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By Joanna Manero

What are bioactive compounds and what is their role in the prevention of Cardiovascular Disease?

Phytonutrients and Cardiovascular Disease

Anthocyanins are flavonoids found in a large variety of foods.  They are the most widely consumed flavonoid and are responsible for the beautiful red, purple, and blue coloring found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and flowers.  Aside from coloring our plate, they provide a large array of health benefits such as protection against liver injuries, reduction of blood pressure, improvement of eyesight, suppression of proliferation of cancer cells, and cardiovascular disease prevention (Novotney 2012; Knczak and Zhang 2004).   Anthocyanins have been used as traditional or folk medicine around the world. Only recently have we begun to research these health benefit claims.

The role of anthocyanins in cardiovascular disease prevention is due to their protective oxidative stress properties. They are believed to act on different cells associated with the development of atherosclerosis. An Iowa Women’s Health Study of 34,489 postmenopausal women found that eating strawberries and blueberries just once per week was associated with a significant reduction in death from cardiovascular disease over a 14 year period (Mink et al., 2007).  Similarly, a study of 93,600 healthy women from the Nurses’ Health Study II revealed a 34% lower risk of myocardial infarctions (heart attack) in women who consumed three servings of blueberries and strawberries per week (Cassidy et al., 2013).  Additionally, anthocyanins have been shown to lower systolic blood pressure and arterial pressure, which can result in fewer cardiac events, such as a heart attack (Jennings et al., 2012).

Anthocyanin-rich foods include:

  • Asparagus (purple)
  • Blackberries
  • Black Rice
  • Blueberries
  • Concord Grapes
  • Cranberries
  • Eggplant
  • Pomegranates
  • Purple Corn
  • Raspberries
  • Red Cabbage
  • Red Radishes
  • Sweet Cherries

There are still several aspects of anthocyanins that require more research.  Since anthocyanins are typically studied in fruit extracts, they are present in a combination of compounds and may not act independently.  In fact, when anthocyanins are studied in combination with other compounds, rather than in isolation, the effects tend to be greater.

Anthocyanin-containing foods are beautiful, delicious and nutritious.

What are your favorites anthocyanin containing foods?
Also, let us know what you would like to learn about anthocyanins and other bioactive compounds.



Konczak, I., & Zhang, W. (2004). Anthocyanins-More Than Nature’s Colours. Journal of biomedicine & biotechnology, 2004(5), 239-240.

Webb, D. (2014). Anthocyanins. Today’s Dietitian, 16(3), 20. – Anthocyanins

Pennington Nutrition Systems – Anthocyanins

Novotny, J. A., Fadel, J. G., Holstege, D. M., Furr, H. C., & Clifford, A. J. (2012). This kinetic, bioavailability, and metabolism study of RRR-α-tocopherol in healthy adults suggests lower intake requirements than previous estimates. The Journal of nutrition, 142(12), 2105-11.

Faria, A. , Pestana, D. , Azevedo, J. , Martel, F. , de Freitas, V. , Azevedo, I. , Mateus, N. and Calhau, C. (2009). Absorption of anthocyanins through intestinal epithelial cells – Putative involvement of GLUT2. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 53: 1430-1437. doi:10.1002/mnfr.200900007

Jennings, A., Welch, A., Fairweather-Tait, S., Kay, C., Minihane, A., Chowienczyk, P., Jiang, B., Cecelja, M., Spector, T., Macgregor, A., Cassidy, A. (2012). Higher anthocyanin intake is associated with lower arterial stiffness and central blood pressure in women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96(4), 781–788. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.042036

Mink, P., Scrafford, C., Barraj, L., Harnack, L., Hong, C., Nettleton, J., Jacobs, D. (2007). Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective study in postmenopausal women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 85(3), 895–909. doi:10.1093/ajcn/85.3.895

Cassidy, A., Mukamal, K., Liu, L., Franz, M., Eliassen, A., Rimm, E. (2013). High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women. Circulation 127(2), 188-96. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.112.122408


This was posted by Robin Allen, a member of OneOp (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the OneOp Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebookon Twitterand LinkedIn.

Image by Mixed Berries