Juçara berries improve epigenetic markers in obese subjects, study finds

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

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Brazilian Juçara berries can improve serum fatty acid profiles and epigenetic markers in obese individuals, according to recent research conducted in Sao Paolo. An expert in Brazilian nutraceutical ingredients said while the information is welcome, the long term economic potential of the berries is unclear.

Researchers associated with the Universidade Federal de São Paulo and other allied institutions conducted the research, which was published in early December in the journal Nutrients​.  The researchers recruited 27 obese individuals of both sexes with BMIs between 30 and 40, and an age range of 31 to 59 years old.

The randomized, cross over trial used a 5 gram dosage of freeze dried pulp of Juçara (Euterpe edulis Mart.) berries or a placebo of maltodextrin. The participants received sachets of either the dried pulp or the maltodextrin and were instructed to consume them as part of their normal breakfast.  They were also instructed to maintain their usual diet and exercise habits over the course of the six week trial.

Blood lipids, epigenetic markers improved

The blood of the participants was drawn over the six weeks to analyze serum lipid profiles.  And epigenetic markers were evaluated, too. Nuclear extraction of mononuclear cells was performed with the EpiQuik Nuclear Extraction kit, 100 tests. Global DNA methylation and HDAC enzyme activity were performed in duplicate analyzes.

“Our results suggest that juçara pulp supplementation was able to improve the serum levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), which predicted an epigenetic modulation in monocytes isolated from obese adults. It demonstrated that modifications in the serum fatty acid profile might regulate the expression of epigenetic markers and it could modulate inflammatory and metabolic pathways in obese adults,” ​the researchers concluded.

“Juçara fruit supplementation modulated the serum fatty acids profile and could contribute for the reduction of the metabolic disease risk through the epigenetic modulation in obese individual monocytes—since the MUFAs predicted the DNA methylation promoter protein by MeCP2. Additionally, further analyzes of the epigenetic mechanisms are necessary to set the modulation mechanisms and to facilitate the establishment of strategies for the treatment and prevention of obesity and its comorbidities through epigenetics,”​ they added.

Alex Schauss, PhD, a principal in the scientific and regulatory consulting firm AIMBR and a research associate at the University of Arizona, is an expert on another well known Brazilian fruit—açai. Schauss was involved in some of the early analytical and clinical trial work on açai and participated in the early market development of the ingredient.

 Juçuara and açai are similar but distinct species.  Schauss said the berries are of similar size, color and shape, and the trees themselves look similar.  This has led to some confusion in the market, Schauss said.

“You see people sometimes calling this açai in the market,” ​Schauss said. 

Depleted stocks of tree

And the growing range of the two plants is distinct as well.  Açai palm (Euterpe precatoria​) grows mostly in Brazil’s lowland Amazonian rain forest region and in some other countries on the continent, whereas Juçara palm is native exclusively to Brazil’s Atlantic rain forest region, which formerly extended from Santa Catarina State in the south to Bahia State in the north.  That native range cast some doubt on the ultimate economic potential of the berry, unless large scale plantations were to be developed, Schauss said.

 “Most of the Atlantic forest has been destroyed because of logging,”​ Schauss said.

Some estimates say that as much as 88% of the forest cover has been lost because of clearing for agriculture or grazing land, or for timber extraction or urban development. And stands of Juçara palm were severely depleted in the 1970s because of unregulated harvest to extract the heart of palm food ingredient.  But at least one brand, Jucai, claims it has secured a sustainable source of the fruit.

“Supplementation of Juçara Berry (Euterpe edulis Mart.) Modulates Epigenetic Markers in Monocytes from Obese Adults: A Double-Blind Randomized Trial”
2018, 10​(12), 1899; doi:10.3390/nu10121899
Authors: Santamaria AB, et al.

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