Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins can be defined as a variety of flavonoid, which is a group of compounds possessing antioxidant actions. Anthocyanins occur naturally in several foods. They are pigments that are responsible for the red, blue and purple color of some plants. Aside from serving as antioxidants and combating the detrimental free radicals, these flavonoids may also offer anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer benefits.

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Found in several plants, these flavonoids are pigments that are soluble in water. Anthocyanins have many different functions in a plant. In addition, they have been related to various health benefits like preventing cancer; hence the nutritional interest in this pigment. While everyone consumes anthocyanins daily, there are several people whose diets are rich in these flavonoids.

The color of anthocyanins can differ subject to their pH level. They may be red, blue or violet. It is worth mentioning here that apples are vividly red owing to the presence of these flavonoids. Even blueberries owe their blue color to anthocyanins. These pigments are present in various parts of plants, including the leaves, stems and fruits. However, the concentration of anthocyanins in different parts may be different. For instance, when there is a new growth in a plant, it usually has a reddish tinge, which is due to the presence of anthocyanin. The pigment gradually flushes out as the plant continues to grow and becomes mature.

Anthocyanins have various functions in plants and one major role of these pigments is to create a dense sun block. Hence, these dark pigments help to shield the plants from damages caused by the ultra-violet rays of the sun and, at the same time, lessen the chances that they will wilt or burn due to the intense rays of the sun. Aside from protecting the plants, anthocyanins also help the plants to attract pollinators as the bees, birds and other pollinators can easily see the different hues caused by the presence of these pigments. One reason why several flowers have a bright red color is that they contain the red pigment. Anthocyanins also possess antioxidant properties, which is very vital for the health of the plants. This is primarily because oxidation can harm the plants in the same way it harms other organisms.

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Anthocyanins belong to a very large family of organic compounds called flavonoids. Several nutritional studies have found flavonoids to have the potential to be preventive nutrients that may contribute to people's health. In addition, apparently some flavonoids work to shrink tumours and also cure a number of diseases. Even anthocyanins possess similar properties. These organic pigments offer several health benefits, especially in the form of antioxidants. Fruits are considered to be healthy because they contain these pigments. Similarly, fruit juices and wines are also known to offer several health benefits, which are primarily attributed to the presence of anthocyanins.

Similar to many other compounds present in the plants, even anthocyanins are very complex. In fact, their actions in the plants as well as the human body may be owing to various interactions between many dissimilar chemicals, which have made it quite difficult to isolate particular compounds for research. This is the main reason why a fresh whole fruit is often considered to be nutritionally better compared to juices, extracts and even dried fruits. In fact, the whole fruit encloses a particular balance of several nutrients contained by it and it is really difficult to reproduce the same balance elsewhere. In spite of the best endeavours of the scientists and researchers we do not know the actions of all these nutrients. Therefore, it is often not possible to ascertain the precise health benefits offered by specific fruits.

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It has been found that majority of the berries enclose a reasonable amount of anthocyanins. For instance, elderberry, blackberry, bilberry, raspberry, blueberry, cranberry and practically all types of blue, red and purple-skinned berries are supposed to have elevated concentration of these flavonoids. Generally, it has been found that blackberries contain the maximum amount of antioxidants contained by any fruit. The health benefits offered by various berries differ depending on their antioxidant content.

Health benefits

Several studies undertaken with animals have demonstrated that anthocyanins may possibly be effective anti-inflammatory agents partly owing to the fact that they help to prevent damages to the blood vessels. Findings of various studies have hinted that anthocyanins may be helpful in combating chronic inflammation, which is associated with arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, type-2 diabetes, dementia and several other diseases.

It has been found that anthocyanins improve the metabolism of blood sugar. Many studies have demonstrated that these pigments are likely to have a favourable impact on anomalous production of collagen, a side effect associated with diabetes. In fact, excessive collagen production is responsible for poor control of glucose in the blood stream. Findings of one study suggest that these flavonoids may prove to be effectual in putting of retinopathy; a condition associated with diabetes and may sometimes result in blindness. Aside from these health benefits, anthocyanins also prevent excessive protein production and, at the same time, it has been found that this compound works to repair the damaged and leaking capillaries.

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Experiments with anthocyanins have hinted that these healthy organic pigments may be useful for improving night vision as well as enhancing visual acuity in general.

Many different studies have revealed that anthocyanins may also help to reduce the levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol, improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure, augment the strength of capillaries and even combat oxidative stress. All these effects of anthocyanins are beneficial for the health of our cardiovascular system and useful in preventing heart disease.

The weight loss benefits of anthocyanins are yet to be proved scientifically, but studies undertaken on mice in lab that were fed diets high in fat and anthocyanin content did not gain much weight compared to the rats that were only fed fat, but not anthocyanin.

It is believed that anthocyanins may also be helpful in treating ulcers, as these pigments help to protect the stomach by improving the stomach mucus as well as secretion of gastric juices. This may be the reason why people have been using bilberry traditionally to cure ulcers.

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In one study involving animals, it was found that rats that were fed anthocyanins were less probable to experience memory loss and degradation of the motor functioning. It is thought that these flavonoids aid in decreasing the loss of fat in brain, a sign of the brain's aging. Nevertheless, trials on humans as well as further studies are essential to establish the relation between anthocyanin consumption and improved functioning of the cognitive system.

In addition to the health benefits of anthocyanins discussed above, this flavonoid may also be useful in preventing inflammatory responses, cardiovascular diseases, degenerative conditions and even cancer. It has been found that anthocyanins are also useful in enhancing the functioning of the neuronal and cognitive brain, health of the ocular system and protecting genomic DNA integrity. In recent times, several research papers have shown that apart from their antioxidant capacity in vitro studies, specific phenolic compound like anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins as well as various other flavonoids may be useful in controlling diverse signalling pathways that are involved in the survival, differentiation as well as the growth of cells.

In the role of an antioxidant, these pigments assist the body in eliminating the harmful free radicals that are responsible for oxidative damage inside our body. It has been found that anthocyanins and their derivatives shield us against various oxidants via numerous means. When our body is exposed to stress, pollution, toxic wastes, cigarette smoke, various drugs, ultra-violet (UV) radiation and the aging process it leads to the formation of vast amounts of free radicals. In the absence of antioxidants we all would be the more susceptible to various infections and diseases.

Usually, problems related to the heart as well as blood vessels are responsible for various cardiovascular diseases, which include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, peripheral artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, heart failure and congenital heart disease. Several epidemiological studies have hinted that consuming more amounts of anthocyanins helps to reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, cardiovascular diseases are the most common reason for human deaths across the world every year. Various studies have shown that anthocyanins possess anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties. As a result consuming elevated amounts of these flavonoids has been found to have healthy effects on blood pressure as well as various risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases.

Anthocyanin is also effective for decreasing capillary permeability. For instance, extracts of these pigments in raw or unprocessed form have been traditionally administered orally as well as in the form of injection to cure this condition. It has been found that anthocyanins, cyanidin and delphinidin have all exhibited properties that put off the appearance of vascular endothelial growth factor. It is worth mentioning here that this factor has been promoting atherosclerosis. Anthocyanins also possess the aptitude to protect the health of our cardiovascular system from damages caused by oxidative stress. In addition, these flavonoids also prevent the debasing of fat into several damaging compounds in our blood stream.

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