The brain’s natural housekeeping mechanism is called autophagy and involves the controlled degradation of cells, including the recycling of toxic proteins. This system declines naturally as we age, but new research suggests that berry extracts may enhance the process and contributes towards brain health.
Researchers at the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston presented their findings recently at the Society of Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego.
Super fruits from Central and South America
Açai berries (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) have long formed part of the staple diet of Indian tribes. With the appearance of a purple grape and taste of a tropical berry, it has been shown to have powerful antioxidant properties thanks to a high level of anthocyanins, pigments that are also present in red wine.
It is presently being sold in a number of countries, including New Zealand, Australia, South America, Japan, USA, and the Middle East
Led by the late James Joseph from Tufts University, the researchers investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of açai extracts in the main defense cells of the brain – the microglia – in rodents. “Microglial activation can result in the generation of cytotoxic intermediates and is associated with a variety of age-related and neurodegenerative conditions,” explained the researchers.
Results presented in San Diego indicated that extracted fractions of the açai pulp protected against the release of pro-inflammatory compounds including COX-2 and TNF-alpha.
“These results suggest that açai may contribute to ‘health span’ in aging, as it is able to combat some of the inflammatory and oxidative mediators of aging at the cellular level,” wrote the researchers.
The researchers also noted that extracts made with methanol and ethanol appeared to be the “most effective” and that this may be due to the extracts containing either the greatest amounts of açai phytochemicals, or the most potent.
The researchers noted that additional studies are planned and will “investigate the specific phytochemicals in each of the fractions to determine the most potent and effective component(s) in combating cellular inflammation”.
“Future studies will also feed aged rats açaí-supplemented diets in order to determine if açaí is able to reverse or allay age-related motor or cognitive deficits,” they added.
The studies are being performed under a Cooperative [research] Agreement with USDA’s National Center on Aging by AIBMR Life Sciences.