Acai boosting lifespan

Eating a commercially available acai berry product has been revealed to triple the lifespan of fruit flies by new research that suggests supplementation with the berry could also protect flies against oxidative stress.

The study examined the antioxidant properties of fruit and berry supplements and juices using commercially available products.

Led by Dr Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer of Emory University, USA, the team initially tested the effects of several antioxidant products – including vitamins, coenzyme Q1 and lutein – on the lifespan of specially bred fruit flies, that are prone to suffer from oxidative stress and therefore, have a lower than average life expectancy.

Vrailas-Mortimer said: “One thing that makes our work distinctive is that we tried commercially available supplements. We went to a health food store and filled up a basket.

“I think this is important. 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 [herbicide] exposure. It is maintaining quality of life rather than just preventing them from dying”.

However, the team initially found that acai worked better than several other antioxidant products, and so focused on clarifying its benefits.

Vrailas and her co-workers found that a commercially available acai berry product could triple fruit flies’ life-spans – from around eight to 24 days. The team also found that acai counteracted the neurotoxic effects a herbicide on the flies.

Vrailas-Mortimer revealed that previous research had found flies with mutations in the ‘p38 MAP kinase’ gene had shorter lives, and were more sensitive to heat, food deprivation and oxidative stress.

P38 mutant flies only have a life expectancy of eight days when they had a simple sugar water diet. However, she revealed that their lifespans were tripled when their diet was supplemented with acai.

Acai also protected normal flies against oxidative stress, in the form of hydrogen peroxide or paraquat.

When flies were fed a more enriched diet of a standard cornmea/molasses mush, the effects of supplementation with acai were more pronounced in males than in females.

Males’ lifespans were almost doubled with acai (20 to 40 days) but the effects on females were not as strong (30 to 34 days).

On an enriched diet, males flies were more sensitive to paraquat than females as well.

Vrailas-Mortimer noted that so far large clinical trials studying the effects of antioxidants – such as vitamin C and E – have not shown clear benefits on human health.

She said that using fruit flies under oxidative stress as a model can be a way to dissect which components of acai are beneficial.

She said: “It seems to me that anti-oxidant therapy will not work after the damage has been done. So human clinical trials that don’t take this into account are likely to have disappointing results”.

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