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Research Shines Light on Blackcurrants for their ‘Unprecedented’ Fat Burning Properties

by Fleur Cushman(more info)

listed in exercise and fitness, originally published in issue 235 - January 2017

The ‘super’ nutritional benefits of berries are nothing new, however there’s one area of berry-specific interest that is gaining scientific momentum for it potential in athletes, the elderly and other population groups. Blueberries, strawberries, acai and cranberries are familiar to most consumers, but missing from this list is one of the main players, blackcurrants, which are rarely sighted in supermarkets as fresh or frozen fruit.  

 

Blackcurrants Big

 

Blackcurrants are rich in polyphenols, and more specifically, anthocyanins, the pigment found in the fruit’s skin. These fruit components have a significant effect on improving blood flow and are antioxidants[11] and anti-inflammatory[12] agents too. Sports performance research is showing how they significantly improve performance and muscle recovery in athletes - now scientists are seeking the reasons behind it.

 

YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQAWm1xJr6o

 

Researchers from the University of Chichester are leading the charge following some significant discoveries after five years of researching New Zealand blackcurrants. Their latest projects highlight the highly novel nutritional development of blackcurrants for sports nutrition.

Initial performance studies using the CurraNZ supplement found runners and cyclists improved their distance covered and cycling times to a statistically significant degree. In sports science, the ‘smallest worthwhile change’ for road time-trial cyclists is measured to be 0.6%.[1] Blackcurrant supplementation has elicited average improvements of 2.4% for cyclists in 16.1km time trials.[2] In the instance of the repeated high-intensity sprints, athletes ran 10.8% further with blackcurrant extract.[3] The scientists suspected a few things were happening. Subsequent short and long-duration cycling studies[2,4] on athletes supplemented with New Zealand blackcurrant extract found subjects’ fat burning increased up to 27%. Even at low intensity exercise levels, these values improved 15%.[2] The study showed NZ blackcurrant extract may benefit those looking to lose fat more efficiently and quickly while undertaking exercise.

 

YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aBl4E3c0yM

 

Mark Willems, Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Chichester, says: “It’s speculative, but I think that blackcurrant may have a unique anthocyanin composition that provides these effects - it has never been demonstrated before in another berry.

“To get fat oxidation increases of 20% is quite something. These findings using New Zealand blackcurrant extract in trained athletes are surprisingly high.”

Boosting ‘fat oxidation’, or fat burning, is considered beneficial for athletes looking to improve their endurance. Fat is a plentiful and efficient source of energy for the body when exercising at low and medium exercise intensities. Therefore, boosting the body’s ability to tap into what is effectively an unlimited supply of energy at those ranges, and spare use of carbohydrate, is highly desirable for athletes.

Blackcurrant enables active people to exercise for longer at a higher intensity, utilize more fat and recover faster. Additionally, using fat as an energy source is beneficial for maintaining lean body mass.

Professor Willems adds: “Fat oxidation is very complicated, you have the release from fat cells into the blood stream, and then into a muscle, before it finds its way to the cell mitochondria. This has a double membrane which controls what goes in and out. Therefore, it’s significant that blackcurrant is influencing this process to such a surprisingly high degree. We need to understand what’s going on.”

One line of thinking is these effects on fat metabolism are resulting from blackcurrant increasing gene expressions responsible for energy expenditure, as well as improving vascular function[5] and blood flow.[9,10]

This sports research, in addition to studies from Japan and Scotland, also suggest blackcurrants might offer hope for the obese and type 2 diabetics. Experimental studies have indicated that blackcurrant anthocyanins can inhibit weight gain by up to 10%[14]and positively alter insulin responses.[14] More research needs to be done - but early signs are promising.

Blackcurrants’ Effect on Blood Flow Show ‘Clear Application’ for Recovery in Athletes; Potential For The Elderly

Blood flow is key for oxygen and nutrient delivery to the body’s cells, therefore anything that promotes this is beneficial for healing and cell function. Blackcurrant compounds relax blood vessels by increasing nitric oxide availability.[6,7,8] This reduces the tension in blood vessel walls, causing the diameter of the blood vessel to widen, resulting in enhanced blood flow. Professor Willems’ team has been focusing on this effect and have found blackcurrant has a ‘clear application’ for exercise recovery. Indeed, anecdotal evidence from athletes supports the scientists’ view, with blackcurrants becoming a popular staple supplement for athletes looking for improved recovery and reduced muscle soreness.

The University of Chichester studied the response of subjects to 300mg, 600mg and 900mg of CurraNZ New Zealand blackcurrant anthocyanin extract.[13] Their findings from this dose-response study showed following seven days of consumption at levels of 900mg (the equivalent of 255 NZ blackcurrants), blood flow increased 20.2% and cardiac output 27.5% in athletes at rest. Additionally, the amount of blood pumped per stroke of the heart increased by almost 18%.

He says: “We used highly trained individuals with conditioned systems, so if you can influence cardiovascular responses in systems that are already highly trained, then that’s meaningful.

“These findings show that blackcurrant extract is affecting the blood vessel system due to dilation, meaning there is less resistance and more blood being pumped around the body.

“Our findings indicate a clear application for athletes recovering from exercise. If you can enhance blood flow to muscles that were active following exercise then that is beneficial for recovery.”

Additionally, blackcurrants may benefit population groups that suffer from restricted blood flow, such as the elderly. The use of natural blackcurrant compounds may also represent an important nutritional breakthrough for circulatory disorders that cost the NHS billions every year.

Dr Simon Woldman, cardiologist at University College London Hospital and a specialist in heart failure, says of the findings: “Clearly this could be very important and now requires a study to look at the impact on patients who may benefit.”

Professor Derek Stewart, researcher at the James Hutton Research Institute in Dundee, who specializes in crop research, says blackcurrants are becoming a ‘big story’ for the significant dietary role they can play in health and for conditions such as high blood pressure and Type II Diabetes.

“Blood pressure is the marker for longevity and life. Anything that can contribute to a reduction in blood pressure is a huge benefit and blackcurrant does this effectively. It’s a message we need to get out.

“Professor Willems has presented some impressive results here. These studies add further weight to the wealth of data supporting the positive health benefits associated with the intake of blackcurrant and its associated products.”

References

  1. Batterham, A. M. and Hopkins, W. G. Making meaningful inferences about magnitudes, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 1 (1), pp.50-57. 2006.
  2. Cook, Myers, Blacker, Willems, New Zealand Blackcurrant Extract Improves Cycling Performance and Fat 2 Oxidation in Cyclists , European Journal of Applied Physiology, Volume 115, Issue 11: 2357–2365.
  3. Perkins, Vine SA, Blacker SD, Willems. New Zealand Blackcurrant Extract Improves High-intensity Intermittent Running ME. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Mar 26 2015.
  4. Cook,  Edwards, Myers, Gault, Willems. Metabolic and Physiological Responses by New Zealand Blackcurrant during Cycling: A Dose-Response Study (In press). 16SA2211ACSM.
  5. Speciale, A., Cimino, F., Saija, A., Canali, R., & Virgili, F.  Bioavailability and molecular activities of anthocyanins as modulators of endothelial function. Genes & Nutrition, 9, 404. doi: 10.1007/s12263-014-0404-8. 2014.
  6. Suhr, F., Gehlert, S., Grau, M., & Bloch, W. Skeletal muscle function during exercise - fine-tuning of diverse subsystems by nitric oxide. International Journal of Molecular Science, 14, 7109-39. doi: 10.3390/ijms14047109. 2013.
  7. Ziberna, L., Lunder, M., Tramer, F., Drevensek, G., & Passamonti S. The endothelial plasma membrane transporter bilitranslocase mediates rat aortic vasodilation induced by anthocyanins. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 23, 68-74. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2011.02.005. 2013.
  8. Matsumoto, H., 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. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 94, 36- 45. doi; 10.1007/s00421-004-1279-y. 2005.
  9. Khan, F., Ray, S., Craigie, A.M., Kennedy, G., Hill, A., Barton, K.L., Broughton, J., & Belch, J.J. Lowering of oxidative stress improves endothelial function in healthy subjects with habitually low intake of fruit and vegetables: a randomized controlled trial of antioxidant- and polyphenol-rich blackcurrant juice. Free Radical Biology & Medicine, 72, 232-237. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2014.04.006. 2014.
  10. Rodriguez-Mateos, A., Rendeiro, C., Bergillos-Meca, T., Tabatabaee, S., George, T.W., Heiss, C. & Spencer, J.P. Intake and time dependence of blueberry flavonoid-induced improvements in vascular function: a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study with mechanistic insights into biological activity. The American Journal of 412 Clinical Nutrition, 98, 1179-1191. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.066639. 2013.
  11. Zhu Y, Ling W, Guo H, Song F, Ye Q, Zou T, Li D, Zhang Y, Li G, Xiao Y, Liu F, Li Z, Shi Z, Yang Y. Anti-inflammatory effect of purified dietary anthocyanin in adults with hypercholesterolemia: a randomized controlled trial. Nutr Metab Cardiovas Dis 23:843-849. 2013.
  12. De La Cruz AA, Hilbert G, Mengin V, Rivière C, Ollat N, Vitrac C, Bordenave L, Decroocq S, Delaunay JC, Mérillon JM, Monti JP, Gomès E, Richard T.  Anthocyanin phytochemical profiles and anti-oxidant activities of Vitis candicans and Vitis doaniana. Phytochem Analysis 24:446-452. 2013.
  13. Willems,  Myers,  Gault,  Edwards,  Cook.  Effects Of New Zealand Blackcurrant On Cardiovascular Function At Rest In Cyclists: A Dose-response Study (In Press) 16­SA­2205­ACSM.
  14. Esposito D1, Damsud T1, Wilson M1, Grace MH1, Strauch R1,2, Li X1,2, Lila MA1, Komarnytsky S1. Black Currant Anthocyanins Attenuate Weight Gain and Improve Glucose Metabolism in Diet-Induced Obese Mice with Intact, but Not Disrupted, Gut Microbiome J Agric Food Chem. Jul 15 2015; 63(27):6172-80. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b00963. Epub Jun 28 2015.

Further Information

CurraNZ is the only high-potency NZ blackcurrant extract available in the UK and contain no fillers or additives. 30 capsules retail for £29. www.healthcurrancy.co.uk

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About Fleur Cushman

Fleur Cushman is a sports journalist and entrepreneur with a special interest in physiology, functional foods and sports performance, with a family background in vitamin and supplement compounding. Originally from New Zealand, Fleur founded Health Currancy, a young, pioneering British company working in the blackcurrant superfood industry that launched the CurraNZ supplement brand. Fleur may be contacted via fleur@healthcurrancy.co.uk   www.healthcurrancy.co.uk

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