anthocyanin is a pigment found in plants that is believed to have health benefits.They belong to a class of compounds called flavonoids Has antioxidant effect. This means they fight unstable molecules, called free radicals, that damage cells and increase the risk of certain diseases.
Some people believe that anthocyanins can also boost the immune system and help fight inflammation, heart disease, viral infections, and even cancer.
This article lists dietary sources of anthocyanins and the types of health conditions that anthocyanins are thought to treat. It also weighs current evidence so that you can make informed choices about your diet or the use of anthocyanin supplements.
Where are anthocyanins found?
Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that not only impart color to certain plants, but also protect them from extreme temperatures.
Plants that are particularly rich in anthocyanins are:
- Brazilian berry
- black beans
- black raspberry
- black rice
- black soybean
- blue corn
- Concord grapes
- eggplant (skin)
- Plums (skin)
- red cabbage
- red currant
- red onion
- sour cherries
You can also buy anthocyanin-rich supplements, including tart cherry extract, blueberry extract, bilberry extract, and black raspberry extract.
Black, purple, blue or dark red fruits, vegetables, beans and grains are often rich in anthocyanins. You can also buy berry-based, anthocyanin-rich dietary supplements.
What are anthocyanins used for?
In herbal medicine, foods rich in anthocyanins are thought to treat or prevent many unrelated health conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- colds, flu, and other viral infections
- enlarged prostate
- Eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma
- fatty liver disease
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- urinary tract infection
Others believe anthocyanins can help prevent breast, colon, liver, lung, ovarian, prostate, skin, and other types of cancer.
While it’s clear that anthocyanin-rich foods play a role in good nutrition, it’s unclear whether they can prevent or treat any health conditions. Even if there is evidence that anthocyanins are beneficial, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, it’s unclear how much is needed to be considered “preventive.” Evidence is still lacking.
Here are some of the current research:
According to a review published in 2010, anthocyanins may reduce the risk of heart disease Nutrition ReviewsAccording to the report’s authors, anthocyanins appear to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels that contribute to heart disease. They also appear to fight oxidative stress (damage caused by free radicals) that plays a role in heart disease.
Foods rich in anthocyanins may also help prevent high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, according to a 2011 study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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Anthocyanins may help prevent breast cancer, according to a study published in the journal Phytotherapy research year 2010. In a series of test-tube experiments, scientists have shown that anthocyanins extracted from blueberries help inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells.
Despite these findings, there is no evidence that eating anthocyanin-rich foods or taking anthocyanin-rich supplements does the same. Further research is required.
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While anthocyanin-rich foods are considered “heart-healthy,” there is little evidence that they actively treat or prevent any health conditions. This is especially true when it comes to anthocyanins and cancer prevention.
Precautions and Risks
Eating anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables may help boost your overall health by providing good nutrition. Anthocyanin-rich foods, like berries, work well in almost any diet because they are not only high in antioxidants, but also rich in vitamins, fiber, and essential minerals.
That being said, scientists have yet to determine whether taking high concentrations of anthocyanins in supplement form will help treat or prevent any health conditions.
If you choose to take anthocyanin supplements, keep in mind that supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States. Therefore, they may vary in quality and may contain ingredients that you may not want.
For better assurance of quality and purity, look for products that have been independently certified by ConsumerLab, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), or NSF International. Certification does not mean they are safe or valid. This simply means that they contain ingredients in the advertised amount listed on the product label.
Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements for use by children, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those with medical conditions has not been established.
Regardless of health claims, anthocyanin-rich fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains provide good nutrition. Whether anthocyanin supplements have health benefits has yet to be proven.
Anthocyanins are pigments found in certain plants that give them black, purple, blue or red. Rich in antioxidants, anthocyanins are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and help boost the immune system.
Because of this, anthocyanin-rich foods and supplements are often used in herbal medicine to treat many unrelated health conditions. These include colds, flu, heart attacks, strokes, urinary tract infections, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer. Evidence to support these claims is often lacking.
Despite the health claims, anthocyanin-rich foods are nutritious and an important part of a balanced diet. The jury is still out on whether anthocyanin supplements provide any benefit.
If you are considering taking anthocyanin supplements, please consult your primary care provider first. Self-medicating the disease and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences. Remember, “natural” doesn’t always mean safe.