There’s a huge market for antioxidant fruit juices created by baby boomers trying to hang on to their youth. Acai berries are one of today’s most heavily marketed antioxidant fruits, touted for their anti-aging properties. Could a new acai study suggesting that the berry made fruit flies live longer give credence to the hype?
The ultimate superfruit?
Acai (ah-sigh-ee) berries come from a tree common in Central and South America, where juice made from the berries is a popular beverage. Soon after it became known that healers in native tribes use acai berries in medicines, acai took the Internet by storm as the ultimate superfruit with powerful anti-aging effects.
Acai contains antioxidants called anthocyanins and flavonoids. Anthocyanin is a Greek word that translates to “plant blue.” Anthocyanins are the substance that creates the dark reds, purples and blues in fruits and vegetables. They just so happen to be powerful antioxidants that help protect cells from damage by free radicals—byproducts of human metabolism.
Fighting free radicals
Foods rich in antioxidants are believed to help stave off aging and disease by blunting the effects of free radicals. Some studies have suggested that acai berries have more antioxidants than better-known fruits such as cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, or blueberries.
No study has proven that acai berries have more powerful health benefits than the other fruits. But researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine discovered that acai actually extended the lives of fruit flies.
The acai fruit fly study
In a report on the acai fruit fly study published by the journal Experimental Gerontology, which awarded the paper its inaugural “Outstanding paper” prize, lead author Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer said researchers went to a health food store, filled a cart full of antioxidant juices and brought them to the lab. They didn’t intend to focus on acai, but it turned out to work better than the other antioxidant juices.
The researchers subjected fruit flies to oxidative stress by feeding them a diet of nothing but sugar water. The group given an acai supplement lived three times longer than the fruit flies in the control, which were given a ginger supplement.
They also tried acai on fruit flies exposed to paraquat, an herbicide with neurotoxic effects that resemble Parkinson’s disease. The acai supplement helped the flies function better for longer periods under the influence of Paraquat, leading researchers to conclude that in addition to extending life span, acai maintained the flies’ quality of life while they were alive.
Too good to be true?
There was a catch, however. Vrailas-Mortimer noted that the flies lived longer when acai treatment and oxidative stress occurred simultaneously. When acai treatment was administered after the damage had been done, there was no effect on life span. She warned, “human clinical trials that don’t take this into account are likely to have disappointing results.”
So for those boomers trying to turn back the clock with acai, it could be a case of too little, too late.