We still have a lot to learn to about the exact bioactivity, uptake, absorption and roles of phytonutrients, including anthocyanin. We do know that anthocyanins seem to play a role in fighting free radical damage, which leads to aging and the formation of numerous diseases. Beyond their capacity to fight free radicals/oxidative stress, anthocyanins have many other effects when it comes to protecting cells, tissues and vital organs that we’re still uncovering. For example, research suggests that anthocyanins have positive effects on gut health when they interact with microflora, which can help decrease inflammatory markers associated with many chronic diseases, plus they can support hormonal balance.
What are the health benefits of anthocyanins? Some of the conditions that research suggests anthocyanins may help prevent include:
1. Protection Against Cardiovascular/Heart Disease
Overall, many studies have found that having just one to two(or ideally more) servings of anythocyanin-rich foods per day can protect you from problems from high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis. While it’s great to have antioxidant-rich foods every day, even having them several times per week can improve your health. One finding from the Iowa Women’s Health Study, which included more than 34,000 postmenopausal women, found that women who consumed anthocyanin-rich strawberries and blueberries once per week or more experienced significant reductions in risk of death from heart disease/coronary artery disease.
Another large body of research from the Nurses’ Health Study I and II, which followed over 46,000 women from and 23,000 men for more than a decade, found evidence that the those with the highest intakes of anthocyanin (especially from blueberries and strawberries) had a significantly decreased risk for developing hypertension, myocardial infarction and/or having a heart attack compared to those with the lowest intake. This was true even after controlling for other factors like exercise level, family history and BMI.
Anthocyanin benefits for diabetes and pancreatic disorders have also been unearthed in recent years, and again the efficacy is attributed to the multiple, simultaneous biological effects these pigments cause in the body, including prevention of generation of free radicals, decreased lipid peroxidation, reduced pancreatic swelling, and decreased blood sugar concentrations in urine and blood serum.
2. Improved Immune Function
Anthocyanin bioflavonoids may provide protection from DNA damage and lipid peroxidation, plus they have anti-inflammatory effects and help boost production of cytokines that regulate the immune responses. They have also been shown to support hormonal balance by reducing estrogenic activity, help regulate enzyme production that aids nutrient absorption, and strengthen cell membranes by making them less permeable and fragile.
3. Protection Against Cancer
Research suggests that anthocyanin can decrease the risk of developing various types of cancer due to its antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory effects. This has been demonstrated in both in vitro and in vivo research trials in humans and animals. Studies show that anthocyanins have the ability to naturally fight cancer by blocking cell proliferation and inhibiting tumor formation by interfering with the process of carcinogenesis. One way anthocyanins inhibit tumorigenesis by blocking activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways.
4. Improved Cognitive Function
Studies have found that diets high in antioxidants like anthocyanin lead to reversal in certain age-related deficits that affect neural and behavioral parameters, including memory and motor functions. Anthocyanins have been credited with protecting memory, coordination and neural function in older populations. One study out of Korea found that administration of isolated anthocyanins from purple sweet potato enhanced cognitive performance and inhibited lipid peroxidation in brain tissues in mice.
5. Enhanced Exercise Performance and Recovery
Antioxidants seem to improve physical performance by lowering exhaustion and the negative effects of excessive oxygen and radical accumulation during physical activities. In one double-blinded clinical trial that involved 54 female and male athletes, when one group was given 100 milligrams of anthocyanin pills per day for six weeks, the participants in that group were found to experience a significant improvement in their VO2 max (maximal oxygen consumption) compared to the second group that received 100 milligrams of placebo pills daily.
Some studies have also found that fruit juices that contain anthocyanin, such as 100 percent tart cherry and blueberry juices, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that wind up positively influencing muscle damage following exercise and the ability to properly recover.
There’s even evidence from animal studies that anthocyanins consumed as part of a high-fat diet can help inhibit both body weight and adipose tissue increases.
6. Enhanced Vision and Eye Health
Anthocyanin has been shown to help enhance night vision and overall vision by protecting the eyes from free radical damage. One study found that oral intake of anthocyanosides from black currants resulted in significantly improved night vision in adults. Research suggests that enhancement of rhodopsin regeneration and protection against inflammation are at least two mechanism by which anthocyanins improve sight and protect the eyes.