Blackcurrant is a “Super Food” that hosts a plethora of health benefits supporting various processes in the body including cardiovascular health, eye health, gut health, and immunity. Research suggests that among the many benefits that blackcurrants display, one of them is its neuroprotective property that supports brain health.
Let’s dive deeper into the compounds present in this fruit, how it promotes the health of the brain and its potential effect on longevity!
- Monoamine Oxidases
Monoamine oxidases are enzymes that regulate serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is better known as the ‘happy’ chemical due to its association with feelings of happiness, focus, and calm, whilst dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure as part
of the brain’s reward system. Both these chemicals have a direct impact on mood and also play a role in cognitive function.
Monoamine oxidases inhibitors have been used as treatment strategies for neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and mood disorders such as stress/anxiety.
A study published in the Journal of Functional Foods suggested that blackcurrant fruit reduces monoamine oxidases, which could be contributing to increased mental alertness and elevated mood seen in the participants (1). The ability of blackcurrants to naturally reduce monoamine oxidases, might be one of the ways it helps in improving mood and reducing stress/anxiety.
Neuroinflammation is a term used to describe inflammation within the brain or spinal cord (2). An inflammatory response is triggered by the brain as a consequence of an injury or stress. This signals immune cells to come to the site and help fix it. However, as much as our immune system works in our favour and helps us combat infections, there are instances where this mechanism may not be as perfect. Imbalance in these signals can dysregulate this process contributing to a prolonged inflammatory response which negatively impacts cognition and leads to the development of brain disorders (3).
As we age, there is a communication alteration between the brain and the immune system, increasing our chances of such ‘mis-signals’ (2).
Research findings published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences explores the role of anthocyanins as anti-neuroinflammatory (4). Anthocyanins are natural pigments that gives the blackcurrant that deep-purple colour. Its properties of improving cell signalling and regulating inflammation not only improve the communication between the brain and immune system, but could also prevent age-related memory declines (5, 6).
- Cyclic Glycine Proline
Despite its importance in maintaining health and function, as well as its several benefits to brain health, cGP is a relatively lesser known molecule.
A neurodegenerative decline is often seen as a side effect of the natural ageing process. Dr. Jian Guan (Chief Scientist, The cGP Lab), published an article in a Journal called Nutrients suggesting the presence of a molecule called cyclic-glycine-proline (cGP) in blackcurrant extract (7). She then investigated this molecule further and reported that cGP, present in a small variety of blackcurrants has neuroprotective benefits and works by regulating a hormone called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) (7).
IGF-1 has been implicated in ageing as well as in age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s (7), Alzheimer’s (8), and Dementia (9). The hormone IGF-1 regulates crucial physiological processes in our body including the building of new blood vessels.
Age-related health issues such as compromised mood, sleep, focus and energy is marked by damaged and degenerating blood vessels. This results in the loss of blood vessel and subsequently, a reduced blood flow to the brain.
IGF-1 hormone helps in maintaining blood vessel function. This is a self-mechanism where IGF-1 builds new blood vessels that replenish old and damaged ones, preserving a healthy blood vessel network.
Now as we age, this mechanism becomes less effective and can contribute to a loss of ability to build new blood vessels. This leads to an increase in the number of old, damaged blood vessels that eventually end up dying, leaving a gap in the circulatory system and an obstructed blood flow to the region.
IGF-1 levels naturally decline with age leading to the onset of age-related memory deficits and increasing susceptibility to neurological conditions.
Which means that IGF-1 is a life-supporting hormone that becomes more and more important as we age, thereby increasing the demand of its regulator- cGP!
The function of cGP is to preserve IGF-1 levels and thus, maintaining optimum cGP levels can help alleviate or, in some cases, even reverse symptoms of age-related health issues as well as slow down the progress of neurodegenerative diseases.
Well, who knew wanting a healthy brain would be tasty too!
It is safe to say that blackcurrants can make the transition to a brainfood as they -
1) Improve mood
2) Prevent neuroinflammation
3) Improve blood circulation
Apart from these compounds that make you want to look at blackcurrants as a superfood, they are also rich in vitamin C and antioxidants making them powerful guardians for supporting longevity and healthy ageing.
1) Anthony W. Watson, Crystal F. Haskell-Ramsay, David O. Kennedy, Janine M. Cooney, Tania Trower, Arjan Scheepens. Acute supplementation with blackcurrant extracts modulates cognitive functioning and inhibits monoamine oxidase-B in healthy young adults. Journal of Functional Foods, 2015; 17: 524 DOI: 10.1016/j.jff.2015.06.005
2) DiSabato DJ, Quan N, Godbout JP. Neuroinflammation: the devil is in the details. J Neurochem. 2016;139 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):136-153. doi:10.1111/jnc.13607
3) Jurgens HA, Johnson RW. Dysregulated neuronal-microglial cross-talk during aging, stress and inflammation. Exp Neurol. 2012;233(1):40-48. doi:10.1016/j.expneurol.2010.11.014
4) Henriques JF, Serra D, Dinis TCP, Almeida LM. The Anti-Neuroinflammatory Role of Anthocyanins and Their Metabolites for the Prevention and Treatment of Brain Disorders. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(22):8653. Published 2020 Nov 17. doi:10.3390/ijms21228653
5) Spencer JP, Vauzour D, Rendeiro C. Arch, Flavanoids and cognition: The molecular mechanisms underlying their behavioural effects. Biochem Biophys. 2009; 492(1-2):1-9. Doi: 10.1016/j.abb.2009.10.003
6) Flanagan E, Müller M, Hornberger M, Vauzour D. Impact of Flavonoids on Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Age-Related Cognitive Decline and Neurodegeneration. Curr Nutr Rep. 2018;7(2):49-57. doi:10.1007/s13668-018-0226-1
7) Winter AN, Bickford PC. Anthocyanins and Their Metabolites as Therapeutic Agents for Neurodegenerative Disease. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;8(9):333. Published 2019 Aug 22. doi:10.3390/antiox8090333
8) Fan D, Alamri Y, Liu K, et al. Supplementation of Blackcurrant Anthocyanins Increased Cyclic Glycine-Proline in the Cerebrospinal Fluid of Parkinson Patients: Potential Treatment to Improve Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 Function. Nutrients. 2018;10(6):714. Published 2018 Jun 2. doi:10.3390/nu10060714
9) Zheng P, Tong W. IGF-1: an endogenous link between traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer disease? J Neurosurg Sci. 2017 Aug;61(4):416-421. doi: 10.23736/S0390-5616.16.03431-7. Epub 2015 Sep 8. PMID: 26349470.
10) Gasperi M, Castellano AE. Growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor I axis in neurodegenerative diseases. J Endocrinol Invest. 2010;33(8):587–591
Weinert BT, Timiras PS. Invited review: Theories of aging. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2003 Oct;95(4):1706-16. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00288.2003. PMID: 12970376.