Harvesting acai berries in the Brazilian Amazon. Products made from the berries are sold around the world, and are often marketed as health supplements.
By Quinn Eastman, Woodruff Health Sciences Center
Bewildered by the array of antioxidant fruit juices on display in the supermarket and the promises they make? To sort out the antioxidant properties of fruits and berries, scientists at Emory University School of Medicine turned to fruit flies for help.
They found that a commercially available acai berry product can lengthen the lives of fruit flies, when the flies’ lives are made short through additional oxidative stress. Under certain conditions (a simple sugar diet) acai supplementation could triple flies’ lifespans, from eight to 24 days. Acai could also counteract the neurotoxic effects of the herbicide paraquat on the flies.
The results were recently published by the journal Experimental Gerontology, which awarded the paper its inaugural "Outstanding paper" prize. The lead author is Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer, a postdoctoral fellow in Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Cell Biology.
Vrailas-Mortimer says she didn’t start out focusing on acai. But acai worked better than several other antioxidant products such as vitamins, coenzyme Q10 and lutein.
"One thing that makes our work distinctive is that we tried commercially available supplements," she says. "We went to a health food store and filled up a basket."
Subhabrata Sanyal, assistant professor of cell biology. They had previously found that flies with mutations in the "p38 MAP kinase" gene have shorter lives and are more sensitive to heat, food deprivation and oxidative stress.
P38 mutant flies lived an average of only eight days when they were given a simple sugar water diet. However, their lifespans tripled when their diet was supplemented with acai. Ginger was used as a control for the diet supplements.
Acai also protected normal flies against oxidative stress, in the form of hydrogen peroxide or paraquat. Acai can protect against oxidative stress when flies are exposed to hydrogen peroxide before being given acai, but the protective effect does not hold up if the order is reversed.
Paraquat is an herbicide that has neurotoxic effects that resemble Parkinson’s disease. Under the influence of paraquat, flies’ sleep-wake cycles gradually become chaotic (see graph, above). Acai can also help soften the effects of paraquat on flies’ circadian rhythms.
"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 exposure. It is maintaining quality of life rather than just preventing them from dying."
Read more at Emory News Center.
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