Health benefits: anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-obesity and may protect against cognitive and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease

Anthocyanins are members of the flavonoid group of phytochemicals, typically found in teas, honey, wines, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, cocoa, and cereals. The flavonoids comprise a group of over 4000 aromatic plant compounds. The key memebrs in this group include the anthocyanins (eg, cyanidin, pelargonidin, petunidin), the flavonols (quercetin, kaempferol), flavones (luteolin, apigenin), flavanones (myricetin, naringin, hesperetin, naringenin), flavan-3-ols (catechin, epicatechin, gallocatechin) and the isoflavones (genistein, daidzein). Phytochemicals in this class are frequently referred to as bioflavonoids due to their various roles in human health. Anthocyanins in food are typically ingested as components of mixtures of flavonoid food components. Daily intake is estimated from 500 mg to 1 g.

The colorful anthocyanins are the most recognized, visible members of the bioflavonoid phytochemicals. The free-radical scavenging and antioxidant abilities of anthocyanin pigments are the best known but research also clearly suggests that other mechanisms of action are also responsible for observed health benefits. Anthocyanin isolates and anthocyanin-rich mixtures of bioflavonoids may provide protection from DNA cleavage, estrogenic activity (= altering development of hormone-dependent disease symptoms), enzyme inhibition, boosting production of cytokines (=regulating immune responses), anti-inflammatory activity, lipid peroxidation, decreasing capillary permeability and fragility, and membrane strengthening.

In recent years measurable properties of isolated anthocyanin pigments have been verified by controlled in vitro, in vivo, or clinical research trials. In many other cases however, the exact roles of the anthocyanins in human health versus other phytochemicals in a mixture from a fruit extract or whole food have not been completely sorted out, some reports suggest that anthocyanin activity is strenghtened when delivered in mixtures.

For example, oral consumotion of anthocyanosides from black currants or bilberries resulted in significantly improved night vision adaptation in humans. In both in vitro and in vivo trials, anthocyanins have also demonstrated ability to reduce cancer cell proliferation and to inhibit tumor formation. In other research, fruit extracts with significant anthocyanin concentrations proved to be effective against various stages of carcinogenesis. In cardiovascular disease protection the role of anthocyanins is strongly linked to oxidative stress protection.

Recent studies have shown that anthocyanins extracted from purple corn, when provided to mice during a high-fat diet, effectively inhibited both body weight and adipose tissue increases as well as diabetes and obesity symptoms. Anthocyanins have also been suggested to positively influence cognitive and motor function, enhance memory, and to have a role in preventing age-related declines in neural function. Other studies indicate anti-inflammatory properties.

With research in progress is is likely that more upsides of anthocyanins will be discovered and detailed as well as provide guidance on dosing for various applications.