Ripe blueberries in Patagnia. Photo by Zoe Helene

Purple Berries Can Benefit All-around Fitness
Fox News
by Chris Kilham

When you’re thinking about building a strong, fit body, your mind may not turn to berries. But research conducted around the world now points to a few common berries – especially elderberries and blueberries – as potent sources of powerful pigments which can put punch into your physique. In fact, placing berries on the training table and berry extracts in your supplement regime may be one of the best things you can do to repair tissue, promote cardiovascular health and improve overall well being.

Traditional Healers

Since antiquity elderberries have been employed in European folk medicine for a plethora of ills – from arthritis and asthma to colds and constipation. In 400 BC Hippocrates referred to the elder as his “medicine chest.” Today, elderberry’s popularity is only on the increase. Demand for juices and jams is increasing yearly – as well as elderberry extracts for the nutritional supplement field.

So what is the reason for this berry explosion? Scientific discoveries, some of them surprising, show that elderberries and blueberries are rich in heart-protecting, vision-enhancing, cell-defending, stress-reducing purple pigments. Studies being conducted in Germany, Austria and Italy are focusing on purple antioxidant pigments known as anthocyanins.

Potent Antioxidants

Oxidation is the process by which cells and tissue “rust” – much the way metal does, due to exposure to certain forms of oxygen. Oxidation is a major contributor to disease, and it is one of the primary processes of aging. Purple anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds found in elderberries and blueberries, protect cells from oxidative damage caused by numerous factors – including environmental toxins, poor diet and exercise. Yes, exercise.

Though working out is unquestionably good for you, it also produces oxidative damage. This is where the purple pigments in berries can help. Their high antioxidant activity can help to scavenge destructive free radicals and maintain healthy tissue. That translates directly into a stronger, healthier body. Studies also show that purple berry pigments enhance immune function by boosting the production of cytokines. These proteins act as messengers in the immune system to help regulate immune response, thus assisting the body in defending against disease.

Heart Protection

When it comes to working out and athletic exercise, few organs are put to the test as much as the heart and its related vessels. Human research conducted at Austria’s University of Graz shows that high anthocyanin berry extract reduces oxidation of LDL cholesterol. While cholesterol is an essential component manufactured in the liver, the oxidation of LDL cholesterol is implicated in cases of heart disease, especially heart attacks. By reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, anthocyanins not only reduce the risk of heart disease, but improve the ease of heart function. That translates into a competitive cardiovascular edge.

Previous research has shown that anthocyanins reduce adhesion of platelets to blood vessel walls, thus reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries. The cleaner your arteries, the more efficiently your heart works. Further studies show that anthocyanins from elderberry demonstrate much higher antioxidant activity than highly touted bilberry.

Vision Enhancement

While we are it, wouldn’t you like to maintain better vision throughout your life? After all, degeneration of vision is one of the most common problems of aging. Work conducted in Italy on berry anthocyanins shows that these pigments enhance night vision by regenerating rhodopsin – also known as visual purple – in the eyes. This substance enables the eyes to adjust to darkness. Anthocyanins also help to enhance vision by reducing the permeability of fine vessel walls. This protects against retinopathy, a condition in which blood accumulates in the retina, leading to impaired vision and blindness. Thus you can think of consuming berries (especially blueberries, elderberries and bilberries) as an investment in your eyes.

Stress Reduction

Perhaps most unexpectedly of all, elderbery and its extract appear to reduce stress. This surprising finding was discovered by Dr. Sepp Porta, an Austrian endocrinologist who conducted stress studies using elderberry concentrate on a group of volunteers. The people in the study were given elderberry concentrate for ten days. They were then put through typical stress tests, with highly positive results. In the study, various bio-markers of stress, including glucose, magnesium and other plasma chemical levels, were analyzed. The researchers found that elderberry possesses significant stress reducing properties. Exercising and working out creates stress, and elderberry can help to reduce recovery time.

How to Benefit from Berries?

In season, eat blueberries, lots of them. They’re sweet, juicy, and a lot cheaper than supplements. Don’t be shy to eat blueberry jam, either. It’s concentrated with potent purple pigments. But I also recommend elderberry, which has made its way into the U.S. market in two primary forms. As a juice or juice ingredient, elderberry, with its purple color and delicious sweet flavor, is slowly becoming familiar to the North American palate. As a dietary supplement, high anthocyanin elderberry extracts are finding their way onto health food store shelves.

Sometimes the simplest things offer the most benefits. Berries may seem basic, but consuming the purple pigmented berries especially adds up to better health.

November 2012