What are anthocyanins, and what do they do?

Anthocyanins are natural pigments present in many plants, fruits and vegetables. They are part of the flavonoid group which also includes anthocyanins, flavones, isoflavones, flavanols and flavan-3-ols.

Anthocyanins contribute to the profound red/blue colors of many flowers (e.g., snapdragons, roses, irises), fruits (blueberries, Aronia berry), and vegetables (eggplant).

The right amount of anthocyanins within our bodies could help prevent and combat diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Our bodies cannot produce this compound on their own so we must get it from food sources.


Studies have shown that there is a correlation between higher intakes of anthocyanins and reduced risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. One study was completed by Harvard University in 2005 that took place over 12 years. It examined 63,257 women who were between the ages of 34-59 in an effort to determine their intakes of anthocyanins through fruits and vegetables. The study found that women who consumed the most anthocyanins were at a 40% reduced risk for heart disease compared to those who consumed the least anthocyanins. As well as being at a reduced risk for heart disease, the women who consumed the most anthocyanins were at about an 18% reduced risk for cancer.

Although this research shows that there is a correlation between higher intakes of anthocyanins and reduced risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer, it does not show cause-and-effect. The study did find an association between the anthocyanin intake and the reduced risks; however, they were not able to conclude that it was actually the anthocyanins that reduced the risk for heart disease and cancer.

The exact mechanism by which anthocyanins produce their protective effects is still not totally understood. Some researchers believe that anthocyanins can decrease oxidative stress in the body.

Another possible explanation is that anthocyanins benefit the body by activating enzymes that help regulate blood sugar levels. The actions of these enzymes can help to control fluctuations in blood sugar levels that may result from eating foods with high carbohydrates/sugar contents.

Anthocyanins and Epigenetics

The effects of anthocyanins are not limited to their antioxidant activities. Some research suggests that they may have epigenetic effects as well, which means their chemical properties may alter gene expression in beneficial ways. The way genes are expressed can influence several different processes within the body including development, immunity, and metabolism. In other words, changes in gene expression from anthocyanins can have a widespread effect on the human body.

Anthocyanins as Prebiotics

Additionally, anthocyanins can act as prebiotics within the body. A prebiotic is a non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon (gut microbiome). The secondary metabolites from healthy gut bacteria are at least as important as the primary metabolites from the food itself.

Anthocyanins do this by stimulating the growth of healthy gut bacteria such as bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria are lactic acid bacteria that are believed to have several health benefits including reduced cancer risk, reduced inflammation, and improved immune response.

The anthocyanins found in Aronia berry could benefit people’s well-being due to their antioxidant activity as well as their ability to act as prebiotics and epigenetic modifiers. It is important to note that further research is needed in order to better understand the mechanisms by which these effects take place.

Bibliography: 1) Kalt, W., and J. Belsky. “Non-antioxidant mechanisms of action of dietary polyphenols: implications for their effects on risk of chronic disease.” The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 20.6 (2009): 438-450.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑