A study supported by So Paulo Research Foundation found five plants endemic to Brazil with very high antioxidant properties. The plants were identified as bacupari-mirim (Garcinia brasiliensis), ara-piranga (E. leitonii), e ubaja (E. myrcianthes), grumixama (E. brasiliensis), and cereja-do-rio-grande (E. involucrata).
The five food products have been known among the natives for their healing and anti-aging properties, according to Severino Matias Alencar, associate professor at the Department of Agroindustry, Food & Nutrition at University of So Paulo's Luiz de Queiroz Agricultural College. "We knew they could contain a large number of anti-oxidants, just like the well-known berries of the U.S. and Europe, such as the blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry, with which scientists are so familiar," Alencar said. However, based on the research, the native berries appeared to have extremely high antioxidants.
One of the berries, however, may disappear forever. The ara-piranga is an endangered species and if nothing is done to protect it, the fruit could very well face extinction, says Pedro Rosalen, of the University of Campinas's Piracicaba Dentistry School. The bad news is that, based on their study, the ara-piranga trumps all the other Eugenias that were included in the research in terms of its anti-inflammatory potential. By harnessing the fruit, the medical field may be able to prevent inflammation because the action mechanism occurs simultaneously at the start of the process. The active ingredient found in the produce will impede the pathways in the inflammatory progression.
Researchers took samples of the phenolic compounds found in the five species. They extracted the samples from the seeds, leaves, and pulp of the plants. The phenolic compounds refer to the chemicals that have been found to have curative and anticipatory properties. What antioxidants really combat are the free radicals. These are unpaired electrons produced by oxygen that are not able to bind to another electron. That's why they are called free. Nature abhors an anomaly so they find other electrons to pair with. This process can cause damage to the DNA, the cells, and the proteins in the body.
Link Between Free Radicals And Antioxidants
Among the food sources that are rich in antioxidants are dark chocolate, pecans, artichoke, kidney beans, berries, and coffee. Many experts believe that the surplus of free radicals in the body is a common cause of cancer. There's some strong basis to the correlation between high presence of antioxidants and the prevention of free radicals to cause damage to the body, according to the National Cancer Institute, However, it does acknowledge that the research so far is constrained by several biases and inconsistencies so more studies are needed.
Rosalen, meanwhile, said that apart from cancer, antioxidants also appear to have some success in treating obesity, Alzheimer's, and diabetes. What the research proved, however, is that Brazil has huge untapped resources of beneficial plant species that may revolutionize the medical field. For instance, they have yet to scratch the surface on research considering there are more than 400 Eugenias in the country, and a good chunk of them are endemic to the area. "We have an enormous number of native fruit trees with bioactive compounds that could benefit people's health, Rosalen added. They should be studied."
Economically, they could be marketed as the next fashionable food, especially if scientific research and laboratory tests can prove their anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. Farmers would also benefit from the stable income.
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