The Health Benefits of Black Currant

Black currants and leaves on a cutting board

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Black currant is a natural remedy sourced from Ribes nigrum (a plant native to parts of Europe and Asia). Black currant extract is typically derived from black currant fruit or from the oil of black currant seeds.

Black currant farming was banned in the United States in the early 20th century because the plants carried a fungus that threatened the logging industry. The ban on currant farming has been lifted in some—but not all—states. For that reason, black currant is more popular in areas such as Europe or New Zealand and less so in the U.S.

Black current supplements are sometimes used to treat conditions ranging from menstrual pain to high blood pressure. Black currant oil contains gamma-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid found to reduce inflammation and black currant berries (a substance often consumed as a whole food) contain high amounts of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant.

Health Benefits

There are limited human studies on the effects of black currant. Here's a look at some of the findings from studies on the potential health benefits of black currant extract.

Cholesterol

There's some evidence that consumption of black currant seed oil may help keep cholesterol in check. For example, a 2010 study from Phytotherapy Research found that regular consumption of black currant seed oil may help improve total cholesterol levels and reduce levels of triglycerides (a type of harmful blood fat). The study involved 2,154 patients with abnormal cholesterol levels, each of whom consumed black currant seed oil every day for six weeks.

In addition, a small study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in 2005 found that black currant seed oil was more effective than fish oil in decreasing levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

However, it's important to note that the study involved only 15 participants and a four-week treatment period and that a number of other studies have indicated that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may be of significant benefit in regulating cholesterol levels.

Eye Health

Black currant extract shows promise for the treatment of glaucoma. In a 2012 study published in Ophthalmologica, for instance, researchers found that consuming black-currant-sourced anthocyanins, in combination with antiglaucoma medication, may benefit people with open-angle glaucoma.

For the study, 38 patients with open-angle glaucoma consumed either black currant anthocyanins or a placebo once daily for two years. Throughout the study period, all participants were also treated with anti-glaucoma drops. Results revealed that patients treated with black currant anthocyanins experienced a significantly greater increase in ocular blood flow compared to those treated with the placebo.

Oxidative Stress

Black currant fruit extract may help protect against oxidative stress, according to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Physiology. In tests on human cells, the study's authors determined that anthocyanins found in black currant extract may help suppress oxidative stress, as well as enhance the immune response to infection.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

An in vitro study published in 2018 investigated the relaxative effects of blackcurrant juice on the gastrointestinal smooth muscle. In vitro studies are research projects that test health effects in test tube models. These studies are often preliminary investigations performed before human studies.

The study researchers found that the antispasmodic effects of black currant may hold promise in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. And specifically, blackcurrant juice may be beneficial as a functional food.

Black currant and black currant extract are also used to treat other conditions including:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Arthritis
  • Colds
  • Coughs
  • High cholesterol
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Circulatory problems
  • Diarrhea

Additionally, black currant extract is said to boost the immune system and promote detox. However, more evidence is needed to support the use of the supplement for these health benefits.

Possible Side Effects

Black currant including black currant juice, extracts, or seed oil is likely safe when used as food. Not enough is known about black currant dried leaf to determine if it is safe.

Black currant may be safe when used as a medicine, but there's some concern that it may interfere with blood clotting. Therefore, it's important for people with bleeding disorders to take caution when consuming black currant extract. In addition, the use of black currant extract should be avoided prior to undergoing surgery.

It is also advised that people with low blood pressure should exercise caution and speak to their healthcare provider before taking black currant.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Widely available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing black currant extract and black currant seed oil are sold in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Fresh black currant is also used to flavor liqueurs, jams, ice cream, and other products. Black currant juice is available in some health food stores and some people also eat raw or dried black currant berries—although most people find them too tart. Recipes for pies and other baked goods sometimes call for black currants.

If you choose a black currant supplement, it's important to keep in mind that these products are largely unregulated by the FDA. It is not legal to market a dietary supplement as a treatment or cure for a specific disease or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease. But the FDA does not require dietary supplements to be tested for safety. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the amount specified on the label.

When choosing any dietary supplement, try to find a product that has been certified by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

A Word From Verywell

While including black currants in the diet may offer some nutritional benefits, there is currently a lack of scientific evidence to support the use of black currant extract as a standard treatment for any health problem. If you're considering using it, make sure to talk with your doctor first. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

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