SUPERFOOD TRENDS 2017
Explosion in scientific breakthroughs puts blackcurrants in driving seat
SCIENTISTS are declaring blackcurrants a ‘big news story’ for their impact on health and disease. Sports physiologists believe these berries represent ‘the future’ of sports nutrition for their unprecedented actions.
Here are ten reasons why blackcurrants deserve their blockbuster status in the 2017 superfood pecking order
1. SPORTS PERFORMANCE
Move over beetroot. Blackcurrants are the new high-performance nutrition aid that athletes of all abilities are turning to for big gains.
Now being used by top-level athletes at Olympic and world championship level, blackcurrants are in a league of their own as a fitness supplement, with a never-seen-before combination of benefits.
Their actions stand them apart from beetroot, cherry and blueberry rivals.
Uniquely, they act as a ‘lactate buffer’ and dramatically improve the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel, which leads to enhanced endurance and reduced fatigue.
Studies have showed they improve cycling and running performance and are so effective for endurance they could potentially influence team sport outcomes.
A University of Chichester high-intensity running performance running study showed athletes improved their sprinting endurance by double figures.
Participants covered an additional 411m (10.8%), and were able to execute considerably more blocks of sprinting before reaching exhaustion.
New research shows blackcurrants reduce fatigue to the extent that they can provide teams with a significant performance edge. In the final 15 minutes of team sports such as football and rugby, it is common for a disproportionate number of goals to be scored.
However, these berries allow athletes to maintain their fastest maximum sprint speeds and experience less fatigue, meaning players can better maintain high-intensity performance until the final whistle.
2. MUSCLE RECOVERY
Blackcurrants are becoming a powerful intervention for recovery, particularly for endurance athletes like double world Ironman champion and professional triathlete, Lucy Charles (left).
The compounds in the fruit’s skin accelerate recovery through a combination of actions.
They boost blood flow for greater tissue repair and fast removal of lactate.
Additionally, their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions make a noticeable effect on post-exercise muscle soreness and fatigue.
3. FAT BURNING
One of the biggest breakthroughs is the discovery that NZ blackcurrant extract dramatically increases fat oxidation and allows people to burn more fat during exercise.
In two double-blind University of Chichester studies, blackcurrant compounds were found to increase fat burning up to 27% during both short and long-duration exercise tests. Even during gentle exercise, participants experienced 15% increases in fat burning.
This is the first time a berry has been found to influence fat metabolism processes to such a large degree, with scientists calling it ‘huge’ and specific to blackcurrants.
The findings have implications for obesity, weight loss and sports performance in athletes.
4. COGNITION AND DEMENTIA
Blackcurrants are becoming a big health story for preventing and delaying the onset of age-related brain decline.
As featured in the BBC’s ‘How To Stay Young’ program earlier this year, blackcurrant anthocyanins were declared the ‘perfect prescription’ for brain health.
Containing the highest density of anthocyanins of any food, blackcurrants are the most potent form of purple food pigments for consumers in the UK. They have been shown to improve memory, cognition and mental accuracy.
Worldwide research is now zoning in on the role blackcurrants can play for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
One expert, Professor Derek Stewart from the James Hutton Research Institute (left), says of the research: “We found that in dementia you get proteins laid down in the brain that makes cells null and void, which is where you get memory loss. Blackcurrant appears to retard this process, and in fact sets it back significantly – reducing the ‘docking’ of these proteins by around 30% in model systems.
“Through a dietary route, we believe blackcurrant can play a beneficial role in Alzheimer’s Disease.”
In a New Zealand study on healthy young adults, NZ blackcurrant was assessed for its effect on cognition and potential for reducing risk factors associated Parkinson’s disease.
Scientists found the blackcurrant boosted brain performance and alertness, while almost totally eliminating the enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MOA), which is associated with Parkinson’s.
MAO inhibitor drugs are used by the pharmaceutical industry to treat depressive disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.
The study found blackcurrant’s ability to block these enzymes, which control seratonin and dopamine levels in the brain, reduced oxidative stress, essential for cognitive function and mood.
5. DIABETES AND OBESITY
From preventing weight gain, increasing fat burning and controlling glucose and insulin levels, blackcurrants offer compelling benefits for the obese and groups at risk of metabolic syndrome – one of the greatest health challenges facing the Western world.
Professor Derek Stewart and his colleagues in the field have shown that blackcurrants improve glucose metabolism and reduce body weight gain by 8-10%, irrespective of fat content in the diet.
“We found if you add blackcurrant to the diet, you get a more controlled release of glucose and, more importantly, much more modulated insulin levels.
“Fluctuating sugar levels also contribute to cardiovascular disease and leads to hardening of the arteries. Blackcurrants have a huge impact on how glucose circulates around the body. These findings are significant for cardiovascular disease and Type II Diabetics, suggesting it could set back the development of these diseases.”
In a Korean study using rats, blackcurrant was examined for its effect on high-fructose diet-induced metabolic syndrome, and the message was clear.
The blackcurrant-supplemented group showed significantly decreased body weight, liver weight, insulin levels, cholesterol, LDL, systolic blood pressure, vascular inflammation and circulating inflammatory markers. Additionally, the blackcurrants improved glucose tolerance and restored insulin signaling.
Scientists at the University of Connecticut in the USA found that NZ blackcurrant extract can help guard against heart attacks and strokes by significantly lowering cholesterol.
In a series of tests, one group was given a diet high in cholesterol and fat. The other group received the same diet but was supplemented with New Zealand blackcurrant extract. Results showed that the blackcurrant extract lowered cholesterol levels by up to 15%.
The findings show blackcurrants can have a similar effect to statins – the controversial drug of choice to lower cholesterol – and could be a viable natural food-based option, without the side effects.
7. BLOOD FLOW AND CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Cardiologists are showing great interest in the 2016 study showing the degree to which blackcurrants can improve cardiovascular responses.
The University of Chichester study on athletes at rest showed these berry compounds increased circulation 20% and cardiac output 27.5%.
The dramatic findings underline how these berries could offer a natural, nutritional strategy for at-risk population groups who suffer reduced circulation.
Blackcurrant compounds relax blood vessels, meaning they reduce the tension in blood vessel walls, causing the diameter of the blood vessel to widen, resulting in enhanced blood flow.
Mark Willems, Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Chichester (pictured, below), says:
“We used highly trained individuals with conditioned systems, so if you can influence cardiovascular responses in systems that are already highly trained, then that’s meaningful.
“These findings show that blackcurrant extract is affecting the blood vessel system due to dilation, meaning there is less resistance and more blood being pumped around the body.
“We knew from a previous study that blackcurrant has an effect on cardiovascular function. However these findings were still surprising because of increases at the higher doses”.
Dr Simon Woldman, cardiologist at University College London Hospital and a specialist in heart failure, says of the findings:
“Clearly this could be very important and now requires a study to look at the impact on patients who may benefit.”
8. ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION
A LARGE ten-year study of 25,000 health professionals in America has shown that a high intake of dietary flavonoids and anthocyanins resulted in a 21% lower risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men under 70.
Erectile dysfunction is an indicator of a poor vascular system and reduced blood flow.
The study, conducted by the University of East Anglia, is the first to suggest that increased intakes of flavonoids and anthocyanins, such as those in blackcurrant, are associated with improved sexual function in men.
Blackcurrants are a rich source of flavonoids and anthocyanins, with almost three times the polyphenolic density of its nearest rival, blueberries.
Erectile dysfunction is an early important indicator to identify early risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
Professor Derek Stewart says: “The study findings are massive and show that components in blackcurrant are hugely beneficial for erectile dysfunction.”
AS antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, blackcurrants may help reduce airway inflammation and reactions that lead to asthma and mild or moderate allergies such as hayfever.
Blackcurrant compounds are the first compounds to demonstrate suppression of early events that lead to allergy-induced asthma and allergies in general.
A study from New Zealand Plant and Food shows that antioxidants in blackcurrants support natural immune responses to reduce inflammation and allergenic reactions.
“To find natural compounds that potentially reduce lung inflammation and complement the body’s own immune response is an exciting breakthrough,” says Dr Roger Hurst, lead scientist on the project.
There’s good news for hayfever sufferers too – the blackcurrant’s multiple anti-allergy actions is also proving very effective in reducing seasonal grass and tree allergies.
10. EYE HEALTH
IF you’re looking to nourish your eyes, there’s strong evidence for blackcurrants and vision. Their big three actions – improvements to blood flow, antioxidant activity and anti-inflammation come into play again.
Stress, unbalanced diets and excessive use of computer screens contribute to declining eye health. Advancing age and metabolic disease-related eye conditions afflict many, including cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
Research has found blackcurrant anthocyanins promote blood flow to the micro vessels of the eyes, help maintain a healthy ocular pressure and can be highly protective for vision and health