A large number of studies have touted the numerous health benefits of a diet full of botanicals including the Acai, a purple fruit that grows on palm trees along the Amazon River in South America. While the Acai berry is well-known as a dietary supplement that helps to induce weight loss, recent studies have demonstrated that this botanical may do more than just help people lose weight.
The Acai is full of anthocyanins, a type of nutrient that gives many fruits their red, purple and blue colors. Through research in both animals and humans, anthocyanins have shown evidence of a number of biological functions, including anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective and anti-carcinogenic activities. In fact, one particular study found that anthocycanins decreased the growth of cancer cells by more than 50% .
Additionally, anthocycanins may delay the aging process. There is evidence that these plant pigments can reduce the oxidative stress that comes with aging, improve the mental process of awareness and perception, and reduce the vulnerability of DNA to aging-inducing mutations.
Study Shows Acai Increases Longevity
The free radical theory states that aging is the result of damage generated by free radical reactions in the body. Organelles and molecules, especially DNA, that are exposed to reactive oxygen—the most common free radical—undergo destruction. It is theorized that reducing oxidative damage could potentially be an effective method in inhibiting the aging process. This argument is backed by experiments showing that protecting cells from radicals does in fact extend life in laboratory animals.
Can Acai exert a protective effect on cells? What about whole animals? This is what a study published in the January 2010 issue of Experimental Gerontology set to examine. For the first time, scientists assessed the potential anti-aging properties of the Acai berry in an organism. The experimental animal was Drosophila melanogaster, more commonly known as the ‘fruit fly’ .
Acai Opposes the Harmful Effect of High Fat Diets
Previous studies have shown that a high saturated fat diet reduces the overall lifespan of a fruit fly by 19%. Not surprisingly, high fat diets impact negatively both flies and humans.
In order to evaluate the anti-aging effect of the Acai in reversing the negative effects of a high fat diet, researchers fed two groups of fruit flies two different types of diets: one group of fruit flies was fed a high saturated fat diet, while the second group was fed the same high saturated diet but 2% of the diet was substituted with pulp from the Acai fruit.
The study found that the group of fruit flies that were given Acai pulp as part of the high fat diet achieved a 22% increase in lifespan as compared to the fruit flies that were fed the high fat diet alone. These results essentially translated in restoring the normal life span of the fruit fly that has been compromised by the high fat diet. When researchers probed further to determine the mechanism of action that caused the longevity in the Acai-fed group, they discovered that the Acai fruit increased the activity of certain anti-aging genes.
It is well-known that high fat diets are associated with an assortment of chronic conditions including insulin resistance that can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. In an attempt to extrapolate to the human level the Acai effects observed in flies, the primary investigator of the study, Dr. Sun, concluded that these findings “suggest that Acai pulp may be effective in the prevention and control of type 2 diabetes”, potentially making it a medicinal type of food.
Acai Saves From Oxidative Damage
The study investigators also speculated that Acai pulp would improve the overall survival of fruit flies that live in a state of oxidative stress. To test this hypothesis, they used a biological system that simulates the condition of oxidative stress seen in humans and other organisms. It is a model commonly employed in studies that examine the mechanisms of aging.
Researchers modified a gene in fruit flies that codes for the enzyme Superoxide Dismutase (SOD). This is an enzyme that protects the cells of humans and flies from damage inflicted by harmful free radicals. Since the SOD-mutated flies are not able to counteract the catastrophic effect of oxidative damage, they live under continuous oxidative pressure.
Researchers fed the SOD-mutated fruit flies a diet consisting of 2% Acai pulp for their entire life, to determine if the Acai improves survival by alleviating oxidative stress. The results were positive in that the average lifespan of the fruit flies was increased by about 18%. This suggests that Acai diet can counteract the detrimental effect on survival induced by oxidative stress.
A quick search in the scientific literature will reveal that the antioxidant effect of the Acai fruit and its potential health benefits has been the focus of more than 20 studies, to date. However, this most recent study is the first one to test the anti-aging properties of Acai in an animal model.
While studies examining the weight loss effect of the Acai are still underway, personal and real-life experience demonstrates that the overall health benefits of the Acai fruit indeed contribute to achieving better numbers on the scale. Including fruits of the berry family in one’s diet is strongly recommended especially to those following a healthy weight loss diet. In conclusion, there is no doubt that Acai, this exotic super fruit of the Amazon river, has unique health benefits to offer.