Benefits of blackcurrants revealed

By Erica Mather 14/07/2015

Convinced that smoothies really are a superfood?  You may not be imagining it if they contain blackcurrants.

The berry, examined extensively by scientists at Plant & Food Research (NZ) and Northumbria University (UK), has been found to positively affect mental performance. The impressive results show, for the first time, an improvement in accuracy, attention and mood after independent consumption of two blackcurrant extracts.

Blackcurrant bred by Plant and Food Research
Blackcurrant bred by Plant and Food Research

Only three other experimental studies on human subjects have tested the effects of berry consumption on behaviour, none of which assessed blackcurrants, instead favouring grapes and blueberries for their memory enhancing ability in aging adults.  A plethora of mainly epidemiological studies have touted numerous health benefits of blackcurrants, including the suppression of cancer, inflammation and cardiovascular diseases.  No other study has tested the cognitive effects of blackcurrants in healthy young adults.

Authors of the present study were keen to investigate the mechanism by which blackcurrants brought about a modification in human behaviour by focusing on anthocyanins, beneficial compounds found in several plant foods.  These compounds have been discovered to possess powerful activity in vitro. “One naturally rich source of anthocyanins that has received little attention in the cognition-related literature is blackcurrant,” the authors write.

Plant & Food Research has successfully bred berry fruit for over 25 years and utilised their blackcurrant variety, ‘Blackadder’, in this study.  ‘Blackadder’ blackcurrants were discovered to have the ability to significantly reduce the activity of enzymes called monoamine oxidases (MAO).  This pivotal finding means that the concentration of serotonin and dopamine, monoamines essential for normal brain function and mood, are increased.

Current treatments for Parkinson’s disease and mood disorders such as depression, target the inhibition of MAOs.  Certain compounds in ‘Blackadder’ blackcurrants, such as anthocyanins, could therefore become functional food supplements to aid the mental decline of aging populations and provide relief for those suffering from brain disorders.  Researchers stress the importance of further investigation of blackcurrant’s MAO inhibiting ability in order to substantiate the positive effects revealed in this study.

More information on this research is available on Scimex.