If you were offered a secret weapon for good health, would you take it?
Would you want the ability to “fill in the gaps” in your health created by bad choices?
How about a way to make up for your genetic deficiencies?
Or perhaps be able to reverse the damage that is a result of time on this planet?
Chances are if you are over 40 you realize the precious value of such a gift. The aging process has a way of reminding us of our limited control on our health. Good nutrition, consistent exercise, adequate sleep – we recognize these as being ways we can fight against declining health. Is that enough?
Anthocyanins are a secret weapon we can use in this fight.
What are Anthocyanins?
Simply put, anthocyanins are compounds found mostly in fruits and veggies. You can easily identify their presence by bright red, blue, and purple hues. Foods rich in anthocyanins are:
- Red Cabbage
- Red Onion
- Black Soybean Seeds
- Red Beets
- Red Beans
- Red wine
- Red or purple grapes
They have strong antioxidant effects against free radical damage. Free radicals attack healthy cells and can cause a bunch of diseases. To understand the work of antioxidants, picture an undercover policeman apprehending those individuals looking to do harm. In either case, it’s an important job.
Here are 5 compelling reasons that anthocyanins might be considered a secret weapon for your health.
Heart disease can come in many forms and has a multitude of causes. However, chronic inflammation is connected to each of the causes. Inflammation is our body’s response to foreign invaders. It actually protects the tissues in our body when something goes wrong (i.e. a cut, a bacteria, a virus, etc.)
The problem arises when the inflammation becomes chronic. Alongside its attack on invaders, it also attacks surrounding tissue. The process becomes one of destruction and repairing. This can lead to disease.
Anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory properties. Research is proving that diets rich in fruits and vegetables help to lower the risks of heart disease. In fact, berries in particular, which are a high source of anthocyanins, are a recommended addition to a heart-healthy diet.(3)
Cancer is a consistent 2nd place in the leading causes of death, so looking at it warrants equal attention.
As mentioned earlier, anthocyanins are easy to spot because they are what cause a plant to have those vibrant colors. The bright reds, blues, and purples are actually an adaptation of the plant to protect itself from the sun. This happens at the cellular level.
These same protective genes in the plant are what provide us a bit of protection at the cellular level. Anthocyanins improve the activity of these genes and subdue the inflammation and tumor activity response in our body.
Another way that anthocyanins are your secret weapon against cancer is that they activate apoptosis. This natural, body defense system causes the cancer cell to commit suicide. The response helps to control the inflammatory condition, which once again is a major culprit in causing and feeding disease.
Our brains are actually capable of producing new cells well into old age. Losing memory does not have to be a part of normal aging. However, as with most things we need to be purposeful about protecting and improving our mental abilities.
This is where adding anthocyanins to our diet comes in. Postmenopausal women, in particular, should take note of this. Deficits in estrogen can cause a whole host of issues, including memory impairment.
Several studies looking at the effects of anthocyanin supplementation indicated that memory and learning were enhanced.(4)(5) This was even the case when high oxidative stress, which leads to early aging, was present.(6)
Adding natural anthocyanins or a supplement including this secret weapon is an easy way to stay “sharp” as you age.
Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Diabetes is another one of the “biggies” in regards to causes of death. Its prevalence continues to rise globally thanks to unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity.
A person with diabetes becomes more at risk for heart attack, kidney failure, many infections, and even blindness. In addition, the burden it places on a country’s healthcare system, thanks to medical costs and missed work, is distressing.
However, our little secret weapon – anthocyanins – gives hope for prevention and improvement regarding several conditions associated with diabetes. A study looking at the effects of supplementation with a blueberry and bilberry extract found that improvements were made in mice that were hyperglycemic and insulin sensitive. This extract also reduced the glucose concentration in blood.(7)
According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), there are 415 million adults with diabetes and it is estimated that by 2040 that number will rise to a staggering 642 million.(8) Increasing your intake of anthocyanins, either by eating more fruits and vegetables rich in this nutrient or by taking a supplement, might stop you from becoming a part of that statistic.
Our media is flooded with tricks, tips, pills, surgeries, and special diets that promise to be the answer to our overweight problems. However, the percentage of obesity in adults and children continues to climb. This is concerning since obesity is a tremendous risk factor for many life-threatening conditions.
The good-old-fashioned approach of healthy eating and consistent exercise seems to be our best bet in losing and maintaining a healthy weight. Adding foods high in anthocyanins might be another consideration, based on some research.
In one such study, black soybeans were fed to rats, alongside a high-fat diet. There was a significant decrease in weight gain to those rats who got the combination of soybeans and high-fat foods as compared to the rats that were only fed the high-fat diet.(9)
Things to Think About
Before reading this article, you may not have heard about anthocyanins. In fact, at times it can seem pretty overwhelming to process all the information regarding your health needs. Understanding the science behind the recommendations is often complicated for those who are just trying to make good choices.
Basic good advice, such as eat your fruits and veggies, take your vitamins, get your sleep, and exercise regularly is still the best information to live by.
However, thanks to deficiencies in our diets and stressful lifestyles we often are lacking in important nutrients. Phytonutrients (nutrients that come from plants) can often fill in the gaps in our nutrition and make a difference in our overall health.
Anthocyanins are one such phytonutrient that just might prove to be a health hero.
So What’s Next?
The value of a secret weapon is in its use. The health benefits of anthocyanins are clear, but what are ways that you can put that information to work in your day-to-day routines? Here are five easy approaches to do just that:
1. Make a berry smoothie for breakfast. (1 cup coconut milk, ½ to 1 cup of mixed berries, shredded ice, optional – add a ½ of a banana)
2. Add red onions and red pepper to your homemade pizza or to a fresh salad.
3. Choose red cabbage for your coleslaw or sauerkraut.
4. Roast eggplant slices with beets and red onions. Drizzle with olive oil for a power-packed side dish.
5. Pick one day a week where you focus on getting an anthocyanin-rich fruit and/or vegetable at each meal.
Take a look at our list of foods high in anthocyanins and get creative. Share (below) with us a way that you plan to add this secret weapon to your good health today.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.
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(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.(2015) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm
(2) World Health Organization Fact Sheet. (2017) Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/
(3) Basu, Arpita and Rhone, Michael and Lyons, Timothy J.(2010) Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068482/
(4) Varadinova, MG and Docheva-Drenska, DI and Boyadjieva, NI (2009) Effects of anthocyanins on learning and memory of ovariectomized rats. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19002018
(5) Cho,J and Kang, JS and Long, PH and Jing, J and Back, Y and Chung, KS (2003) Antioxidant and memory enhancing effects of purple sweet potato anthocyanin and cordyceps mushroom extract. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14609130
(6) Poulose, SM and Rabin, BM and Bielinski, DF and Kelly, ME and Miller MG and Thanthaeng, N and Shukitt- Hale, B (2016) Neurochemical differences in learning and memory paradigms among rats supplemented with anthocyanin-rich blueberry diets and exposed to acute doses of 56Fe particles. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28212704
(7) Takikawa, M and Inoue, S and Horio, F and Tsuda, T (2010) Dietary anthocyanin-rich bilberry extract ameliorates hyperglycemia and insulin sensitivity via activation of AMP-activated protein kinase in diabetic mice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20089785
(8) IDF Diabetes Atlas – 7th edition. Retrieved from http://www.diabetesatlas.org/
(9) Kwon, SH and Ahn, IS and Kim, SO and Kong, CS and Chung, HY and Do, MS and Park, KY (2007) Anti-obesity and hypolipidemic effects of black soybean anthocyanins. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17887951