Little-known fruits contain powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant agents


October 31, 2017


Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo


shows that five fruit species native to Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest biome have
bioactive properties as outstanding as those of blueberries, cranberries,
blackberries, and strawberries. By investigating the presence of anti-aging
nutrients that also work at the prevention of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s,
the study clears the path for the conservation and promotion of the genus
Eugenia, which contains 400 species (some of them endangered) and presents huge
potential in food and pharmaceutical industries.

According to a study
supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation five fruit trees native to the
Atlantic Rainforest have powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory

The research states that
native Brazilian species araçá-piranga (E. leitonii),
cereja-do-rio-grande (E. involucrata), grumixama (E. brasiliensis)
e ubajaí (E. myrcianthes) — all from genus Eugenia — and
bacupari-mirim (Garcinia brasiliensis) are examples of functional foods,
which besides vitamins and nutritional values, have bioactive properties, such
as the capacity to combat free radicals — unstable, highly reactive atoms that
bind to other atoms in the organism and cause damage, such as cellular aging or

“We knew they could
contain a large number of anti-oxidants, just like the well-known berries of
the US and Europe, such as the blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry, with
which scientists are so familiar,” told Severino Matias Alencar, from the
Department of Agroindustry, Food & Nutrition at University of São Paulo’s
Luiz de Queiroz Agricultural College (ESALQ-USP) — the institution conducted
the research in partnership with the University of Campinas’s Piracicaba
Dentistry School (FOP-UNICAMP) — both in Piracicaba, São Paulo State, Brazil
— and at the University of the Frontier (UFRO) in Temuco, Chile. “Our
native berries proved [to be] even better.”

Pedro Rosalen, from FOP,
says that diet is strategic in combating free radicals. Although our body
contains substances that neutralize and eliminate free radicals, this natural
neutralization can be unbalanced by means of age, stress and poor alimentation.
“If so, exogenous elements are required, particularly the intake of foods
with anti-oxidant agents, such as flavonoids or anthocyanins from
araçá-piranga, E. leitonii, and other fruits of the Eugenias,” said
Rosalen, coordinator of the project “Bioprospection of novel
anti-inflammatory molecules from natural Brazilian native products .

Not only anti-oxidants
fight aging, but they also work in the prevention of diseases mediated by
chronic inflammation, explains Rosalen. “The oxidative action of free
radicals leads to the appearance of dependent inflammatory diseases, such as
diabetes, cancer, arthritis, obesity and Alzheimer’s. These are silent
inflammations, hence the importance of anti-oxidants.”

The study evaluated
phenolic compounds — chemicals that can have preventive or curative effects —
and the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant mechanisms of material extracted
from the five fruits’ leaves, seeds, and pulp.

The project studied
fruits with strong anti-oxidant activity — for use by the food and
pharmaceutical industries — and with anti-inflammatory properties. The
standout was E. leitonii, as Rosalen highlighted.

“E. leitonii is an
endangered species,” Rosalen said. “Its anti-inflammatory activity
far exceeded that of other Eugenias. The action mechanism is also extremely
interesting. It occurs spontaneously and right at the start of the
inflammation, blocking a specific pathway in the inflammatory process. It also
acts on the endothelium of blood vessels, preventing leukocytes from
transmigrating to the damaged tissue and reducing exacerbation of the
inflammatory process.”

Because these species are
increasingly rare and some are classified as endangered, the samples for the
study were supplied by two small farms in the interior of São Paulo State. Both
sell plants with conservational aims. One of the farmers owns Brazil’s largest
native fruit collection, with over 1,300 species under cultivation.

Rosalen adds that Brazil
has some 400 Eugenias including several endemic species. “We have an
enormous number of native fruit trees with bioactive compounds that could
benefit people’s health. They should be studied,” he said.

Alencar believes that it
is a matter of time until these fruits highly ranked as fashionable foods. The
scientist states that they have a vast economic and pharmacological potential,
evidenced not only by many scientific publications but also by trade of their
edible fruits, wood and essential oils and their use as ornamental plants.

“There wasn’t much
scientific knowledge about the properties of these native fruits. The idea now,
with the results of our study, is for them to be grown by family farmers,
increase production scale and be taken up by retailers. Who knows, they could
be the next açaí,” said Alencar, referring to the commercial success of
the Amazonian berry Euterpe oleracea with large amounts of anti-oxidants.
Brazil exports açaí puree to several countries.

The collaborative
research project supported by FAPESP and UFRO also extended knowledge of a
Chilean native species. In one study, the researchers demonstrated the
anti-oxidant and vasodilatory action of Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) — food
supplements obtained from the fruit and leaves of Chilean guava can have
beneficial effects on the prevention and possibly treatment of cardiovascular

If knowledge of these
properties is disseminated, the production of native fruit species could be
stimulated, Alencar highlights.

“Even before the
project with UFRO, Rosalen and I already studied native fruit species because
we believed they could be a source of excellent food solutions for
society,” he said.

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