Whether you're reading about nutrition or anti-aging skincare, antioxidants seem to be mentioned everywhere. Understanding the benefits of antioxidants for your body and knowing about key ones like anthocyanin in plants can help you decide if taking antioxidant supplements like elderberry could benefit your needs.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress happens when your body suffers damage due to particles called free radicals. These highly reactive particles have the potential to destroy healthy cells. Studies have found that free radicals are an important factor in what drives the aging process. When you're bombarded with too many, the aging process may speed up. One of the most noticeable effects of free radical damage is the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on the skin.
Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
The effects of oxidative stress are more than skin deep. Oxidation due to free radicals has been linked to chronic inflammation and worsened some inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, research shows that oxidative stress may play a role in:
- Hardening of the arteries, where free radicals contribute to the buildup of plaque
- Some forms of cancer, when free radicals damage cellular DNA
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), when free radicals damage structures in the lungs that absorb oxygen and pass it to the bloodstream
- Alzheimer's disease, when free radicals attack brain cells
- Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, when free radicals oxidize structures in the eyes
- Diabetes, where free radicals worsen the effects of the disease and contribute to complications like eye and kidney damage
What Causes Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress occurs when the body does not have adequate protection from free radicals. These reactive particles are found in:
- Cigarette smoke
- UV light
- Air pollution
- Poor dietary choices
Abusing alcohol and drugs also seems to increase the likelihood of oxidative stress.
What Do Antioxidants Do for Oxidative Stress?
Antioxidants provide a natural defense against free radicals. These molecules break down free radicals into harmless substances that your body can eliminate. Although it's impossible to avoid free radicals altogether, increasing your body's supply of antioxidants can help to slow down the oxidation process.
What Are Elderberries?
Your body manufactures some antioxidants on its own and absorbs others from foods that you eat. Elderberry is an example of a food that contains these beneficial molecules. The antioxidant berry comes from the Sambucus tree native to Europe and North America. Indigenous Americans and specific European communities have long used elderberries as folk remedies. Unfortunately, elderberries are not safe to consume raw, and they can be challenging to find in stores. As a result, many people take supplements to reap elderberry benefits.
What Is Anthocyanin?
Anthocyanins are one of the reasons why elderberry offers potential health benefits. In plants, an anthocyanin acts as a pigment, giving berries, vegetables, and flowers blue, violet, and red colors. In the human body, the anthocyanin pigment acts as a powerful antioxidant that may bolster your defenses against free radicals to diminish oxidative stress.
What Are Anthocyanin Benefits?
While research into anthocyanin supplementation health benefits is ongoing and more study is needed to prove their effectiveness, early findings show that the antioxidant has many promising potential uses. These include:
- Improved cardiovascular health. Research shows that people who consumed anthocyanin-rich berries once per week were less at risk for developing heart disease than those who didn't.
- Immune support. The free radical-fighting benefits of anthocyanin can complement the immune system's actions and help modulate the body's inflammatory response.
- Enhanced cognitive function. Studies have found that people who consume diets rich in antioxidants often experience age-related cognitive decline at a slower rate. There is also some evidence to suggest that anthocyanin may help improve memory, motor functions, and coordination in older adults.
- Eye health benefits. Doctors frequently recommend antioxidants for people diagnosed with AMD, as studies indicate that the nutrients may support the regeneration of damaged eye cells or at least slow the condition's progression by fighting oxidative stress.
Tips for Adding Anthocyanin to Your Diet
To benefit from anthocyanin, follow these tips:
- Take an elderberry supplement. Research indicates that the body can better digest and absorb nutrients found in natural foods. As a result, an elderberry supplement is likely more effective than taking a supplement that contains a synthetic or extracted form of anthocyanin.
- Use the supplement as directed. Follow the directions printed on the packaging unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
- Look for supplements with supportive ingredients. Elderberry supplements that contain additional antioxidants like vitamin C, zinc, and other antioxidants may provide an extra boost in the fight against oxidative stress.
Mattioli R, et al. Molecules. 2020