What Are Anthocyanidins? Positive Effects of Plant Pigments
Okay, so you’ve probably heard of ‘antioxidants’ (those little guys that protect your body from damaging compounds called free radicals), but what about ‘anthocyanidins’ – another buzzword to hit the headlines recently? Anthocyanidins are the big daddy of the antioxidant world. The cool thing about these nutrients is their capacity as antioxidants extend beyond kicking free radical ass. A growing body of scientific research reveals they also play an essential role in protecting tissues, cells and vital organs. Let’s find out why everyone waxing lyrical about these powerful plant pigments.
Where can you find anthocyanidins?
Anthocyanidins are found in high concentrations in purple-coloured foods: blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, strawberries, pomegranate, black plums, aubergine, red cabbage, cherries and cranberries. Interestingly, it’s the anthocyanidins that give these veggies and fruit their brilliant purple, red, or blue hues.
Supports heart function
A bulk of research suggests regular dietary intake of anthocyanidin-rich foods may protect your body from cardiovascular risks, thanks to them enhancing blood flow and preventing the build-up of plaque. In the Iowa Women’s Health Study, which examined 34,000 postmenopausal women, researchers found participants who consumed strawberries and blueberries once per week or more saw a marked reduction in developing coronary artery disease or heart disease i. Another large study led by scientists at the University of East Anglia and Harvard School of Public Health validated these findings ii. The examination revealed women who ate three or more portions of strawberries and blueberries per week lowered their chances of having a heart attack. The research drew on the data from 93,600 female nurses aged between 25 and 42, over an 18-year period.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you of their heart-healthy credentials, further evidence from randomised, clinical trials highlights eating anthocyanidins, especially blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries, may decrease LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind) in your body iii iv. Indeed, elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are a risk factor in the development of heart disease. Adding a handful of berries to your meals couldn’t be a simpler lifestyle change to implement. Plus, these natural-sweet jewels are chock-full of flavour. Your porridge, yoghurt and desserts have been crying out for these purple beauties!
Improves cognitive function
These powerful plant pigments have demonstrated great promise in supporting cognitive function, with many experts heralding them for protecting memory, neural function and coordination. This root vegetable is also commonly eaten in Okinawa – a Japanese island, which is home to an unusually healthy, elderly population, with a large number of inhabitants over the age of 100! It’s worth noting that rates of dementia are 50% lower than those in the West v. Some experts propose the traditional consumption of purple sweet potato plays a pivotal role in keeping the Okinawan’s grey matter happy and healthy, supplying the brain with plenty of oxygen and blood vi. While we have to be mindful the longevity of an Okinawan is unlikely to be down to this free racial scavenging spud alone, it’s certainly food for thought.
Enhances exercise performance and recovery
In recent years, anthocyanidins have gained quite a reputation in the sporting world. By lowering the negative effect of free radical accumulation during physical activity, it appears anthocyanidin-rich fruit juices, such a tart cherry juice, have the antioxidant capacity to enhance physical performance and support recovery post-exercise vii. In one study published by the University of Northumbria, scientists assessed the impact of drinking tart cherry juice on marathon running viii. The findings indicated the group who drank the cherry juice recovered their strength more quickly than the control group over a 48-hour period following the marathon. Impressively, both inflammation and free radical damage – a common side effect of long-distance endurance running – were significantly reduced. If you’re looking to improve your PB, tart cherry juice might just be the missing ingredient of your workout routine.
Thanks to their rich antioxidant credentials, anthocyanidins are thought to provide some protection from invading free radical damage, as well as supporting the production of cytokines that regulate your immune responses. A study published in Advances In Nutrition found anthocyanidins played an essential role in the respiratory tract’s immune defences ix. The report established those who ate food rich in these plant pigments were less likely to develop an upper respiratory tract infection, or a common cold, than those who didn’t. Constantly battling a sniffle in cold and flu season? Try an immune-boosting smoothie that combines blueberries, fresh ginger, beetroot, and Greek yoghurt. Loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, this nourishing beverage will prime you for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.
Supports eye health
According to a raft of research, anthocyanidins are great for your peepers. These plant pigments have been credited for reducing inflammation in the eye tissue, countering oxidative stress in the retina, and offering anti-allergic and anti-viral support x xi. Not only that, but these plant powerhouses appear to support blood flow and circulation, too, as well as reinforcing the integrity of eye capillaries xii. A study published in the European Review for Medical Pharmacological Studies discovered bilberries – a concentrated source of anthocyanidins – increased tear production, providing some relief for dry-eye sufferers xiii. Loading up on these purple carrots (yes, they do exist) means double whammy of nutrition for your eyes. Unlike their orange counterparts, these purple beauties contain twice the amount of beta-carotene, which converts into vision-loving vitamin A in the body. Plus, thanks to their deep colour, they contain a ton of anthocyanidin goodness.
Strengthens collagen production
Collagen production is another area where anthocyanidins really shine. Collagen is the protein found in your skin, and is responsible for giving it structure, elasticity and that much-desired ‘glow’. From the age of 20, however, your collagen production starts to decline, paving the way for fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin as you age. This is where our plant pals come in; research suggests anthocyanidins play an important role in restoring and protecting collagen xiv. One study even purported these compounds can safeguard against harmful UV rays from the sun, which accelerates ageing xv. If you’re looking for the secret to eternal youth, loading up on berries is a brilliant place to start.
Healthy collagen production isn’t only vital for flawless skin; it supports your connective tissue and capillary walls, too. Indeed, clinical research has presented anthocyanidins as powerful weapons against fluid retention due to ‘leaky’ blood capillaries xvi. Researchers propose these plant pigments have the capacity to repair and protect collagen in the capillary walls, and thereby providing some relief from fluid retention. For an anthocyanidin hit, throw a handful of blueberries in a spinach, blue cheese, and pecan salad.
Anthocyanidins work their antioxidant magic in countless biological functions. From cognition and collagen production, to eye health and exercise performance, there’s no doubt these plant powerhouses are good for us. Thankfully, getting your anthocyanidin fix couldn’t be easier. Breakfast is a brilliant canvas for many of these foods. Think blueberry smoothies, porridge topped with strawberries or overnight oats and blackberries. Not berry season? Go frozen! Frozen berries are still chock-full of anthocyanidin goodness and an easy way to jumpstart your morning. Upping your anthocyanidin intake is about being creative. If you can spice up a dish with a burst of purple fruit or veg, go for it!
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Northumbria University Marathon runners should pick cherries for speedy recovery." Science Daily (3 April 2010)
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Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.