Exotic fruits, exaggerated claims

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

June 2012

Exotic fruits and exaggerated claims seem to go hand in hand. Açai, noni, goji and mangosteen wend their way through the internet offering a myriad of health claims. Pomegranate has been resurrected as an antioxidant superfruit and coconut water is competing with rehydrating drinks among athletes.

All plant foods have a multitude of nutritional benefits and some are more richly endowed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than others. In a world that has replaced scores of plant foods with a monotonous menu of tomatoes, lettuce and french fries, this surge of interest in apparently healthy plant foods might have some benefit.

Unfortunately, marketing hype far outpaces reality. A good rule of thumb for the consumer is the longer the list of health claims, the more skeptical we should be. That is especially true when advertisers claim that the product will cure cancer, reverse diabetes, eliminate arthritis and increase lifespan. These claims might have been substantiated in rats and in cell cultures but the evidence that such far-reaching benefits apply to humans is entirely lacking.

There are three major considerations. First, does the new fruit or juice have extraordinary benefits for human health? Second, is the cost, which often reaches $50 or $60 per month for a single product, really justified? Third, are there harmful side effects from long-term or even brief exposure to the product?

A search through the thousands of scientific journals entries that are posted in the National Institutes of Health Library of Medicine yields almost no information on human studies of the superfruits noted above. Notable for its absence is rigorous, double-blinded research by independent investigators. Several studies have been funded, conducted and evaluated by manufacturers of the product in question.

Some of these exotic fruits have been associated with severe allergies, metabolic imbalance, liver damage and interference with prescription drugs. One product caused severe muscle damage but it was found to contain none of the labeled fruit; the illness was caused by some other ingredient.

Variety is essential for the human diet. No matter how packed with antioxidants a given juice might be, it ought to be only one of a score of plant-based foods in anyone's diet.

The list of truly beneficial fruits and berries is a long one. Before you try the latest superfruit, be sure of the source, use it sparingly and ask yourself if the cost is justified.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.