What’s the juice on natural exotic juices? A plethora of delicious new superjuices, packing lots of punch and nutrition power, may soon be making a splash in a market near you. The potential health benefits they offer would seem to make them a far superior choice to regular soft drinks, but are they all they’re cracked up to be? We’ve looked at a range of exotic juices, including a few of the up-and-coming juice stars on the horizon. Here’s the juice on six of the most health-boosting beverages you’re likely to find in your local health food store:



Mangosteen



From its name, you might think a mangosteen is a type of mango-but it seems that all the two have in common is that they’re both uncommonly delicious fruits. The quintessential exotic beverage, mangosteen juice has a purple-maroon color and a sweet, tangy taste often described as a blend of pear and strawberry. Widely grown in the Asian tropics, mangosteen (Latin name: Garcinia mangostana) is loaded with potential benefits for your health. It contains antioxidants known as xanthones, as well as polysaccharides, both of which have beneficial effects on the immune system.


There’s ample research regarding mangosteen’s health benefits. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2004 found that mangosteen, with its strong antioxidant properties and ability to kill cancer cells, has cancer-prevention potential. Another study, published in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin in 2003, found that mangosteen may also have beneficial effects as a tuberculosis-fighting agent; its active constituents were shown to exhibit a strong inhibitory effect against mycobacterium tuberculosis. A 2002 study, published in the Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, found that mangosteen has potent antihistamine actions that may be useful in treating allergic conditions, as well as anti-inflammatory effects. And a study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand in 1997 found that the polysaccharides in mangosteen stimulated immune cells to kill bacteria.


Supplements of mangosteen hull start at 500 milligrams per pill, although a recommended dosage has not been established (except by companies marketing the product). So far, no adverse side-effects have been found with the whole fruit, juice, or extracts. But regarding the benefits of drinking mangosteen juice, we need to add an important caveat: all the research we’ve seen has been done on the woody rind of the fruit, and popular mangosteen juices may or may not contain the active compounds found in the rind. Despite some manufacturers’ claims, there has not been enough research to say whether the juice contains the same medicinal compounds as the rind.



Acai



The Acai palm (Latin name: Euterpe oleracea), known as the “tree of life,” produces berries that have been used for millenia by the tribes of the Amazon. Now grown as a crop in Brazil, acai berries yield a delicious dark purple juice with a succulent flavor suggesting a mixture of blueberries and chocolate. Acai berries contain high concentrations of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that can help protect your tissues against free radical damage; according to some researchers, acai berries have a higher anthocyanin content than red wine. (Acai juice makes you want to forget all about those oft-repeated claims that drinking red wine is good for your health: why ingest a known toxin when you can get many of the same benefits-and probably much more-from drinking such a delicious beverage?) The berries also contain the beneficial antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. In addition, acai is unique because it contains plant sterols, omega 6 fatty acids, and omega 9 fatty acids, all of which have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels.


Acai berries may help prevent free radical damage-which means they could theoretically slow down the aging process, decrease risk of degenerative diseases such as arthritis and diabetes, boost immunity, and help prevent cancer. And in addition to their cholesterol-lowering effects, they also have cardiovascular benefits.


A study published in Vascular Pharmacology in 2006 describes acai berries as “rich in polyphenols,” a type of flavonoid with antioxidant properties. The study demonstrated that an extract of acai berries had vasodilatory effects (important in the regulation of blood pressure), and suggested using acai extract in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Another 2006 study, published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, found that acai berries offer a rich source of bioactive polyphenols that have anticancer benefits, specifically on leukemia cells. There’s no specific recommended dose for acai, but you can make it one of your daily fruit servings, or add a cup of the juice to your smoothies.



Goji



You may have heard a thing or two about goji berries lately; they seem to get more press than many other exotic fruits. The red-orange berries (Latin name: Lycium barbarum), which grow in Tibet and Mongolia, produce a juice that some describe as a bit bitter-though others find it to be on the sweet side. They contain potent antioxidants, and may decrease blood sugar in diabetics, decrease fats in the blood (also good for diabetics), improve immunity, and have anti-tumor effects.


An animal study published in International Immunopharmacology in 2004 found that a polysaccharide found in goji berries has anti-tumor and immune-boosting activity. Another 2004 study, published in Life Sciences, found that goji berries have beneficial hypoglycemic (blood sugar-lowering) and hypolipidemic (blood fat-lowering) effects. There’s no specific reliable objective data on how much goji to take to obtain the desired benefits, but if you are on anti-coagulant medication such as warfarin or coumadin, be cautious when taking goji as it may have anti-coagulant actions.


Many people first hear about goji berries through companies advertising them as the latest panacea, or proclaiming them as the Fountain of Youth. You may have been approached by people involved in multi-level marketing schemes promoting high-priced goji products; perhaps you’ve been asked to suspend your natural capacity for critical thinking and reach for your checkbook. There are many health claims made about gogi berries that simply can’t be substantiated, ranging from the slightly overblown to the outright ridiculous.



Pomegranate



The medicinal properties of pomegranates have been known for centuries, and the fruit has been revered in many of the world’s religions. Pomegranate juice, with its wonderful red color, is less sweet than many other juices, and has a sharp, tart quality. The word pomegranate, which derives from French, translates roughly as “seeded apple,” and pomegranate’s Latin name, Punica granatum, means “apple with many seeds.” It is in the pulp surrounding the fruit’s tiny seeds that we find compounds, including antioxidants and tannins, which have numerous health benefits.


According to research published in The American Journal of Cardiology in 2005, pomegranate juice can benefit the cardiovascular system by increasing blood flow to the heart. One researcher points out that the juice may help reverse heart disease by inhibiting plaque buildup in the arteries. And a 2001 study, published in the journal Atherosclerosis, shows that antioxidants in pomegranate juice can lower blood pressure through their action on angiotensin converting enzyme. (A number of pharmaceutical drugs decrease blood pressure by affecting this enzyme.)


Pomegranate juice is especially good for men, with its potential to alleviate erectile dysfunction due to clogged blood vessels. It also has promise for those with prostate cancer: research shows that pomegranate extract may prevent the cancer, or slow its development. In addition, research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2004 indicates that pomegranate-derived compounds may have anti-tumor activity in the prostate.



Noni



A fast-rising star in the panoply of nature’s exotic juices, Noni has recently garnered more than a modicum of media attention. The noni fruit, commonly known as Indian Mulberry (Latin name: Morinda citrifolia), grows in Tahiti and Hawaii and has long been used by the Polynesians for medicinal purposes. The color of noni juice, which varies somewhat, is usually a reddish-brown or mahogany hue. The flavor depends in part on when the fruit is harvested, but for many people noni juice is an acquired taste. In describing its flavor, euphemisms abound: it is often labeled as “distinctive” and “memorable,” perhaps “interesting,” or simply “excessively fruity” and “overly ripe.” More forthright descriptions typically range from “bitter” to “bad” to “downright awful.” (We mention this only to prep you for the worst, in hopes that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.) As a result, manufacturers may try to offset the taste with sugar or other sweeteners, so be sure that your noni juice does not contain ingredients you don’t want in your diet.


Noni contains immune-boosting polysaccharides, antioxidants, and anthraquinones which can act as powerful cathartics (diarrhea-inducing agents). In addition to enhancing immunity, noni may provide important anti-tumor activity. A University of Hawaii study, published in Phytotherapy Research in 2003, found that a polysaccharide in the juice of the noni plant called Noni-ppt can significantly extend the survival time of mice with lung cancer. It also found that Noni-ppt may have beneficial effects when combined with certain broad-spectrum chemotherapeutic drugs. A recommended dosage for noni has not yet been established, since no clinical trials have been done on humans.



Blueberry



Although blueberries may be less “exotic” than the other fruits we’ve looked at here, they deserve special mention in any discussion of healthy juices. There are many varieties of blueberry (all with the Latin genus name Vaccinium), resulting in slight differences in color and flavor from one batch of blueberry juice to the next. Typically, the juice has a purple wine-like color and a nurturing, mellow, “very berry” taste that makes it difficult to have only a single sip-its unique sweetness beckons you to keep indulging.


You may be familiar with blueberry juice, but you might not know that blueberries are chock full of antioxidants, can help support blood vessel walls, and can help protect the brain from oxidative stress-which is especially important for treating the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Blueberries contain the free radical-fighting anthocyanins and other special compounds, including pterostilbene, a cholesterol-lowering agent that also has anti-cancer properties. A study reported in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2005 found that the phenols in blueberries inhibited colon cancer cell proliferation and increased apoptosis (cancer cell death). And blueberries also contain tannins that can decrease inflammation in the gastrointestinal system, as well as a compound known as D-mannose which helps fight off urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria from adhering to the cell walls in the urethra and bladder. A recommended dosage for blueberries has not been formally established, but some researchers suggest that you eat at least a cup of this amazing fruit every day.




About the Authors:



Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is author of the critically acclaimed book Natural Choices for Women’s Health (Random House). She has appeared as a health expert on numerous international and local television programs including CNN, Fox and NBC News San Diego, and on many nationwide radio programs including Voice of America. Dr. Steelsmith is often quoted in international publications including Woman’s World, Self, and Better Nutrition. A licensed Naturopathic Physician and acupuncturist, she has had a busy practice in Honolulu since 1993. She can be reached at www.naturalchoicesforwomen.com.



Alex Steelsmith is co-author of the critically acclaimed book Natural Choices for Women’s Health; How the Secrets of Natural and Chinese Medicine Can Create a Lifetime of Wellness (published by Random House / Three Rivers). He has also authored or co-authored more than 150 articles that have appeared in Nature & Health, The Honolulu Advertiser, Healthy Living Today, Amaze Magazine, Hawaii Health Guide, and numerous other publications.