A Brazilian berry popular in health food contains antioxidants that destroyed cultured human cancer cells in a recent University of Florida in Gainesville study, one of the first to investigate the fruit’s purported benefits.
Published today in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the study showed extracts from acai (ah-SAH’-ee) berries triggered a self-destruct reaction in up to 86 % of leukemia cells tested, said Stephen Talcott, an assistant teacher with University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“Acai berries are considered one of the richest fruit sources of antioxidants,” Talcott said. “This reasearch was an important step toward learning what people may gain from using dietary supplements, beverages or other products prepared with the berries.”
He cautioned that the research, funded by University of Florida sources, was not planned to show whether compounds found in acai berries could prevent leukemia in people.
“This was just a cell-culture model and we don’t want to give anyone fake expectation,” Talcott said. “We are optimistic by the findings, however. Compounds that show good activity against cancer cells in a model organism are probably to have favorable effects in our bodies.”
Additional fruits, as well as grapes, guavas and mangoes, have antioxidants shown to kill cancer cells in comparable studies, he said. Experts are not sure how much effect antioxidants have on cancer cells in the human body, for the reason that factors such as nutrient assimilation, metabolism and the influence of other biochemical processes may influence the antioxidants’ chemical activity.
Another University of Florida research, slated to end in 2006, will explore the effects of acai’s antioxidants on healthy human subjects, Talcott said. The research will decide how well the compounds are absorbed into the blood, and how they may change blood pressure, cholesterol levels and associated health indicators. Up to now, just primary study has been done on acai berries, which include at least fifty to seventy five as-yet unknown compounds.
“One reason so small is known about acai berries is that they’re perishable and are usually used right away after collecting,” he said. “Products made with processed acai berries have only been accessible for about 5 years, so researchers everywhere in the world have had small or no chance to study açai.”
Talcott said University of Florida is one of the pioneers institutions outside Brazil with people researching açai berries. Besides Talcott, University of Florida’s acai research team includes Susan Percival, a university lecturer with the food science and human nutrition department, David Del Pozo-Insfran, a doctoral scholar with the department and Susanne Mertens-Talcott, a postdoctoral associate with the pharmaceutics department of University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy.
Euterpe oleracea palm tree produces acai berries, common in floodplain areas of the Amazon River, Talcott said. When mature, the berries are dark purple and about the size of a blueberry. Açais have a slim coating of edible pulp around a big seed.
In the past, Brazilians have used acai berries to treat digestive problems and skin conditions, he said. Current marketing efforts by retail merchants and online businesses recommend acai products can assist clients lose weight, lower cholesterol and increase energy.
“Many claims are being made, but most of them haven’t been experienced scientifically,” Talcott said. “We are just starting to comprehend the intricacy of the acai berry and its health-promoting effects.”
In the present University of Florida research, 6 singular chemical extracts were made from acai fruit pulp, and every extract was made in seven concentrations.
Four of the extracts were shown to kill considerable numbers of leukemia cells when applied for twenty four hours. Anywhere from about 35% to 86% of the cells died, depending on the concentration and extract.
The University of Florida research shows that research on foods not usually consumed in the US is imperative, since it may lead to surprising discoveries, said Joshua Bomser, an assistant lecturer of molecular nutrition and functional foods at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
“Growing use of vegetables and fruits is related with diminish risk for a lot of diseases, as well as cancer and heart problems,” said Bomser, who studies the effects of diet on chronic diseases. “Getting no less than 5 servings daily of these substance is still a great advice for promoting best possible health.”
Source: University of Florida