The Lowdown on Anthocyanins: 4 Things You Need to Know
It’s been a couple of decades now that people have been touting antioxidants and talking about the healing power of a healthy, well-balanced diet. There are a lot of aspects you need to cover to ensure an optimal diet, too many to cover in a single article, but we can definitely go over an interesting chemical with tons of health benefits. Today, we’ll be looking at anthocyanins, molecules naturally occurring in a variety of plants, especially fruit and vegetables, giving them a characteristic purple, black, and red colour. We’ll dive into the subject of flavonoids, explain a bit about anthocyanins and what they do, go over some good sources, and explore their health benefits.
Anthocyanins: A flavonoidAnthocyanin belongs to the family of chemicals known as flavonoids, commonly found in plants. Although their most obvious role is that of pigments that give different parts of a plant specific colours, flavonoids also play more complex roles. They are used to transmit information between cells, regulate certain physiological functions, and slow down or stop the growth and division of cells. Anthocyanins give parts of a plant black, as well as darker blue, purple, and red hues. The name itself is derived from Greek and literally means “dark-blue flower”. Good examples are blackberries, red grapes, radishes, roses, and red autumn leaves on trees. And while these chemicals play several roles in plants, from attracting insects with unique colours to protecting deteriorating leaves from light damage, they also have some benefits for human health.
Health benefitsAs we ingest anthocyanins through berries and other fruit and vegetables, and many people have poor diets that lack these food groups, the big question is: “Are there any tangible benefits to consuming more anthocyanins in our daily diet?” More importantly, is there a big enough health benefit for the average person to go out of their way and make significant lifestyle changes? In short, the answer is yes. Not only does the extra fruit go towards your 2-3 cups of daily recommended fruit and vegetables for general health, but anthocyanin-rich foods have also been shown to promote improvements in four key areas.
1. Heart healthSince heart disease has been on the rise in the UK lately, any potential solution that helps prevent it should be thoroughly examined. And there have been several studies showing that anthocyanins lower the risk of heart disease. A study from 2010 showed that consuming a variety of dark berries rich in anthocyanins could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in men. There was also a 2013 study showing that consuming more of this chemical helped lower the risk of myocardial infarction in women aged anywhere from 25 to 42 years.
2. Cancer preventionA 2008 study found that anthocyanins showed cancer-fighting properties, both when subjected in vitro to cancer cells and when used in vivo on tumours. The anthocyanins reduced inflammation and invasiveness of cancer cells and slowed their growth. A more recent study from 2016 concluded that anthocyanins targeted the Receptor Tyrosine Kinases, thus preventing the growth and metastasis of cancer cells. More epidemiological studies are needed, but it seems that anthocyanins could play a role in cancer prevention and help improve the outcomes of chemotherapy.
3. Diabetes preventionAnother major health issue of the modern world, diabetes may also be affected by the powerful ingredients in dark berries. There have actually been a lot of studies done on this topic, and this meta-analysis of ten of these suggests that anthocyanins are able to increase insulin sensitivity, thus helping those in a pre-diabetic state, as well as those suffering from diabetes.
4. Neurological healthA large number of studies have determined that oxidative stress is the main culprit in several serious neurological issues, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and it seems that this is something we can fight with the antioxidative properties in berries. In this comprehensive study from 2019, the authors concluded that consuming anthocyanins in a healthy diet is a good way to reduce the side effects of these diseases without resorting to risky synthetic drugs with serious side-effects.
Sources of anthocyaninsAs discussed previously, anthocyanins can be found in a number of dark-coloured fruits, especially different types of berries. Here, we will list a number of fruits and vegetables high in these chemicals, all of these the most anthocyanin-packed examples:
- Red grapes
- Pigmented orange