Science builds for acai’s brain health benefits

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStockPhoto
Image: iStockPhoto

Related tags Antioxidant functional beverage beverage

The potential cognitive health benefits of açai (Euterpe spp.) may be linked to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, according to recent studies from scientists at Tufts University AIBMR Life Sciences.

Recent studies published in the peer-review journal Nutritional Neuroscience​ indicated that lyophilized açaí fruit pulp consumption was associated with improved working memory and reference memory in lab animals, with effects observed in the hippocampus and frontal cortex of the brain.

Dr Alex Schauss, Senior Director of Research and CEO of AIBMR Life Sciences, Inc. and co-author on two of the papers, told NutraIngredients-USA: “With colleagues at the USDA-ARS HNRCA (Human Nutrition on Research Center on Aging) at Tufts University in Boston, we have now completed five years of studies on the effect of acai on the brain, with a focus on its effects during aging ​in vitro and ​in vivo, especially in old animals whose human equivalent age would be in the age range of 65-75 years.

“The findings of these investigations, which include its mechanisms of action, and others, suggest the potential of acai pulp in mitigating and reversing the effects of aging in the brain, particularly related to cognition and memory.”


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.

Açai pulp has been demonstrated to affect cell signaling, enzyme activity, maintenance of the oxidant and antioxidant balance, receptor sensitivity, gene regulation, and reduction in the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, while restoring or maintaining functional cellular antioxidant status.

New studies

Image © iStockPhoto

A paper by Poulose et 2014 (Nutrition​) found that, while extracts of Euterpe precatoria​ açaí fruit had a higher concentration of the major flavonoids, there were similar effects on neurons from both Euterpe precatoria ​and Euterpe oleracea​.

Euterpe precatoria​ Mart. is found in the Bolivian Amazon, while Euterpe oleracea​ Mart. is found in the Brazilian floodplains of the Amazon.

Supplementing the diets of lab rats with 2% extracts of both açaí types for eight weeks revealed that both improved working memory in lab rats. However, only rats fed the Euterpe oleracea​ fruit pulp displayed improvements in reference memory, compared to controls (Carey et al, Nutritional Neuroscience​).

A third study, also published in Nutritional Neuroscience,​ delved deeper into what the fruit pulp extracts are actually doing in the brain of 19-month-old rats. These results showed that açaí consumption produced antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects by significantly reducing prooxidant NADPH-oxidoreductase-2 (NOX2) and proinflammatory transcription factor NF-kappaB.

The researchers also observed significant activation of endogenous antioxidant enzymes following açaí consumption, compared with controls.

“Since most neurodegenerative diseases are associated with (1) increased oxidative damage, (2) chronic neuroinflammation, and (3) accumulation of misfolded or aggregate-prone proteins, slowing down the formation or effective clearing of toxic bodies offers hope in the long term in contributing to disease prevention,”​ wrote Poulose et al. in Nutritional Neuroscience.

“Antioxidant-rich açaí diet supplementation provides promising beneficial effects in regulating all three processes, of which the mechanisms seem to be interdependent. Our findings provide further support on the neuromodulatory effects of açaí diet supplementation in critical brain regions involved in memory, cognition, and overall brain function.”

The studies were supported financially by USDA and AIBMR Life Sciences.

Nutritional Neuroscience
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2015.1115213
“Dietary supplementation with the polyphenol-rich açaí pulps (Euterpe oleracea Mart. and Euterpe precatoria Mart.) improves cognition in aged rats and attenuates inflammatory signaling in BV-2 microglial cells”
Authors: A.N. Carey, M.G. Miller, D.R. Fisher, D.F. Bielinski, C.K. Gilman, S.M. Poulose, B. Shukitt-Hale

Nutritional Neuroscience
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2015.1125654
“Modulation of oxidative stress, inflammation, autophagy and expression of Nrf2 in hippocampus and frontal cortex of rats fed with açaí-enriched diets”
Authors: S.M. Poulose, D.F. Bielinski, A. Carey, A.G. Schauss, B. Shukitt-Hale

2014, Volume 30, Numbers 7-8, Pages 853-62. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2013.11.011
“Restoration of stressor-induced calcium dysregulation and autophagy inhibition by polyphenol-rich açaí (Euterpe spp.) fruit pulp extracts in rodent brain cells in vitro”
Authors: S.M. Poulose, D.R. Fisher, D.F. Bielinski, S.M. Gomes, A.M. Rimando, A.G. Schauss, B. Shukitt-Hale 

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