Red berry fruits such as elderberry, chokeberry and bilberry have been used for centuries to cure a wide range of problems such as dysentery, stomach ailments, scurvy and rheumatism, but several recent studies have focused primarily on their effects on the arteries.
It is the antioxidant effects of the anthocynanins - the compounds which give the berries their red, purple and blue pigments - which can help with protecting the arteries, according to research presented at this week's meeting of the American Physiological Society. Antioxidants help fight the dangerous free radicals which can damage the arteries and prevent proper blood flow.
David Bell and Kristin Gochenaur of the Indiana University School of Medicine conducted four investigations into the potential coronary vascular activity of extracts prepared from elderberry, chokeberry and bilberry. The test arteries used in the investigations were porcine coronary arteries, which share a similar physiology to those in humans.
The researchers discovered that extracts from chokeberry and bilberry, but not elderberry, helped relax the arteries and aid blood flow, with chokeberry extract being the most potent. They also found that a physiological concentration of chokeberry extract totally protected the coronary arteries from oxidant injury, while extracts from bilberry and elderberry provided partial, but not complete, protection.
They concluded that berry extracts, in concentrations likely to be seen in the human blood stream following reasonable ingestion of these compounds, can help maintain normal arterial function.