Blueberry Anthocyanins and Human Health

There is a growing body of research showing the human health benefit from a diet rich in berries. This evidence points specifically to red, purple, and blue colour pigments, or anthocyanins, as being significant contributors to health benefits, despite the fact that anthocyanins are not easily absorbed by humans. Researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Kentville Research and Development Centre have been investigating this enigma and have recently uncovered what may be a 'missing link' to help explain anthocyanin health benefits in spite of their apparent poor absorption by the body.

Currently, it is thought that anthocyanins are rapidly broken down in the body by intestinal bacteria and that these bacterial products are largely responsible for health benefits. The Kentville team focused on wild blueberries, a high-value Canadian crop rich in anthocyanins. By examining the human urinary excretion of wild blueberry anthocyanins, they discovered that the body metabolizes anthocyanins very extensively.

The team discovered that while most ingested anthocyanins are rapidly lost, they are also acted upon by the body's 'detoxification machinery' and are extensively circulated in the body. The Kentville findings increase the estimates of net anthocyanin absorption by 20-fold and help to explain the beneficial effects of anthocyanins in the body. A significant finding was that anthocyanins are extremely well-retained in those who eat them regularly.

This study is an excellent example of how AAFC research can significantly influence the design of human clinical research in anthocyanins and biomedicine that may contribute to solidifying health claims about blueberries.

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