Do you know what “anthocyanins” are? Anthocyanins are molecules called flavinoids. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines anthocyanins as : any of various soluble glycoside pigments producing blue to red coloring in flowers and plants. Yes, anthocyanins give blueberries, cranberries, red cabbage, and eggplant their deep red, purple, and blue colors, and we all know we should “eat the rainbow” for our vitamin and mineral needs. Why should you care about anthocyanins?

Research on Anthocyanins

blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and anthocyanins

“Recent studies using purified anthocyanins or anthocyanin-rich extracts on in vitro experimental systems have confirmed the potential potency of these pigments. Demonstrable benefits include protection against liver injuries; significant reduction of blood pressure; improvement of eyesight; strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities; inhibition of mutations caused by mutagens from cooked food; and suppression of proliferation of human cancer cells. Along with other phenolic compounds, they are potent scavengers of free radicals, although they can also behave as pro-oxidants. Because of their diverse physiological activities, the consumption of anthocyanins may play a significant role in preventing lifestyle-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases.” Source:

Health Benefits

anthocyanins in blueberries

We are familiar with the idea that blueberries decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality, but they have also been shown to improve hair and complexion, and increase energy. The iron, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin K found in blueberries contributes to building and maintaining bone structure and strength.

Strenuous exercise can lead to muscle soreness and fatigue, due to local inflammation and oxidative stress in the muscle tissue. Blueberry supplementation may reduce damage at the molecular level, which minimizes soreness and alleviates reduced muscle performance. In a small study of 10 female athletes, blueberries accelerated muscle recovery after strenuous leg exercises.

Anthocyanin Facts

Anthocyanins and Health


UTIs, urinary tract infections, common in women, can be treated with blueberry as well as cranberry, due to the fact that blueberry and cranberry are related species and contain many of the same active substances called anti-adhesives, which helps to prevent bacteria like E. coli from binding with the wall of the bladder.

Anthocyanins are found in high concentrations in blackcurrants, blackberries and blueberries, red cabbage, cranberries and cherries.

model of the Anthocyanin molecule
Anthocyanin molecule

Anthocyanins are water-soluble phytochemicals with a typical red to blue color. Anthocyanins belong to the family of flavonoids and polyphenolic molecules containing 15 carbon atoms and which can be visualized as two benzene rings joined together with a short three carbon chain. They can be found in the tissues of plants, including leaves, stems, roots, flowers and fruits. In plants anthocyanins acts as a “sunscreen” protecting plant cells from light damage by absorbing blue-green and UV light, thus inhibiting oxidative stress.

anthocyanin graph

Cancer Research

Cancer research on anthocyanins has demonstrated some promising results. Experiments using black raspberry preparations have been shown to inhibit chemically induced esophageal cancer in rats by 30-60% and colon cancer by up to 80%. Human trials for these two cancers with black raspberry preparations began in 2007 and are still underway. Toxicity trials showed that the concentrate is well-tolerated in humans at the administered dose of 45 grams of freeze-dried blackberries. How do you like that? A prescription for blackberries.


Oxidative Damage

Oxidative damage is a part of life these days – it occurs tens of thousands of times a day in every cell. The protective telomeres that cap the ends of each chromosome shorten with every cell division, and that is how we humans age and sicken. In a study, 168 people drank 1 liter per day of blueberry & apple juice, and at the end of 4 weeks free radical damage was reduced by 20%. Other studies have produced the same result using fresh or powered blueberries. Blueberries protect cholesterol in the blood from becoming damaged, and are strongly linked to reduced levels of LDLs.

Other studies that were quickly found using internet search:

  • Eating 50 grams of blueberries per day for 8 weeks lowered LDL oxidation by 27% in obese people.
  • Eating 75 grams of blueberries per day with a main meal for 8 weeks, showed a reduced oxidation of LDL lipoproteins, a crucial step in fighting cancer.

Blueberries and Weight Loss

Obese people at risk for heart disease had a 4-6% reduction in blood pressure after consuming 50 rams of blueberries per day for 8 weeks. (Similar effects for those study participants who were post-menopausal.)

As for diabetes, 32 obese subjects with insulin resistance were given 2 blueberry smoothies once a day for 6 weeks. This resulted in major improvements in insulin sensitivity, which lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Blueberries contain moderate amounts of naturally occurring sugars and do not have adverse effects on blood sugar levels. Blueberries may be the best thing you can eat for desert, according to another study which showed that eating blueberries directly after eating a high carbohydrate meal will block certain digestive enzymes and reduce blood sugar spikes.

*A 2013 study on 93,600 nurses, eating anthocyanins showed a 32% lower risk for heart attacks.

*A study showed that drinking blueberry juice everyday for 12 weeks improved memory in seniors with established memory decline.

*A study showed blueberries and strawberries linked to a delay in brain aging by 2.5 years.

Now, don’t worry about trying to find fresh blueberries everyday of the year. New research from South Dakota State University suggests that frozen blueberries deliver a bigger dose of disease-fighting antioxidants than fresh.

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