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Found in plant tissue, anthocyanins are antioxidant flavonoids have been found in studies to protect many systems in the human body. They have some of the strongest physiological effects of any plant compounds, and they are also things of beauty: anthocyanins provide the dark purple color found in black raspberries, pansies, petunias, and plums. Interest in anthocyanins has intensified because of their possible health benefits. Over 300 structurally distinct anthocyanins have been identified in nature.
One important property of anthocyanins is their high antioxidant capacity. By definition, antioxidants prevent cells in your body from being oxidized by not only removing the products of oxidation (called “free radicals”), but also by offering themselves up for oxidation instead.
When you eat foods containing anthocyanins, your body subjects the anthocyanins to many changes, creating slightly modified versions of the original compounds. These modified versions, called metabolites, are delivered to the thin layer of cells that line your entire cardiovascular system where they lend their antioxidant power to those cells. According to a study conducted by researcher Mary Ann Lila, published in 2004 in the “Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology,” anthocyanins can protect your cardiovascular system from oxidative stress and also prevent fat from breaking down into dangerous compounds in your blood.
Black raspberries are loaded with anthocyanins as well as many other beneficial compounds. This is one of the reasons they are sought after by nutritionists and so heavily researched here in the United States. While anthocyanins are very well studied, it is the complex mixture of nutrients that is unique and important. In studies done at Louisiana State University that concluded that black raspberries were “promising” it was shown that:
“Further subfractionation of this active fraction revealed the coexistence of multiple antiangiogenic compounds… However, the individual subfractions did not outperform the active whole fraction.”
In simple terms, what that means is when they tried to isolate single compounds and test them, they never performed as well as the overall combination of compounds found in black raspberries.
For more information, please check out this great resource on anthocyanin pigments written by Dr. Wrolstad at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.