What Are Anthocyanins?

Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, kidney beans, tomato, strawberries, grapes, and red wine

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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Anthocyanins are a type of pigment found in plants that are thought to offer health benefits. They belong to a class of compounds called flavonoids that have antioxidant effects. This means that they fight unstable molecules, called free radicals, that damage cells and increase the risk of certain diseases.

Some people contend that anthocyanins can also boost the immune system and help fight inflammation, heart disease, viral infections, and even cancer.

dietary sources of anthocyanins
Verywell / Hugo Lin

This article lists the dietary sources of anthocyanins and the types of health conditions that anthocyanins are thought to treat. It also weighs the current evidence so that you can make an informed choice about your diet or the use of anthocyanin supplements.

Where Are Anthocyanins Found?

Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that not only give certain plants their color but also protect the plants against extreme temperatures.

Among the plants especially rich in anthocyanins are:

  • Acai berries
  • Black beans
  • Blackberries
  • Black raspberries
  • Black rice
  • Black soybean
  • Blueberries
  • Blue corn
  • Concord grapes
  • Cranberry
  • Eggplant (skin)
  • Plums (skin)
  • Pomegranate
  • Red cabbage
  • Red currants
  • Red onions
  • Tart cherries
  • Tomatoes

You can also purchase anthocyanin-rich supplements, including tart cherry extract, blueberry extract, bilberry extract, and black raspberry extract.

Recap

Fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains that are black, purple, blue, or deep red are generally rich in anthocyanins. You can also buy berry-based, anthocyanin-rich dietary supplements.

What Are Anthocyanins Used For?

In herbal medicine, anthocyanin-rich foods are thought to treat or prevent a number of unrelated health conditions, including:

Others contend that anthocyanins can aid in the prevention of breast cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, and other types of cancer.

While it is clear that anthocyanin-rich foods play a role in good nutrition, it remains unclear if they can prevent or treat any health condition. Even where there is evidence that anthocyanins are beneficial, such as the reduction in the risk of heart disease, it is unclear how much is needed for it to be considered "preventive." The evidence remains lacking.

Here's a look at what some of the research says:

Heart Disease

Anthocyanins may reduce the risk of heart disease, according to a 2010 review published in Nutrition Reviews. According to the authors of the report, anthocyanins appear to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels that contribute to heart disease. They also appear to fight oxidative stress (damage caused by free radicals) that plays a role in heart disease.

Anthocyanin-rich foods may also help prevent high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, according to a 2011 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Breast Cancer

Anthocyanins may aid in the prevention of breast cancer, according to a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010. In a series of test-tube experiments, scientists showed that anthocyanins extracted from blueberries helped inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells.

Despite the findings, there is no evidence that eating anthocyanin-rich foods or taking anthocyanin-rich supplements can do the same. Further research is needed.

Recap

Although anthocyanin-rich foods are considered "heart-healthy," there is little evidence that they can actively treat or prevent any health condition. This is especially true with respect to anthocyanins and the prevention of cancer.

Considerations and Risks

Getting your fill of anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables may help boost your overall health by delivering good nutrition. Foods rich in anthocyanins, like berries, are good for almost any diet because they are rich in not only antioxidants but vitamins, fiber, and essential minerals as well.

With that said, scientists have yet to determine whether taking high concentrations of anthocyanins in supplement form can help treat or prevent any health condition.

If you choose to take an anthocyanin supplement, keep in mind that supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States. Because of this, they can vary in quality and may contain ingredients that you may not want.

To better ensure quality and purity, look for products that have been independently certified by ConsumerLab, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), or NSF International. Certification doesn't mean that they are safe or effective. It only means that they contain the ingredients listed on the product label in the advertised amounts.

Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in children, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those with medical conditions has not been established.

Recap

Irrespective of the health claims, anthocyanin-rich fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains offer good nutrition. It has yet to be proven if anthocyanin supplements offer any health benefits.

Summary

Anthocyanins are pigments found in certain plants that give them their black, purple, blue, or red color. Anthocyanins are rich in antioxidants and are thought to be anti-inflammatory and help boost the immune system.

Because of this, anthocyanin-rich foods and supplements are often used in herbal medicine to treat a host of unrelated health conditions. These include colds, flu, heart disease, stroke, urinary tract infections, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer. The evidence supporting these claims is generally lacking.

Despite the health claims, anthocyanin-rich foods are nutritious and an excellent part of a well-balanced diet. The verdict is out on whether anthocyanin supplements offer any benefits.

A Word From Verywell

If you're thinking about taking an anthocyanin supplement, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a medical condition and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences. Remember that "natural" doesn't always mean safe.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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