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Nov 1, 2012

Can Açai Make You Smarter?

Just a few days ago at the annual scientific meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, researchers from the Aging Research Center at Tufts University presented a new study showing that açai can slow the aging process and actually reverse the effects of aging on the brain.

Previous studies of older humans and older animals have shown reduced coordination, balance, and mental/cognitive function. Most researchers believe that these age-related changes in brain function and motor skills are due in large part to both oxidative and inflammatory stress. Research over the last decade has shown convincingly that polyphenol/flavonoid compounds from fruits and vegetables have potent antioxidant/anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce and even reverse age-related damage through a variety of cell signaling and cellular “cleanup” processes in the brain (such as improved autophagy).

In this most recent study, aged rats were fed either a typical diet or one supplemented with 2% açai for 6–7 weeks. Note: this amount of açai is roughly equivalent to a little less than ¼ cup (2 ounces) of açai per day in a human diet—so these results showing improvements in balance, coordination, muscle strength, and memory are very likely to be seen in humans undergoing the process of aging (which is all of us).

The rats that received açai in their diets were able to reverse age-related brain deficits in motor function (coordination/balance) and cognitive function (memory). For you and I, these results indicate that daily consumption of açai (2–4 ounces daily of açai juice), with its high level of flavonoids, can help us to “maintain our brains” in ways that may increase our “health span” and significantly slow the aging process. Whether consistent açai consumption can go even further—and actually prevent the onset of debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia—remains to be seen in future studies, but the existing research evidence is good enough for me to be drinking my açai every day.

Here is the full abstract from the Society for Neuroscience:

Açai fruit improves motor and cognitive function in aged rats
B. SHUKITT-HALE, A. N. CAREY, M. G. MILLER, S. M. POULOSE; 
USDA, ARS, Human Nutrit Res. Ctr. On Aging, BOSTON, MA

Aged rats show impaired performance on motor and cognitive tasks that require the use of spatial learning and memory. In previous studies, we have shown the beneficial effects of various berry fruits (blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries) in reversing age-related deficits in behavioral and neuronal function when fed to rats from 19-21 months of age. These effects may be the result of increasing antioxidant and/or anti-inflammatory levels, or by direct effects on signaling and autophagy, in the brain. Açai is a black-purple fruit (genus Euterpe) cultivated in the Amazon delta and in Brazil (Euterpe oleracea Mart. -EO), as well as southern Central America and Columbia (Euterpe precatoria Mart. - EP), and it is known to be rich in polyphenolics that may affect cell-to-cell signaling, receptor sensitivity, inflammatory enzyme activity or gene regulation. Thus, the present studies were carried out to determine if EO or EP, fed in the rat diet at 2% for 8 weeks, would be efficacious in reversing the deleterious effects of aging on motor and cognitive behavior in 19 mo Fischer 344 rats. Results for the motor testing showed that the EO diet improved performance on wire suspension, while the EP rats turned more on the planks, leading to improved balance performance. Additionally, the EO diet improved reference and working memory in the Morris water maze compared to control, but not the EP, diet. We are currently assessing whether alterations in signaling and autophagy may be involved in the mechanisms of action through which the açai polyphenols could be producing their effects.

 

About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers) and physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst) and serves as MonaVie’s VP of Product Innovation & Education. He is the author of 10 books and a frequent competitor in Ironman triathlons and ultramarathons, so he drinks his MonaVie Mx Juice every day to get his daily dose of açai.

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