Camu Camu Fruit Facts, Uses, and Potential Health Benefits
A Significant Plant
Camu camu or Myrciaria dubia is a South American shrub that bears cherry-like fruits. The fruits are famous for their high vitamin C content. They contain the highest level of the nutrient known in the plant kingdom so far, though they appear to be tied in this achievement with the kakada plum. They also contain a significant quantity of plant chemicals known as polyphenols, which may have valuable health benefits.
Recent research has shown that camu camu fruits fight obesity in mice and change the composition of their gut bacteria community in a beneficial way. These benefits might apply to humans. The researchers plan to investigate whether this is the case.
Myrciaria dubia is the scientific name of the plant. The plant's common name is pronounced with an emphasis on the first syllable in each word, as in CAMu CAMu.
Myrciaria dubia is endemic to the area surrounding the Amazon. It’s found in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia. It grows beside streams and lakes and in swamps. The plant belongs to the myrtle family, or the Myrtaceae.
The shrub is generally 1 to 3 m tall and is evergreen. Its leaves have a lanceolate shape (oval with a pointed tip). Its flowers are white and have a waxy surface. The berries are red to purple when ripe and have a pink pulp. They are about 3 cm in diameter and contain one to four kidney-shaped seeds.
Camu camu is said to have around 2.4 to 3.0 g (2400 to 3000 mg) of vitamin C per 100 g of fruit pulp. Some researchers put the value at slightly less and others slightly higher. It's hard to state definite numbers because the amount of vitamin C is variable and depends on many factors. Nevertheless, the value is amazing compared to the common fruits that North Americans eat for their vitamin C content. Kiwi fruits contain around 85 mg of the vitamin per 100 g of pulp and oranges around 53 mg per 100 g.
Camu camu fruits also contain polyphenols, which may be significant with respect to the results of the mouse experiment. "Polyphenols" is the name given to a large group of plant chemicals that are thought to have a wide variety of health benefits.
The vitamin C level of camu camu berries may be equal to and sometimes beaten by that of the kakada plum fruit of Australia (Terminalia ferdinandiana).
Uses of Myrciaria dubia Fruit
The camu camu fruit is often referred to as simply camu camu. The fruit is said to be rarely eaten when fresh because it’s so sour. I notice the children in the video below seem to be quite happy while eating the fresh berries. Perhaps they were used to the sourness and didn't mind it or perhaps a little acting for the camera was involved as they hid their true impressions.
The juice or pulp of the fruit is used as a flavouring agent in other fruit juices, liqueurs, ice cream, yogurt, and candy. The juice must be heavily diluted and sweetened before being ingested because of its sourness. Now that the high vitamin C level has been discovered, camu camu fruits are sold as a powder or less commonly as dried fruits to international markets.
Vitamin C is a delicate and water-soluble nutrient. The vitamin C level in produce and supplements made from them decreases during storage, processing, and heating. Despite these facts, camu camu powder generally contains a large amount of the vitamin.
Functions of Vitamin C in the Body
Unlike most other mammals, we can’t make vitamin C in our body and must obtain it in our diet. Higher primates, guinea pigs, and fruit bats (or flying foxes) share this inability to make the nutrient. The vitamin is also called ascorbic acid. It's been studied for a long time and has many functions. Some of these are listed below.
- Vitamin C is needed to make collagen, a common and important protein in our body. Collagen fibres provide the structural framework of connective tissue. The protein is found in the wall of blood vessels, in our skin, and in tendons, ligaments, bones, and cartilage.
- The vitamin is needed in the production of certain neurotransmitters. These chemicals play a vital role in the transmission of nerve impulses between neurons.
- The nutrient is also needed to make carnitine, which is involved in energy production.
- Vitamin C plays an important role in the functioning of the immune system.
- In addition, it helps non-heme iron to be absorbed through the lining of the intestine. This type of iron is found in plants. Heme iron from animals is absorbed without the aid of vitamin C.
- A free radical (or simply a radical) is an atom or group of atoms that contains one or more unpaired electrons. These electrons make the particle very reactive. Oxygen free radicals are produced in our body and can damage cell structures if they aren't neutralized once they're formed. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals. Vitamin C is a major antioxidant.
There is no doubt that we need enough vitamin C to carry out normal body activities. The evidence that a higher dose of the nutrient can treat certain diseases is conflicting, however.
Our Vitamin C Requirement
It's important that we get enough vitamin C for our own personal needs. This varies according to our age and to certain other factors in our life. Smokers need more of the vitamin than nonsmokers, for example, as do pregnant and nursing women. People with certain diseases may have an inadequate vitamin C level in their body and require supplementation in order to reach a normal one.
The NIH or National Institutes of Health says that the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for people in normal health is 90 mg of vitamin C a day for males and 75 mg a day for females. The numbers apply to people aged nineteen and older. A diet that contains lots of fruits and vegetables—especially raw ones—can generally supply us with a sufficient quantity of the nutrient. Camu camu could be a very helpful contributor to our vitamin C intake, especially when the diet is not ideal or when there are special conditions in our life that affect nutrient levels in our body.
The region where one neuron (or nerve cell) ends and another begins is called the synapse. A tiny gap exists between the two neurons. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit or inhibit the nerve impulse at the synapse.
Camu Camu Versus Vitamin Pills
It might seem logical that if a person needs more vitamin C than they're getting from their diet, they should buy vitamin tablets from a store to quickly increase the level of the nutrient in their body. Vitamin C tablets are sold by many stores and are inexpensive. An interesting experiment by Japanese scientists in 2008 demonstrated extra benefits of camu camu juice compared to vitamin C tablets in a group of male smokers, however. The results were published in the Journal of Cardiology and are referenced in the "Antioxidant and Associated Capacities of Camu Camu" report mentioned at the end of this article
The study involve twenty smokers. Some were given 1050 mg of vitamin C tablets a day. Others were given a daily dose of 100% camu camu juice that also contained 1050 mg of the vitamin. The men had all smoked for a long time. Baseline features, including number of cigarettes smoked, nicotine and tar intake, and blood pressure, were similar in all of the men.
After seven days, the researchers found that two chemical indicators of oxidative stress and three chemical indicators of inflammation had significantly decreased in the juice group but not in the tablet group. One month after the administration of the juice ended, the chemicals in the healthier group returned to their previous level.
The researchers suggested that camu camu was helpful either because it contains other beneficial substances besides vitamin C or because it contains substances that help the vitamin to work better.
The research described above could be significant. More studies involving a larger number of people and lasting for a longer time need to be performed to prove that camu camu has health benefits, however. Both smokers and nonsmokers need to be studied.
Excessive Intake of Vitamin C
Vitamin C seems to have low toxicity and is eliminated from the body in the urine and feces when too much is eaten. An excessive intake can cause nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, however. The symptoms stop when the intake of the vitamin is reduced.
There is some indication that ingesting too much vitamin C may be harmful in people with diabetes or kidney disease. Anyone with a chronic or severe illness should ask their doctor about the advisability of ingesting large amounts of the nutrient. Some researchers say that at very high doses the vitamin can act as a potentially dangerous pro-oxidant instead of an antioxidant, although not all research supports this idea.
Polyphenols in Camu Camu
Many types of polyphenols exist. The family is interesting because a large amount of research suggests that its members have health benefits. A benefit ascribed to one type may not apply to another one, however.
The polyphenols in camu camu berries include flavonoids, phenolic acid, tannins, stilbenes, lignins, and anthocyanins. Researchers say that the presence and quantity of these polyphenols depends on the area where the plant was grown and the extraction method. In addition, their level is higher in the skin and seeds than in the pulp.
The chemical composition of camu camu is unique in that it contains 20 to 30 times more vitamin C than kiwis and 5 times more polyphenols than blackberries.— EurekAlert news service, via Université Laval
Potential Benefits of Polyphenols
Since there are so many polyphenols in camu camu, it's taking time to find the benefits (if any) of each one. A benefit of at least some of the polyphenols in relation to body weight has been suspected before the latest experiment in mice. A 2013 experiment by Brazilian researchers investigated the effect of the fruit on rat obesity. Like the information about the smokers, the results of this experiment are referenced in the "Antioxidant and Associated Capacities of Camu Camu" report mentioned at the end of this article
Obesity was induced in the rats, which were then divided into two groups. One group was given 25 ml of camu camu pulp every day. After twelve weeks, tissue from the rats was examined.
Compared to the rats that hadn't received camu camu, the treated rats had a lower weight of white fat in their body as well as a lower level of blood glucose, insulin, triglycerides (fats), LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol. On the other hand, their HDL cholesterol (the good kind) increased. The level of chemicals that indicate inflammation and the level of their liver enzymes didn't change, however.
Rats and mice are popular lab animals because they are mammals, like humans. While discoveries in the rodents don't always apply to us, they often do.
Camu Camu and Obesity in Overfed Mice
A 2018 report from Université Laval in Quebec described the effects of camu camu on mice. Two groups of mice were fed a diet high in fat and sugar for eight weeks. One group was given a daily camu camu extract. Both groups gained weight during the eight weeks of the experiment, but the group fed the extract gained fifty percent less weight than the other group.
The researchers also discovered that the mice fed camu camu developed improved glucose tolerance and sensitivity to insulin. In addition, they had reduced metabolic inflammation. These improvements would be significant if they occur in humans. A condition called metabolic syndrome tends to occur in obese people. The condition often involves increased blood sugar (or blood glucose), decreased sensitivity to insulin, and a low-grade inflammation in chemically-active tissues.
Another interesting discovery was a change in the gut bacteria of the mice given the extract. Like humans, mice have a community of microbes living in their intestine, or gut. The community is often referred to as the intestinal microbiome. Many of the bacteria appear to be helpful. One bacterium that increased in abundance and proportion in the mice fed camu camu was Akkermansia muciniphila. On the other hand, Lactobacillus bacteria decreased in abundance. Evidence from other experiments suggests that A. muciniphila helps to reduce inflammation, obesity, and the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers transplanted a sample of the thinner animals' intestinal microbiome into the intestine of mice who contained no bacteria. As a result, the formerly germ-free animals temporarily exhibited similar metabolic benefits to the thinner mice.
Possible Health Benefits and Precautions
Camu camu sounds like it could be very useful, but scientists are not ready to say that it has medical benefits in humans yet. Researchers are becoming increasingly interested in the fruit, though.
It's not only important for scientists to discover whether the fruit has health benefits. They also need to discover the best way and time to grow, harvest, prepare, store, and transport the fruit in order to maximize nutrient content. Additives to the product are also important to consider. Certain sweeteners may not be good additions to camu camu intended for the heath food market.
One advantage related to testing camu camu's effects in humans is that people have ingested the fruit in one form or another for a long time and no evidence of toxicity has been discovered. That being said, people shouldn’t eat an excessive amount of the fresh or processed fruit. Scientists still haven't identified all of the fruit's contents or discovered all of its effects in humans. In addition, in some people there is a concern about ingesting too much vitamin C. Still, it's an intriguing fruit that certainly seems to be worth investigating.
- Vitamin C facts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Information about polyphenols from Medical News Today
- Antioxidant and Associated Capacities of Camu Camu from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, National Institutes of Health (a PDF document)
- Amazon fruit prevents obesity in overfed mice from the EurekAlert news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- The scientific report regarding camu camu's effect on obesity in mice from the British Medical Journal
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Linda Crampton