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Acai Berry Side Effects: Longevity & Better Health

Posted Oct 26 2010 8:45am

Today’s guest post was written by Matt Papa, PhD. Having worked in biology labs for more than a decade, Matt devotes much of his time reading and researching the scientific literature pertaining to diets and natural weight loss programs. He blogs about research findings in obesity-treatment and gives away a Medifast discount coupon and a Nutrisystem coupon , two leading portion-controlled meal replacement diet plans.

The purple fruit is considered a superfood and is widely consumed as a dietary supplement because of the many therapeutic properties it is believed to possess. Marketed mostly as an effective supplement to induce weight loss, scientific studies are now recognizing other significant health benefits of the acai berry .

Berries, including the acai berry, receive their vibrant red, blue, and purple colors from a phytonutrient known as anthocyanin. In clinical trials, biochemical analyses, and animal and cell-based studies, anthocyanins have been shown to possess several important biomedical functions.

In addition to anti-inflammatory and anti-cardiovascular properties, anthocyanins have been demonstrated to decrease cancer cell growth by more than 50%. They also have significant potential as an anti-aging supplement, as they can reduce the oxidative stress associated with aging, improve neuronal and cognitive brain function, and repair and protect DNAall of which are associated with aging, especially the accumulation of DNA damage or mutation.

The free radical theory addresses the issues of DNA mutation accumulation and oxidative stress mentioned above. This theory postulates that free radicals cause oxidative damage, which results in aging. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules responsible for cell damage, including oxidative harm to macromolecules like DNA. As an organism ages, this oxidative stress accumulates in the cell. Based on this theory, treatments that reduce oxidative damage should be effective aging interventions. This has been supported through animal experiments that have shown reducing oxidative damage increases lifespan.

A study recently published in the January 2010 issue of Experimental Gerontology examined acai berry’s potential as an aging intervention. This groundbreaking animal study looked at the anti-aging effect of acai in Drosophila melanogaster, otherwise known as the fruit fly. Acai’s anti-aging effect was evaluated under two different conditions.

Condition 1. Flies fed a high fat diet.
Condition 2. Flies pre-conditioned to experience extreme oxidative stress.

Conjecturing that acai’s beneficial phytonutrients and its robust anti-oxidant activity would reverse the harmful effects of a diet high in fat, researchers manipulated the diet of fruit flies. All flies in the experiment were placed on a diet high in saturated fat; compared to a standard diet, one high in saturated fat is known to shorten lifespan by 19%. The flies were divided into two groups, one of which had their high fat diet supplemented at 2% with acai pulp.

Compared to the flies who did not receive the acai supplement, those in the supplementation group saw a 22% increase in lifespan. In effect, supplementing with acai restored lifespan to a normal length, counteracting the damaging impact of a high fat diet. The researchers’ search for the mechanism responsible for this positive effect on longevity found that the acai diet resulted in increased activity of anti-aging genes.

In addition to a shortened lifespan, high fat diets are associated with a heightened risk for a variety of health problems. One common result of a chronic high fat diet is the development of insulin resistance, which eventually leads to type 2 diabetes. Dr. Sun, the study’s primary investigator, is hopeful “that acai pulp may be effective in prevention and control of type 2 diabetes,” as the findings seem to suggest. Acai pulp has demonstrated promise as a medicinal food that can inhibit a high fat diet’s detrimental health effects.

The researchers also proposed that the survival of flies in oxidative stress would be improved by the administration of acai pulp. They tested this by using a model of oxidative stress commonly used in the biological study of aging. The model relies on fruit flies which, as a result of genetic modification, contain a dysfunctional Superoxide Dismutase enzyme (SOD). This enzyme is essential to the flies’ ability to reduce the cellular damage done by free radicals as well as to repair cells that do sustain damage. The genetically modified (SOD-mutated) flies live under constant oxidative stress because they do not have the ability to repair oxidative damage.

The SOD-mutated flies were placed in two groups. One group received 2% acai pulp for the duration of their adult life, while the control group received no supplementation. Comparison of the groups showed that flies who had received the acai supplement lived approximately 18% longer than those in the control group, suggesting that acai alleviates oxidative stress and thereby improves survival.

According to the researchers, the anti-aging properties demonstrated by acai may be due to its high level of polyphenolics, which give it the ability to function as a hunter of free radicals. Another polyphenolic compound shown to have similar anti-aging benefits is resveratrol. Supplementation with resveratrol increased longevity in mice fed a diet high in fat.

This study, the first to examine the effects of acai’s anti-aging properties in an animal population, joins over 20 other peer-reviewed studies that refer to acai berry’s antioxidant properties and potential benefits to human health. In addition to these benefits, acai is currently being tested for its effectiveness as a weight loss tool. Although research in this area is still ongoing, the inclusion of berries and other fruits is known to be an important component of any healthy weight loss diet.

Even though research on the weight loss effect of acai is not complete, anecdotal evidence and reports from real-life experiences suggest that it may help shed unwanted weight. The popular fruit is being recognized as a superfood with health benefits that include increased longevity, possible disease prevention, and the potential to aid in weight loss. Read Steve’s article where he clearly explains how the Acai berry speeds up weight loss.

Useful Literature

 - Açai palm fruit (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) pulp improves survival of flies on a high fat diet. Sun X, Seeberger J, Alberico T, Wang C, Wheeler CT, Schauss AG, Zou S. Exp Gerontol. 2010 Mar;45(3):243-51.

 - What is the açaí berry and are there health benefits? Marcason W. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Nov;109(11):1968

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