Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The amazing anthocyanins!

Question: Do you like flowers? Berries? A shiny red apple? Maybe beets or cabbage?

I love these beautiful and nutritious gifts from nature as well. What is even more amazing is how the pigments themselves are really very healthy for us. These red, blue, and purple pigments are called anthocyanins are from the phenylpropanoid family: chemicals derived from the amino acid phenylalanine. They are also closely related to the family of compounds that includes resveratrol, which is now the famous 'healthy wine chemical'.

Anthocyanins are associated with improved cognitive function (brain and neurological performance), eye health and sight, obesity, ulcer protection, cardiovascular function, and cancer prevention. Many of these benefits are believed to be related to the antioxidant ability of the molecules.Do you see all of those doubled lines in the chemical? Those are called conjugated double bonds and they make it possible for the chemical to absorb energy in the form of electrons from other molecules.So, when another molecule has excess electron energy, it can donate one to the anthocyanin, which keeps it safe from attacking your system. Otherwise, it can attack your lipids or wreak havoc on your vitamins, making them toxic to you.

It's also been suggested that these chemicals can bind to proteins that regulate gene expression and change the way genes are expressed in your body. This is correlated with anticancer activity. 

The structure pictured is the basic structure of an anthocyanin. These complex molecules can differ by as little as a single atom and that can change their bioactivity. It's amazing how these little changes in the chemical structure of a molecule can change so much in how your body perceives it. Do you remember the pharmaceutical thalidomide? It turns out that there are a couple forms of thalidomide. They differ at the orientation around a single atom. The right-handed molecule prevents nausea and morning sickness. The left-handed molecule causes birth defects. Crazy, right? 

So, should be all be running out to get our anthocyanin supplements...well, maybe. But hold your horses - the jury is still out on the biological availability of such supplements (i.e. can we even absorb them and use their powerful chemicals in our bodies) and how the chemicals work in the body. Then there is the 'whole food synergism' argument - where the sum of the whole food does more for your body than a cocktail of supplements containing the same chemicals. So, you might take an anthocyanin supplement, but you'd actually get more from eating some red fruits or veggies. Besides, don't you just want to run out and eat some delicious berries, add some beets to your salad (related betacyanins), or drink some cranberry juice? I know I do!

I'll return with some eats tomorrow..believe me, I've been eating!

Finally, Eating Requires Activity (ERA): 8 mile run

Do you take vitamins or supplements? If so, which ones?


  1. I do. I take a multivitamin and vit d. Mostly for the Fe.

  2. Glucosamine/chondroitin and ginko biloba. Do these really work?

  3. You know, I'd like to know too as I take the Gluc/Chon mixture. Most trials indicate that they work for some people some of the time. There appears to be no ill effects associated with supplementing Gluc/Chon, so if it works for you, I think you should keep taking it! As for ginko, that's an old chinese medicinal herb that hasn't really been hashed out scientifically yet. In fact, I'd love to study it in the future...