By Paulina Mastalerz, MSc
Growing up in Poland, I remember the bitter and dry flavor of Aronia berries. My mother used to give me fresh berries in the summer months and dried powder in winter. I never quite enjoyed the sharp, bitter flavor and its mouth-drying effects, but I was always told “it’s good for you”.
It was only when I moved to Ireland that I started researching the seemingly magical properties of those berries. They are not as popular in Ireland or the UK as they are in Eastern Europe. Aronia berries, more commonly known as “chokeberries”, are native to North America and recent studies have shown that they are linked to many health benefits, including anti-cancer properties. So, I guess my mother was right after all.
Health benefits of berries
Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) also known as “Aronia berry” belongs to the Rosaceae family and is a deciduous shrub originating from eastern North America. It was traditionally used by Native Americans for the treatment of colds. Today, Aronia berries are also grown in Eastern Europe and used to produce homemade juices, jams, fruit tea, wine, and natural food coloring.
Aronia berries are a great source of polyphenols (compounds that naturally occur in plants), in fact the highest among 143 plants that were studied. The high content and composition of these compounds is what gives these berries a wide range of health benefits and therapeutic effects which we will discuss below.
Diabetes causes the glucose levels in your blood to be too high. This is caused by your body not being able to break down glucose into energy, which could be caused by not having enough insulin in your body or the insulin produced being ineffective. Current research in animal studies show promising potential for the Aronia berry to support the immune system and reduce blood glucose levels. It can help boost the immune system and reduce sugar levels in diabetic animals. The extracts can also fight insulin resistance which could help prevent diabetes from developing in the future.
The real magical benefits of Aronia berries can be seen in a variety of cancer related studies. Phenolic compounds have high anti-cancer activity, and since Aronia berries are rich in these micronutrients they were used to treat colon cancer, breast cancer and leukemia. The berries were tested on several tumor cell lines showing positive results. This wide range of beneficial effects has attracted a lot of attention in the medical world and further studies are required to understand the mechanisms of these micronutrients combined with the effects of chemotherapy.
Aronia berries have also exhibited cardio-protective effects, meaning they can also help to protect our heart. They contain an active ingredient called niacin, otherwise known as Vitamin B3, which improves blood fat levels, which in turn reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. They can reduce platelet aggregation in patients with hypertension and diabetes, which reduces the risk of heart failure.
Black chokeberry has several positive effects on human health and they are not just limited to the ones described above. The beneficial compounds have shown to be effective in both animal and clinical trials for the treatment of numerous human diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and hypercholesterolemia. Recent studies have explored the mechanisms which show anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic effects of Aronia berries. The superior antioxidant properties which also give this berry that sour taste make this a great functional food. If you can overcome the bitter, dry flavor you should consider adding it to your superfood list!
Peer-edited by Johanna Bishop, MS, RDN, SNS
Picture credit: Pixabay