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Berries, Autophagy & Neuroprotection

Friday, June 14, 2019

Urolithin is a metabolite produced in the gut from dietary ellagic acid, a polyphenol abundant in strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, pomegranates, and walnuts. It has been repeatedly suggested to help prevent ​neurodegeneration—but before you start proactively gorging on berries and pomegranates to protect memory, understand that the metabolite, urolithin A (UA), the biochemical ​compound resulting from the transformation of ellagic acid by the gut bacteria, decreases with age due to microbial imbalances in the gut.

The good news: Julie Andersen, PhD, received $3.4 million from the National Institutes of Health to study this issue. Her Buck Institute for Research on Aging team will determine if rejuvenating the gut microbiome enhances the production of ellagic acid in animal models, and whether that then increases UA’s neuroprotective properties.

Gut microbiome is a hot topic of research, with imbalances linked to many disease processes, including neurodegeneration.

The mechanism at the heart of the study is autophagy (self-eating).  According to Andersen, “During autophagy, cells recycle damaged proteins and mitochondria and use them for nutrition.

​Given the normal age-related decrease in autophagy in the brain, and given that Alzheimer’s pathology involves the accumulation of damaged proteins, unraveling the full mechanism of action that boosts the brain cell recycling process through food could allow us to prevent or treat memory-robbing disease affecting more than 5.6  million Americans.”

Her research will also determine if it’s possible to ‘rejuvenate’ the gut of older mice by giving some of them the bacteria Clostridum leptum, which she says appears to be essential for converting ellagic acid from berries into UA. 

If this gut bacteria enhances the neuroprotective effects of the ellagic acid from berries, this could lead to probiotic support that people could buy over the counter.

Dark berries, also clinically proven to protect the eyes, are nutritional powerhouses packed with vitamin C and other micronutrients that help the body deal with oxidative stress and inflammation (and maybe even wrinkles, said Andersen). 

They are also loaded with heart-healthy soluble fiber, which can help control cholesterol.

We recommend one or two daily servings.

Ellen Troyer and the Biosynrx staff


The Buck Research Institute tackles aging from a range of perspectives. They bring together capable and passionate scientists from a broad range of disciplines in an environment that encourages open collaboration. The Buck focus is to identify and disrupt pathways activated by aging processes that trigger development of chronic disease.  Better outcomes that extend healthspan—allowing people to have healthy bodies and healthy minds at every age—allowing all of us to live better longer, is their goal.