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Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid, a family of powerful antioxidants that fight the effects of aging and stress. They are the blue, violet, or red flavonoid pigments found in plants. 

In regard to anthocyanin’s structure, anthocyanins are water-soluble, glycoside pigments that can vary in colour depending on their specific pH. The exact type of anthocyanin that a fruit or veggie contains is partially what determines how deeply red, purple, violet, blue or even orange it will be. This is one reason why the same food, such as eggplants or onions, can come in many different shades.

Here’s the cool thing about most antioxidants: Not only do they benefit you when you eat them, but they also benefit the plants that contain them too. Plants produce phytochemicals like anthocyanin as a protective mechanism; phytochemicals help build plants’ resistance and protect them from being destroyed. For example, anthocyanin can offer plant protection from being eaten by predators (like bugs, birds or rodents) and from environmental stressors like ultraviolet light, cold temperatures and drought.

Some of the conditions that research suggests anthocyanins may help prevent include:

  • Cardiovascular disease and risk factors, such as high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries
  • Cancer
  • Impaired immune function
  • Diabetes
  • Neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Symptoms of poor cognitive function, including poor memory and trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Poor recovery from exercise/physical activity
  • Vision loss
  • Obesity

6 HEALTH BENEFITS OF ANTHOCYANIN

CARDIOVASCULAR AND HEART HEALTH

Overall, many studies have found that having just one to two (or ideally more) servings of anthocyanin-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.

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. 

FIGHT 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. 

COGNITIVE FUNCTION

Studies have found that diets high in antioxidants like anthocyanin lead to a reversal in certain age-related deficits that affect neural and behavioural 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. 

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. 

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 mechanisms by which anthocyanins improve sight and protect the eyes. 

*This blog has been adapted from Mindful Blog – Drink Arepa.

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