What Is Camu Camu Powder? Vitamin C and 15 Other Benefits
[toc]Did you know that today, just about all vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is made in China?
The worst part is that a given supplement can legally say “made in the USA” even if it contains Chinese-made vitamin C. That’s because the supplement only has to be assembled in the US to get that designation. It doesn’t matter where the ingredients come from and the manufacturer is not required to tell you. (1)
Since vitamin C is destroyed during pasteurization, it means the content in orange juice, apple juice, and so forth is added after. It’s synthetically created and almost guaranteed to be coming from China.
A better alternative? Get this essential vitamin from potent natural sources.
What is camu camu?
A red and green fruit the size of a cherry, camu camu is found growing in the riverbeds along the Amazon. With only one gram of sugar per 100g, the flavor is tart. That’s why historically, the natives used it as fish bait rather than food. With 2-3% vitamin C by weight, today it’s considered a superfood.
For perspective, peeled raw Florida oranges have a 0.04% concentration. (2)
Camu camu has up to 75x more vitamin C than fresh oranges.
However these little berries are not sweet like oranges. Nor are they sour like lemons.
What camu camu tastes like is raw cranberries but with an earthier spice-like vibe. The fresh fruit is only mildly bitter when compared to the powdered concentrate, whose flavor is too tart for most taste buds. At least on its own. Diluting with water or mixing in a smoothie works best.
As a wickless candle, Scentsy camu camu fragrance claims to be yummy and fruity, like peach lemonade. In reality, camu camu powder smells like not much at all. Some say it has the spirit of turpentine, which is derived from pine and other trees to give antiseptic products their “clean scent.” That smells good, if you can detect it.
Camu vs. acerola cherry vs. amla?
These are three of the highest natural sources of vitamin C on the planet. All of them taste tart so if you have a sweet tooth, there really isn’t a flavor advantage of choosing camu camu vs. acerola cherry or vice versa.
When it comes to vitamin C content, the winner is fresh camu camu fruit at up to 3%. Acerola, also known as the West Indian or Barbados cherry, contains 1.7%. Amla fruit, which is called the Indian gooseberry, comes in at 1%. (3) (4) (5)
Since none of these are native to North America and they cannot be grown in cold climates, like the United Kingdom and most other parts of Europe, getting the fresh form for any of these is difficult. You’re most likely to encounter the dehydrated form, as bulk powder or in capsules.
Some organic whole food multivitamins use acerola powder for their vitamin C content. On a standalone basis, amla fruit benefits are diverse, however its drawback is loose stools or diarrhea. Camu camu powder is good for providing nature’s most potent source of vitamin C without digestive side effects. The nutritional content holds up well after drying, so long as it’s kept air tight and away from light during storage.
Benefits being studied
What are the health benefits of camu camu?
Since it doesn’t particularly taste good and grows in the remote Amazonian region, researching it for nutrition and potential medical uses is a new phenomenon. No one really bothered until its high vitamin C content was realized. Even with that, since it’s not a large commercial crop like avocados or chocolate, there is little incentive for anyone to bankroll research.
As a result, there are very few studies related to health. If you search in the PubMed database for the fruit’s scientific name, Myrciaria dubia, you get fewer than 30 matches out of nearly 30,000,000 entries. We really don’t know what camu camu is good for yet. Most potential uses remain unproven. With that understood, the following uses and potential advantages have been proposed so far.
1. Highest natural source of vitamin C
How much vitamin C in a teaspoon of camu camu?
The amount varies by brand and it can be anywhere from 216 to 1,062 mg. Assuming a RDI of 90 mg, that means each teaspoon has 410% to 1,180% of the daily value for ascorbic acid. While source and processing plays a role, part of the discrepancy has to do with a level teaspoon (3g) versus a heaping teaspoon (5g).
To be clear, a standard serving of one teaspoon will provide only a trivial amount of your daily value. But in terms of the concentration and how it compares to other fruits and vegetables, it’s a very rich source of this mineral.
There is 867 mg of potassium in 100 g (3.5 oz) of the powder, which is nearly 60% as much as you will find in the same weight of dehydrated banana powder (1,491 mg). (4) (6)
3. Source of vitamin B3
The same holds true for its nutritional value of niacin (vitamin B3). In one teaspoon there isn’t much, however if you look at the amount in 100 g of the berry powder, it’s almost 800% of the DV for adult women and men.
If you were to eat 8 teaspoons per day, you would probably get 100% of the RDI for this vitamin.
4. Dietary fiber
Again, one teaspoon of powder won’t provide much, though 100 g contains 33.3 g of fiber. That’s over 100% of the RDI, which is 30 g for adult men and less for women.
33.3 out of 100 grams means it’s 33% fiber by weight.
Of course you’re not going to eat that much at a given time, though it’s nice to know that it’s a source.
5. High quercetin content
Quercetin is an interesting flavonoid. Not only is it an antioxidant, but it has been researched for potential advantages related to asthma, allergies, and even anti-aging by mimicking the effects of a calorie restricted diet. (7) (8) (9)
For every 100 grams of the fresh pulp, there is 400 mg of quercetin. That’s a 0.4% concentration. The raw powder would be even higher since the water weight has been removed. (10)
6. Potent antioxidant activity
ORAC is an in vitro (laboratory) measurement of antioxidant activity. The higher the value, the better.
Here’s how its ORAC value compares to several other foods, when comparing equal weights of each:
camu camu powder = 52,000
curry spice = 48,504
ginkgo biloba = 35,850
maqui berry powder = 27,600
raw elderberries = 14,697
wild blueberries = 9,621
maca powder = 6,100
While its rich ascorbic acid partly explains that, it’s certainly not the only phytonutrient responsible. The quercetin, along with various carotenoids and anthocyanins, contributes to the antioxidant content.
In the one human clinical trial published, smoking men were given either 1,050 mg of vitamin C tablets to take daily or camu camu juice which contained the same amount of C.
After 7 days of this, oxidative stress markers were measured from their blood and there was no change in the vitamin C tablet group but those getting the fruit juice had a significant improvement. (11)
Carrageenan is something you probably know as being a bad chemical added to dairy-free beverages, like some brands of almond milk.
What you may not know is that scientists have been using carrageenan for many years in experiments to cause inflammation on animals (so yeah, it’s bad to drink).
In an experiment with mice, carrageenan-induced inflammation on their paws was tested with and without oral consumption of camu camu seed extract.
Markers of paw edema (swelling) were much lower for the mice who drank camu camu extract instead of saline water. It is believed that the betulinic acid in the seeds is what helped. (13)
Even though no one sells the seeds as a food, raw camu camu powder will contain some, since it’s made by grinding up the entire fruit.
Although this potential benefit has not been studied in humans, a paper written by three medical doctors proposed it should be. They suggested that it might help with the inflammatory side effects caused by some diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and others. (14)
8. Combats DNA damage
When something is genotoxic, it damages the genetic information within you cells, which leads to cell mutations. Most are harmless, but cancer ultimately starts from a mutation.
In an experiment using the living blood cells of mice, camu camu juice was found to have an antigenotoxic effect – meaning it helped protect them from damage. That was, at least in part, due to its high content of vitamin C and other antioxidants. (12)
9. Weight loss
Does camu camu help with weight loss?
No human clinical trials have taken place, though given the results seen in obese rats, the evidence suggests it might be a real benefit of eating it regularly.
In the experiment with obese rats, one group was given a 25 mL dosage of camu camu liquid per day, while the other went untreated. After 12 weeks of this, their bodies were dissected, weighed, and analyzed. (10)
“Quantitative analysis of weight-weight of the organs of obese rats treated with camu-camu juice showed a reduced body weight in the CCG group [treated group] while in the CG group [control group] there was no reduction in this variable. There was a reduction in visceral tissue and epididymal tissue in the CCG [treated group], while in the CG [control group] the weights of these tissues are enlarged compared to the experimental group.”
Visceral, also known as adipose fat, is perhaps the most dangerous type because it’s behind your abdominal wall and encases your vital organs. In terms of appearance, it also makes your stomach protrude out AKA “belly fat” that you can’t grab.
10. Lower LDL cholesterol
That’s the bad type that you want lower.
Again, no one knows if this happens when humans consume it, but in the aforementioned rat study, the bad LDL cholesterol went down while the good HDL cholesterol went up.
For the total cholesterol, the decrease was 39.6%.
11. Lower blood sugar
In that same study there was also a profound change in blood glucose levels of the obese rats.
After 12 weeks, their blood sugar was 23% lower, compared to the control group which actually increased 19.4% while on the same high calorie and high fat diet.
The final values were 250.5 in the control group and 170.3 for those receiving the berry.
12. Liver protection
In a different rat study, the animals were divided into a control and 12 other groups. Each were fed different fruit juices for 7 days straight. These were not fresh juices, as the liquid was made from reconstituted powders.
After the 7 day treatments, liver injury was inflicted on the rats using the injection of a known liver toxin.
Based on biomarkers of liver damage, here’s how much each juice helped:
As you see, acerola vs camu camu juice powder was not a close match, as the latter was the clear winner. Its low bar is closer to the normal non-poisoned livers (bar on far left) versus all the other types.
Based on other research, they don’t believe the high levels of vitamin C are responsible. Other antioxidants and/or unknown substances that boost vitamin C bioavailability/kinetics are strongly suspected.
Of course this is different than liver damage caused by hepatitis B or C (viruses) and alcohol, though the protective benefits might apply to them too, as theorized by the scientists of this study. (15)
13. Healthier sperm
Maca benefits of men, specifically libido and fertility, have long been part of the Peruvian culture and in more recent history, incorporated into Eastern practices such as Traditional Chinese Medicine for the same uses.
Scientists in Peru wanted to see what would happen if they combined black maca root and camu camu fruit. They tested both on a stand-alone basis as well as together on male rats. Then parameters of sperm health were measured.
When used separately, black maca boosted:
mitosis of germ cells (IX-XI) which is the growth and division of cells to grow sperm
stages of spermiation (VII-VIII) which is the final phase of sperm maturity.
daily sperm production count
total sperm count
With camu by itself, the improvement was in:
meiosis (XII) which is the first cell division to create sperm
stages of mitosis (IX-XI)
daily sperm production count
total sperm count
When they were combined the best results were seen, as spermiation, mitosis and meiosis were all improved. (16)
Of course this does not mean camu camu and infertility in humans will improve, though it’s fascinating preliminary evidence of it apparently working in this animal study.
14. Brain and neuron function
Does camu camu help with depression? How about dementia?
Mental health and diseases of the brain have not been studied in animals or humans, which means the people making such claims are not doing so based on scientific data. That said, there is very preliminary research to suggest it may help with dopamine levels and those do play a part in some cases of depression. This was discovered when using it for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease models in roundworms.
The roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans) is obviously far different than a human or a rodent. Their “brain” is just a small network of neurons. However that small size means they’re easier to measure and their short life-spans makes them useful for research, since you can monitor them from birth to death without spending a lot of time.
Funded by the Brazilian government, this cohort of scientists inflicted brain damage and paralysis on the worms using carefully applied heat shock treatments. Afterward, they compared what happened with and without eating extracts of the fruit.
When the low molecular weight fractions of camu camu powder were 1% of their diet, there was “a significant downregulation in the expression of daf-16 transcription factor” and “expression of the mitochondrial superoxide dismutase sod-3 gene was upregulated 3-fold relative to control.”
Translated to plain English, certain compounds in the fruit correlated with less neurodegeneration and more internal antioxidant production.
The above charts at from their Alzheimer’s disease model. The heavier “high weight” fractions of the fruit appeared to offer no advantage, as those bars are comparable to the control group. The low weight fractions show changes, both of which are in the right direction.
In the experiment for Parkinson’s, dopaminergic neurons were damaged using a certain chemical to cause paralysis.
Dopaminergic means “related to dopamine.” Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter which plays a role in Parkinson’s disease and possibly some psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar, aggression, and depression.
After having these neurons damaged, only 39.9% of the worms were paralyzed after 48 hours when treated with that same fruit extract, compared to 55.5% for the control group. (17)
Fascinating but do keep in mind these were worms, not humans!
15. Skin care
There are no published studies, not even lab research, on the benefits of camu camu for skin. Despite that, it’s an ingredient which is becoming increasingly popular in topical anti-aging treatments for wrinkles and blemishes. There is the Peter Thomas Roth camu camu sleeping mask and brightening serum which get rave reviews, as well as the brand Nivea, who makes use of it in their “extra whitening” body lotion.
Without clinical human studies, no one can claim this berry is helping, however there is research on using topical vitamin C in dermatology for the treatment of hyperpigmentation – e.g. “brightening” or “whitening” the skin and acne scars. (20)
So in theory at least, the Peter Thomas Camu Camu Power Cx30 moisturizer/serum might work, because it does list this fruit extract as number two on the ingredients label.
In 2017, researchers out of Tokyo published an interesting find on compounds in the plant which demonstrated significant antimicrobial activity in lab tests. The compounds were:
Acylphloroglucinol (in peel)
rhodomyrtone (in peel)
acylphloroglucinols (in seeds)
These all had similar effects on bacterial growth.
“The minimum inhibitory concentrations were either similar to or lower than that of kanamycin. These results suggest that the peel and seeds of camu-camu fruit could be utilized for therapeutic applications.”
Kanamycin is prescription antibiotic that’s used to treat severe infections and tuberculosis. The reason you may not have heard of it is because it’s not a first-line treatment, due to its potency and side effects.
To be clear, those researchers were not saying it should be used instead of kanamycin, but rather that it appears to have potential that warrants further research to explore the possibility of medical uses. (18)
Peruvian scientists published a lab study showing it inhibited growth of Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sanguinis bacteria at dosages which were non-toxic to host cells. (19)
Side effects of camu camu
Both the fresh fruit and powdered form are generally well-tolerated without any adverse reactions. If camu camu is consumed in high amounts, the side effects will be comparable to that of high vitamin C intake. Those can include:
Abdominal cramps or GI distress
Diarrhea or loose stools
Low blood sugar
Kidney disease with long term overdosing
Potential drug interactions with cancer medications, NSAIDs, warfarin, protease inhibitors, birth control, tetracycline, and antacids
Unknown safety during pregnancy
Before using any herbal supplement, you should always consult your doctor. With the exception of possible drug interactions, the other side effects will be unlikely with dosages of camu camu. Those have only been reported for high usage of ascorbic acid (2,000 mg or more daily) and are not specific to this fruit. (21)
Camu camu is believed to be safe during pregnancy when used in normal amounts, though without clinical data looking at this, no one can say with certainty. There is not research to suggest it’s bad for you if pregnant or breastfeeding.
It is theoretically possible to have a camu camu allergy, though no case studies exist in medical literature of people experiencing allergic reactions to the fresh berries or the powder. In the one human trial published involving males who smoked, no adverse reactions were reported with usage of it as a dietary supplement.
Where to buy
Since this remains a niche superfood, you’re not going to find it for sale at the typical grocery store. Walmart has camu camu capsules and powder on their website, though when we tested various zip codes to find it in-store, we were unable to locate it anywhere. Places like Whole Foods and Vitamin Shoppe are where you can buy it, though it might not be at every location. CVS and Walgreens are unlikely to carry it.
Given its off-the-charts ascorbic acid content that is NOT made in China, as well as the other uses which are unproven but show promise, chances are you will hear a lot more about this superfood in the coming years.
Though be wary of exaggerated and fabricated claims being made.
There is a lot of misleading info out there about purported antiviral benefits. Some bloggers claim you can use camu camu for herpes, colds, the flu, shingles, and other viral infections. It should not be used to treat those or any other type of infection, as there is literally zero published research – not even lab studies – on evaluating camu camu for antiviral properties.
Likewise when it comes to using the fruit or its oil for hair growth, gum disease, thyroid, urinary tract infections (UTI), depression, and cancer. Those purported uses have no research.
In short, it’s a food. Not a treatment for any disease.
How to use
Since it doesn’t taste great on its own, most people mix it with something else, such as this simple recipe from Sunfood…
How to use camu camu powder:
Dilute in cold water
Make an herbal iced tea
Add to protein shake
Blend with juice
Stir into yogurt
Mix with oatmeal
Dust onto cookies and cake
Sprinkle on sliced fruit
Add to skin serum and lotion
Use as a face mask
The uses are versatile and the flavor is enjoyable, so long as it’s diluted or offset with sweet ingredients.
Because vitamin C degrades with heat and light, you will want to add the powder just prior to eating. If mixing into a hot dish like oatmeal, wait until it has cooled to a lukewarm temperature.
How much camu camu to take daily is 1 teaspoon but using a dosage of 2-5 per day should not pose a danger. Depending on the brand, that amount should keep you within the Tolerable Upper Intake Level for vitamin C, which is 2,000 mg daily for men and women who are 19 and older. Using that much every day for long term though is not recommended, because too much vitamin C over months and years may increase risk of kidney stones, especially in men.
You can’t buy fresh camu fruit in the US, the UK, or pretty much anywhere else outside of South America. That means products containing it will be your only option.
What is the best camu camu powder?
There are around a dozen brands currently selling it:
Amazon Therapeutic Labs
Earth Circle Organics
Navitas Organics (formally Navitas Naturals)
Whole World Botanicals
Most sell the powder while some offer capsules.
No one sells camu camu liposomal vitamin C but that should not concern you. Liposomal technology alleges better absorption for synthetic ascorbic acid, though it is unproven and in the case of whole food sources like this, they would be expected to have good bioavailability as-is.
Camu camu essential oil is not sold by anyone either. Any oils you see are for fragrance use only and are not pure. They’re inedible and aren’t the same thing as essential volatile extracts.
For travel and on-the-go, pills would be better for convenience. Their drawback is that a capsule can only hold 500 mg of powder, which is only a fraction of a teaspoon; 1/6 of a level tsp (3g) and 1/10th of a rounded one (5g). That means capsules are convenient yet expensive, if you want to consume the equivalent of a teaspoon per day, which is the typical recommended dosage listed on powders.
As far as the best brands, go with organic from a name you trust. We received a bag from Sunfood and appreciate the quality. Based on its color and smell, we could tell it was not oxidized or rancid, which suggests they have good quality control measures in place. You can find them on Amazon.
While we haven’t purchased this particular food from them, Navitas is another reputable supplier but their bag is quite small.
Speaking of size, bulk camu camu powder is not something you will see for sale, nor would you want it. Before you even got halfway through a 3 or 5 lb container, the remainder would be oxidized and no longer good for you in terms of antioxidant content.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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