Are Black Currants Right for you?
I believe blackcurrant to be, one of the most underrated foods which should be the first line of defense or an adjunct functional food for supporting a healthy inflammation response, blood vessel and circulatory health. A small amount of inflammation is not only healthy but in fact necessary to know when something is wrong so the body can do its job and fix it. It is the repetitive bouts of low-grade inflammation which in time promotes an overstimulation of the inflammatory response and leads to chronic systemic inflammation. In turn, this leads to chronic degenerative illnesses. This is where black currants have the ability to support the body in healing itself.
What’s so special about black currants?
Flavonoids are the largest family of polyphenolic compounds. Anthocyanins are a subclass of flavonoids and one of the key players found in black currants. The flavonoids found in black currants belong to one of two classes: the anthocyanin class or the proanthocyanidin class and black currant also contain the four main anthocyanins. Plants produce flavonoids as a protection against parasites, injuries, and harsh climate conditions.
According to a paper published in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy 2002, polyphenols are the most abundant of the 3 classes of antioxidants in the human diet. Known as “reducing agents” and with the help of other dietary agents referred to as antioxidants they “Protect the body’s tissues against stress and associated pathologies”. (1) “Foods that contain these powerful compounds have been extensively studied for supporting cardiovascular and neurological health through their ability to support a healthy inflammation response”. (2) Polyphenols are very abundant in nature and extremely diverse with more than 8,000 different compounds identified within its class.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study nine healthy males were given blackcurrant anthocyanin to assess its effects on resting circulation. Blood concentrations levels were taken 1, 2 and 4 hours after consumption. The results showed that “forearm blood flow increased significantly 2 h after BCA ingestion [BCA 1.22 (0.13)-fold increase relative to pre-values vs placebo 0.83 (0.06) of pre-values; P < 0.05] and then tended to increase for a further 3 h after ingestion [BCA 1.26 (0.15)-fold increase relative to pre-values vs placebo 0.82 (0.07) of pre-values; P = 0.078].” (3)
One of the unique constituents found in black currants is a nourishing fatty acid profile. Black currants are a quality food source of GLA an omega 6 fatty acid known to support a healthy inflammation process. The oil from black currant seeds contains the following fatty acid profile.
2.7% stearic acids
When comparing effects of the fatty acid profile in fish oil to the oil found in black currant seeds on lipid levels, black currant seed oil was shown to hold its own. In a randomized, double-blind, crossover study, fifteen healthy females were given either 3 grams of black currant seed oil or 2.8 grams of fish oil daily separated by a 4 week washout period. The results showed positive results with lipids levels across the board with specific positive changes in LDL levels.
“Black currant seed oil supplementation increased the proportion of 18:3n6 in triacylglycerols (TAG) and cholesteryl esters (CE), and that of dihomo-gamma-linolenic (20:3n6) in TAGs, CEs and glycerophospholipids (GPL) (P<.05). A proportion of 18:3n6 was higher (P<.05) after black currant seed oil than after fish oil in TAGs and CEs, and that of 20:3n6 in TAGs, CEs and GPLs. Black currant seed oil supplementation caused only minor changes in the proportions of 20:5n3 or 22:6n3. Serum levels of LDL cholesterol were lower (P<.05) after black currant seed oil compared to fish oil.” (4)
Another study discussing the effects of black currant seed oil on resting blood pressure and cardiovascular reactivity to a psychological stress in borderline hypertensive individuals was shown to have impressive results. Not only did the blackcurrant group show an over 40% reduction in inhibited blood pressure reactivity but, the decrease in diastolic blood pressure was “significantly different from the slight changes observed in the safflower group”. (5)
Black currants effects on the inflammation response
Every food or herb that has an effect on the inflammation cascade does so in a slightly different way. Curcumin has been shown in various studies to have a modulating effect on the inflammation cascade by controlling the Nuclear factor kappa B response. This, in turn, prevents the rest of the cascade from getting overstimulated. Tart cherry was also shown to modulate Nuclear factor kappa B response, and also affected specific parts of the cascade as well. Black currants seem to affect multiple individual parts of the inflammation cascade specifically having a profound effect on prostaglandin E2.
In one study RA ( rheumatoid arthritis) patients were either given black currant seed oil or sunflower oil. The results showed “A significant improvement in morning stiffness was noted in the RA patients receiving BCO (Black currant oil) group” and “that the numerous beneficial effects of PUFAs in inflammatory diseases such as RA may be due to a reduction in the secretion of the inflammatory cytokines IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha via redirection of eicosanoid metabolism”. (6)
In another review done on blackcurrant studies titled “The health benefits of blackcurrant,” it was stated, “modern laboratories have demonstrated the potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial effects of blackcurrant constituents on a myriad of disease states”. “The properties of the blackcurrants are conferred from its biochemical constituents, some of which include anthocyanins (specifically delphinidin-3-O-glucoside, delphinidin-3-O-rutinoside, cyanidin-3-O-glucoside and cyanidin-3-O-rutinoside), flavonols, phenolic acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids”. (7) It seems that the inflammation modulation effects of blackcurrant are directly associated with its essential fatty acid and antioxidant profile.
An eye for an eye
One of the areas black currants are most well known for supporting is visual health. It seems that the combined efforts of the polyphenolic compounds and essential fatty acids found in black currants are the perfect match to provide the nourishment needed to get very effective results. In one study the effects of oral administration of black currant anthocyanins on intraocular pressure in both healthy subjects and patients with glaucoma proved to be very beneficial. The results showed
• A statistically significant decrease in the mean IOP (intraocular pressure) was observed at 2 weeks and 4 weeks from the baseline in BCAC-treated healthy subjects. This decrease, however, was not observed in the placebo group.
• In addition, at 2 weeks after the baseline, changes were also statistically significant between the groups.
• Intergroup and between-group analyses revealed statistically significant decreases in mean IOP (intraocular pressure) in the glaucoma patients taking BCACs at 24 months after the baseline.
• In addition, mean changes of MD (macular degeneration) deterioration were significantly less in BCAC glaucoma patients administered with BCACs at 12 months and 18 months after the baseline (8)
As a Master Herbalist who has traveled to over 15 different countries and observed different cultures and the use of there local medicines, I think it is safe to conclude that the sacred knowledge of these medicinal foods have been honored and cherished as they are passed down from generation to generation. Black Currants possesses a unique complexity of compounds. When applied as a synergistic whole food, black currants provide a broad spectrum of benefits. Its various mechanisms of action make it capable of supporting some very complex cascades in the healing process. This is exactly what makes black currants a true needle in a haystack.
1)Tapiero H1, Tew KD, Ba GN, Mathé G. “Polyphenols: do they play a role in the prevention of human pathologies?”. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. 2002. Pubmed.gov Sourced 4/3/18
2)Blando F, Gerardi C, Nicoletti I. Sour cherry (Prunus cerasus L.) “anthocyanins as ingredients for functional foods”. J Biomed Biotechnol. Pubmed.gov Sourced 4/3/18
3)Matsumoto H1, Takenami E, Iwasaki-Kurashige K, Osada T, Katsumura T, Hamaoka T. “Effects of blackcurrant anthocyanin intake on peripheral muscle circulation during typing work in humans”. 2005. Pubmed.gov. Sourced 7/9/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15605279
4)Tahvonen RL1, Schwab US, Linderborg KM, Mykkänen HM, Kallio HP. “Black currant seed oil and fish oil supplements differ in their effects on fatty acid profiles of plasma lipids, and concentrations of serum total and lipoprotein lipids, plasma glucose and insulin”. 2005. Pubmed.gov. Sourced 7/9/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15936647
5)Deferne JL1, Leeds AR. “Resting blood pressure and cardiovascular reactivity to mental arithmetic in mild hypertensive males supplemented with blackcurrant seed oil”. 1996. Pubmed.gov. Sourced 7/10/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8895037
6)Watson J1, Byars ML, McGill P, Kelman AW. “Cytokine and prostaglandin production by monocytes of volunteers and rheumatoid arthritis patients treated with dietary supplements of blackcurrant seed oil”. 1993 Pubmed.gov. Sourced 7/10/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8252313
7)Gopalan A1, Reuben SC, Ahmed S, Darvesh AS, Hohmann J, Bishayee A. “The health benefits of blackcurrants”. 2012. Pubmed.gov Sourced 7/11/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22673662
8)Ohguro H1, Ohguro I, Yagi S. “Effects of black currant anthocyanins on intraocular pressure in healthy volunteers and patients with glaucoma”. 2013. Pubmed.gov. Sourced 7/11/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23046438