The acai berry has almost worn out its welcome due to the ridiculous and unmerited health claims that have been made on just about every magazine cover in the local grocery store. Its popularity grew by leaps and bounds mostly through multi-level marketing companies and the unapproved use Oprah Winfrey’s name. While the acai berry is undoubtedly nutritious, there have been no studies done to prove the many claims about its health benefits. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. have published a study that shows the acai supplement not only lengthened the life of fruit flies, but also improved the quality of its life. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology.
The lead author of the study, Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer, a postdoctoral fellow in Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Cell Biology, set out to cut through the confusion surrounding antioxidants on the market. Oxidative stress is thought to be a major contributor to aging in humans. The end result of oxidative stress is cell damage and the release of “free radicals” in the bloodstream. It has long been thought that anitoxidants could reduce the affect of oxidative stress. Initially, this study’s focus was not solely on the acai berry. However, it turned out that compared to the other fruit supplements on the market, the ones that contained acai performed significantly better.
They used fruit flies to do this study. You may not realize that a lot of studies are being done on fruit flies now because they are similar to humans in many ways, only on a smaller scale. The study used a commercially available acai supplement. They found that it performed better than vitamins, coenzyme Q10 and lutein. A particular fruit fly they used in the experiment was known to have a short life. When they fed these little guys a diet of sugar and water, they lived about 8 days. When their diet was supplemented with acai, their lifespans tripled! Not only that, but in the presence of a known neurotoxin, the flies circadian rhythms normalized. “I think this is important,” Vrailas-Mortimer says. “We show that whatever is in acai that is lengthening lifespan, it can also keep the flies functioning better for longer when faced with paraquat [neurotoxin found in herbicide] exposure. It is maintaining quality of life rather than just preventing them from dying.”
We really don’t know what it is in acai that produces such good results. Vrailas-Mortimer suggests that human studies may want to focus on using the whole fruit rather than trying to single out a single compound. She believes that there may be a combination effect. This study is encouraging, but I would still advise caution about many claims that are being made about acai. For more information, visit Emory’s website at http://www.emory.edu/home/index.html.