The Truth About Black Currants
If you visit health food stores on a regular basis you’ve probably begun to see products that feature black currant juices and extracts. It’s important to clarify that black currant seed oil is not the same as black currant extract or juice. The oil has been commercially available for many years and is known for containing a therapeutic fatty acid called GLA . But it’s the juice and concentrated extracts from the berry that are now being widely promoted throughout the natural health industry. They’re but one contender for the “hot new product of the moment” award.
I’d like to attempt to separate some of the facts from the promotional material associated with these berries. In order to do so, let’s look at some scientific research that will help us to view black currants from a reasonable perspective.
Black currants are similar in many ways to other black, blue and dark purple berries. I’m specifically referring to members of the berry family that includes black raspberries, blueberries and elderberries. But just like human family members, there are some distinct and subtle differences to be found in each of these relatives.
From a nutritional standpoint black currants are an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium. But the primary selling point for almost all berries is their phytochemical (plant chemical) antioxidant content. These chemicals are largely responsible for the rich, dark skin color of many of the berries. That’s also thought to be the primary reason for their health promoting properties.
Here’s what we currently know about the possible health benefits of this up-and-coming berry:
- Black currants may play a role in supporting ocular (eye) health and improving vision. (1,2)
- Recently, a black currant extract (BCE) was shown to help improve seasonal allergies.
- Evidence suggests that BCEs may promote proper circulation and reduce muscle fatigue and stiffness.
- Clinical trials indicate that black currant consumption may reduce the risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
- Black currant compounds have also been noted as possibly being useful in the management of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Lozenges and syrups made from black currants are commonly used to soothe sore throats and hasten healing.
In order for any food or supplement to provide health benefits, it must be able to be absorbed in therapeutic quantities. To that end, I want to mention two potentially vital pieces of information about enhancing the body’s uptake of the phytochemicals in black currants.
- Taking black currant extract (BCE) with a natural substance called IP6 may increase the bioavailability of the antioxidants contained in the BCE. IP6 is also known as phytic acid. It’s typically found in legumes, seeds and whole grains and is known to be a powerful antioxidant and chelator of minerals. Therefore, it is recommended that supplemental IP6 only be taken on an empty stomach and at least 2 to 3 hours before or after meals.
- I recently reported on a study that found that milk consumption significantly reduced the absorption of antioxidants in blueberries. Since black currants are chemically and structurally very similar to blueberries, it may be wise to avoid taking black currant along with any dairy products.
In addition to the more common uses of black currants, I also came across some promising, but highly preliminary findings about possible future uses.
- A 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition demonstrated a potent anti-inflammatory effect in those ingesting a juice made of black currants and oranges.
- Another trial suggests that specific black currant components may be useful in the battle against common forms of the flu (1,2). A related berry (elderberry) is documented as possessing anti-influenza properties as well.
- Other research indicates that black currant could have a role in combating other viral offenders such as the herpes virus.
In a previous article about blueberries, I pointed out a scientific inquiry that found that organic blueberries had higher levels of antioxidants than those that were conventionally grown. The same does not appear to hold true in the case of black currants. This is not to say that there aren’t other reasons to look for organic currants. But if you can’t find them, at least you can rest assured that you’ll benefit fully from any kind of black currant you can find.
After reviewing the existing literature on black currants, my personal position is to “wait and see”. In my opinion, eating a wide variety of berries and utilizing berry extracts can be enormously beneficial to a great many people. But I’m not yet sold on the superiority of black currants vs other similar berries. For instance, the science supporting the use of blueberries is much more substantial at this point.
So the next time I see a salesman at my local health food store offering a free “shot” of black currant juice, I’ll try it. But when he asks me if I’d like to buy a bottle, I’ll probably just say, “Check back with me in 2 or 3 years”.