Breathe Easy: Blackcurrant’s potential role in respiratory health

Eating blackcurrants may help allergy-induces asthma sufferers breathe more easily by working with the body’s immune system to reduce inflammation in the lungs, claim New Zealand scientists.

Research from New Zealand’s Plant and Food Research laboratories has shown evidence that chemicals in the berry may work with the bodies’ natural defences to attack the causes of allergy-induced asthma,. One such compound, epigallocatechin, may suppress inflammation-causing reactions to minimise inflammation and could potentially even prevent an allergic reactions.

Fruit consumption has been shown to reduce symptoms in allergy-induced asthma yet this research is the first to give insights into the mechanism by which this may occur. The researchers identified that epigallocatechin, a known antioxidant and a major component of proanthocyanidins found in blackcurrants, reduced inflammation in lung tissue.

In this study, led by Dr Roger Hurst, cells from lung tissue were used to test the effects on the immune system of a proanthocyanidin rich extract, from blackcurrant cultivars grown in New Zealand.

How epigallocatechin works to reduce lung inflammation

When the lungs are exposed to allergens, the body’s natural response is to attack the perceived foreign body which in some individuals results in long-term inflammation. This study showed that epigallocatechin, from blackcurrants, works in conjunction with other natural immune responses that occur at the same time to reduce inflammation. These actions are distinct from the inflammation-reducing activity of another group of compounds, anthocycanins, which are also rich in blackcurrants.

Anthocyanins are known for their antioxidant properties and, interestingly, have been shown by Dr Hurst’s research group to also influence inflammatory mechanisms and complement the body’s own natural immune responses. The research shows some compounds in fruit thought to promote health with their antioxidant activity are keeping us well by other means.

“To find natural compounds that potentially reduce lung inflammation and complement the body’s own immune response is an exciting breakthrough,” says Dr Hurst. “Should we discover more about how this works we may eventually develop foods containing these compounds that could provide more natural alternatives to assist conventional drug treatments for asthma and even other allergic re-actions.”

The next step in the long-term study will be clinical trials to test the compound’s effects on asthma patients.

The findings from the study are published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

2013 research backs up respiratory role

Following on from this 2010 laboratory study exploring the effects of extracts of blackcurrants on  allergen induced asthma, a 2013 laboratory study has been completed. A range of different New Zealand blackcurrant varieties were analysed  and it was found that, in in vitro studies, many reduced a key inflammatory step associated with allergy-induced asthma. Analysis of the composition of these fruits suggests that the ratio of two specific compounds, known as anthocyanins, is an important factor in this inflammation control.

This finding supports the potential use of blackcurrants in managing lung inflammation in allergic disease.

With 1 in 5 New Zealanders suffering from asthma this is fabulous news and yet another exciting potential health benefit of NZ blackcurrants.

Eating blackcurrants has been shown to potentially reduce symptoms in allergy-induced asthma. The compounds in blackcurrants called epigallocatechin may support natural defence mechanisms in lung tissue by suppressing inflammation. This finding supports the potential future use of blackcurrants in managing lung inflammation in allergic disease.

  • Dr Roger Hurst at the New Zealand Plant and Food Research Institute
  • Hurst, S. M., McGhie, T.K., Cooney, J., Jensen, D., Gould, E.M., Lyall, K. A., Hurst, R. D. Blackcurrant proanthocyanidins augment IFN-γ-induced suppression of IL-4 stimulated CCL26 secretion in alveolar epithelial cells. Molecular nutrition & food research 2010, 54: s159–s170
  • Nyanhanda, T., Gould, E. M., McGhie, T., Shaw, O. M., Harper, J. L., & Hurst, R. D. (2014). Blackcurrant cultivar polyphenolic extracts suppress CCL26 secretion from alveolar epithelial cells. Food & function, 5(4), 671-677.