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Anthocyanins

What Should I Know About Them?

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Updated February 28, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The Health Benefits of Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid, a class of compounds with antioxidant effects. Found naturally in a number of foods, anthocyanins are the pigments that give berries, red onions, kidney beans, pomegranates, and grapes their rich coloring. In addition to acting as antioxidants and fighting free radicals, anthocyanins may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits.

In herbal medicine, anthocyanin-rich substances have long been used to treat a number of conditions (including high blood pressure, colds, and urinary tract infections). Recent research suggests that anthocyanins may also help fend off major health problems, including heart disease and cancer.

The Science Behind Anthocyanins

Here's a look at several key findings on anthocyanins and their health effects:

1) Heart Disease

Anthocyanins may enhance heart health, according to a 2010 report published in Nutrition Reviews. The report's authors note that anthocyanins appear to improve cholesterol levels and blood sugar metabolism, as well as fight oxidative stress (a process known to play a role in heart disease).

Dietary intake of anthocyanins may also help prevent high blood pressure (a major risk factor for heart disease), according to a 2011 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

2) Obesity

Preliminary research suggests that anthocyanins may protect against obesity. In a 2008 study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists found that mice fed an anthocyanin-enriched high-fat diet for eight weeks gained less weight than mice fed a high-fat diet without anthocyanins.

3) Cancer

Anthocyanins may aid in the prevention of breast cancer, according to a laboratory study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010. In test-tube experiments, scientists showed that anthocyanins extracted from blueberries helped inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells.

Sources of Anthocyanins

Natural substances rich in anthocyanins include:

Using Anthocyanins for Health Purposes

Getting your fill of anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables may help boost your overall health by offering up an array of nutrients. However, scientists have yet to determine whether taking high concentrations of anthocyanins in supplement form can help treat or prevent any specific health condition.

Sources:

Ghosh D, Konishi T. "Anthocyanins and anthocyanin-rich extracts: role in diabetes and eye function." Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16(2):200-8.

Mazza GJ. "Anthocyanins and heart health." Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2007;43(4):369-74.

Basu A, Rhone M, Lyons TJ. "Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health." Nutr Rev. 2010 Mar;68(3):168-77.

Cassidy A, O'Reilly ÉJ, Kay C, Sampson L, Franz M, Forman JP, Curhan G, Rimm EB. "Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults." Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):338-47.

Prior RL, Wu X, Gu L, Hager TJ, Hager A, Howard LR. "Whole berries versus berry anthocyanins: interactions with dietary fat levels in the C57BL/6J mouse model of obesity." J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Feb 13;56(3):647-53.

Faria A, Pestana D, Teixeira D, de Freitas V, Mateus N, Calhau C. "Blueberry anthocyanins and pyruvic acid adducts: anticancer properties in breast cancer cell lines." Phytother Res. 2010 Dec;24(12):1862-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3213.

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