Why we should be eating more blackcurrants
‘Purple foods’ have been making the headlines recently as scientists become more aware of their important health benefits – and it seems most of us may be deficient in them.
Recently the BBC program ‘How To Stay Young’ revealed the remarkable anti-ageing effects of purple plant pigments for keeping the brain healthy and helping people live longer.
Angela Rippon’s team scrutinised the population of Okinawa, an island off Japan, where the residents consume a high amount of purple sweet potato, which contain compounds called anthocyanins. In contrast to Western society, their elderly suffer from very few cases of dementia, cancer and cardiovascular disease, and regularly enjoy active lives to well beyond 100.
The scientists attributed the Okinawans’ remarkable health record, in part, to their anthocyanin-rich diets.
Now scientists are starting to discover the extent to which anthocyanins (pronounced anth-o-sy-an-ins) may reduce the risk of chronic disease and improve life expectancy.
The best sources of anthocyanins are found in purple berries, with blackcurrants having one of the highest concentrations.
According to Paul Kroon, lead researcher at the Norwich Institute of Food Research, we should be eating at least two portions of purple fruit or vegetables a day.
Anthocyanins have a multitude of effects on the body and are particularly important as we age, when the body becomes inflamed and the blood vessel network suffers wear and tear, and becomes congested.
Blackcurrant compounds relax the body’s blood vessels, thereby increasing circulation and delivery of blood, oxygen and nutrients. Anthocyanins are also antioxidants that neutralise damaging free radicals, reduce inflammation and help maintain the health of blood vessels.
Studies to date have shown their therapeutic potential for improving gut, cardiovascular, brain and eye health.
One expert who has spent years researching blackcurrants and their role in human health is Derek Stewart, lead researcher at the James Hutton Research Institute in Dundee. He revealed in a recent key note presentation that blackcurrant is becoming a ‘big story’ for the significant dietary role it can play in various conditions, including Type II Diabetes and Dementia.
Referring to studies that show blackcurrants increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure, he says:
“Blood pressure is the marker for longevity and life. Anything that reduces blood pressure is a huge thing and blackcurrant does this massively effectively.
“We found that in dementia you get proteins laid down in brain that makes cells null and void, which is where you get memory loss. Blackcurrant completely interrupts how these proteins are laid down, and in fact sets it back significantly – reducing the ‘docking’ of these proteins by around 30%.
“Through a dietary route, we believe blackcurrant can play a beneficial role in Alzheimer’s Disease.
“We’ve also done studies where we’ve had people taking blackcurrant and measured their insulin and glucose. We found if you add blackcurrant, you get a more controlled release and, more importantly much more modulated insulin levels. These findings are significant for Type II Diabetics, suggesting it could set back the development of the disease.”
Professor Mark Willems, from the University of Chichester, recently studied the effect of a New Zealand blackcurrant anthocyanin extract on cardiovascular function. He found the amount of anthocyanin consumed had a significant effect on cardiovascular responses. When given up to three capsules of the blackcurrant supplement called CurraNZ, subjects in the study experienced a decrease of 20.2% in peripheral resistance and 27.5% cardiac output. Even at lower doses, subjects showed improved cardiovascular function.
While there are no official guidelines on what our daily anthocyanin intake should be, Professor Willems observes that most people may not be consuming enough anthocyanins as part of their diet, given the positive responses seen in studies on high anthocyanin intake.
He says: “The normal dietary intake in Europe is 40-80gm of anthocyanin. A lot of individuals in society are trying to live a healthy life and eat a balanced diet, but despite best efforts, it seems they are still deficient in anthocyanin and not aware of it.”
Commenting on Professor Willems’ findings, Dr Simon Woldman, cardiologist at University College London Hospital and a specialist in heart failure, said:
“Clearly this could be very important and now requires a study to look at the impact on patients who may benefit.”
The supplement used in the study, CurraNZ, is a natural extract made from New Zealand-grown blackcurrants, with each capsule containing the equivalent of 85 blackcurrants, and 105mg of anthocyanin (available from www.healthcurrancy.co.uk).
One cancer survivor, June Marsh from Surrey, attributes blackcurrants for her regaining her health.
The mum-of-three was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer ten years ago when she was 50 and five years later she had to battle the disease again.
She had to have a full hysterectomy and her lymph nodes removed. As a result she suffered from chronic fatigue and was so weak she couldn’t get up the stairs.
But after taking the blackcurrant supplement for a month June says that her health was finally turned round after years of turmoil.
“When I had cancer the first time I was wiped out for years. Then it returned a second time and, again, it knocked me for six.
“I lost my hair, I lost a lot of weight and I felt absolutely wiped out. A friend recommended the supplement.
“Within a month of taking them I felt energised and well again. My menopause symptoms reduced too. Within eight weeks they had disappeared. Even my doctor couldn’t believe how well I was at my three-monthly checkup.
“Now I feel wonderful. I love having the energy to play with my grandchildren. I swim and do pilates and yoga every week.
“Before taking blackcurrant I could never have imagined being able to do this – I feared I wouldn’t see my grandchildren grow up.
“I’ve beaten cancer twice and I’m still going.”
To purchase CurraNZ, go to healthcurrancy.co.uk.