick). You can find a whole range of maqui products on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

1. Hector Araya L., Carolina Clavijo R. and Claudia Herrera (2006). Capacidad antioxidante de frutas y verduras cultivados en Chile. Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricion (Latin American Archives of Nutrition), 56(4), 361-365.
2. Carlos L. Cespedes, Mohammed El-Hafidi, Natalia Pavon, and Julio Alarcon (2008). Antioxidant and cardioprotective activities of phenolic extracts from fruits of Chilean blackberry Aristotelia chilensis (Elaeocarpaceae), Maqui. Food Chemistry, 107(2), 820-829.
2. Soledad Miranda-Rottmann et al (2002). Juice and Phenolic Fractions of the Berry Aristotelia chilensis Inhibit LDL Oxidation in Vitro and Protect Human Endothelial Cells against Oxidative Stress. J. Agric. Food Chem., 50(26), 7542-7547.
3. Maria Teresa Escribano-Bailon et al (2006). Anthocyanins in berries of Maqui [Aristotelia chilensis (Mol.) Stuntz]. Phytochemical Analysis, 17(1), 8-14.
4. Leonel E. Rojo et al (2012). In vitro and in vivo anti-diabetic effects of anthocyanins from Maqui Berry (Aristotelia chilensis). Food Chemistry, 131(2), 387-396.
5. P. Pacheco et al (1993). Antiviral activity of chilean medicinal plant extracts. Phytotherapy Research, 7(6), 415-418

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