New Zealand blackcurrants good for the brain

25 June 2015

Research has shown that New Zealand blackcurrants are good for keeping us mentally young and agile, a finding that could have potential in managing the mental decline associated with aging populations, or helping people with brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or depression.

The research, conducted by scientists at Plant & Food Research (New Zealand) in collaboration with Northumbria University (UK), showed that compounds found in New Zealand blackcurrants increased mental performance indicators, such as accuracy, attention and mood. The study also showed that juice from a specific New Zealand blackcurrant cultivar, ‘Blackadder’, also reduced the activity of a family of enzymes called monoamine oxidases, which regulate serotonin and dopamine concentrations in the brain. These chemicals are known to affect mood and cognition, and are the focus for treatments of both neurodegenerative symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease and mood disorders, including stress and anxiety.

Results of the research have been published in the Journal of Functional Foods, a leading journal in the field.

“This study is the first to look at the effects of berry consumption on the cognitive performance of healthy young adults,” says Dr Arjan Scheepens, the Plant & Food Research scientist who led the study. “Our previous research has suggested that compounds found in certain berryfruit may act like monoamine oxidase inhibitors, similar to a class of pharmaceuticals commonly used in the treatment of both mood disorders and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease. This research has shown that New Zealand-grown blackcurrants not only increase mental performance, but also reduce the activity of monoamine oxidases.”

“One of the key trends in the food industry is the development of ingredients and foods that have beneficial effects on human health,” says Professor Roger Hurst, Science Group Leader Food & Wellness at Plant & Food Research. “Understanding what, and how, foods affect mental performance could lead to the development of new foods designed for populations or situations where mental performance or mental decline is a factor, such as older people or those suffering from stress, anxiety or other mood disorders. This research shows how New Zealand blackcurrants can potentially add value, both for the food industry and for people looking for foods that naturally support their own health aspirations.”

Participants in the study – 36 healthy adults aged between 18 and 35 years – consumed a 250ml drink prior to conducting a set of demanding mental performance assessments. The participants consumed either a sugar and taste-matched placebo (no blackcurrant), an anthocyanin-enriched New Zealand blackcurrant extract (Delcyan™ from Just the Berries) or a cold-pressed juice from the New Zealand blackcurrant cultivar ‘Blackadder’, bred by Plant & Food Research. The assessments showed that after consuming the Delcyan™ and ‘Blackadder’ drinks, attention and mood were improved while mental fatigue was reduced. In addition, blood tests showed that the activity of the monoamine oxidase enzymes (MAO) was strongly decreased after consuming the ‘Blackadder’ juice, indicating the potential for compounds found in ‘Blackadder’ blackcurrants as a functional food ingredient to support brain health or managing the symptoms of disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

Additional information:

Currently, we are not aware of any products on the market containing only juice from the New Zealand cultivar 'Blackadder'. The cultivar is not currently available to the home gardener.

Plant & Food Research has only analysed the cultivar 'Blackadder' for its effect on cognition in healthy young people - although it is possible that other varieties may have a similar effect this has never been scientifically tested. We have not tested the effects of 'Blackadder', or any other blackcurrant variety, in people with cognition or mood disorders, such as Parkinson’s, depression or anxiety, and are not able to comment on potential effects.

However, we have demonstrated 'Blackadder' juice is a powerful monamine oxidase inhibitor in humans and accordingly there is a possibility it may interact with medications. As we are not able to give medical advice, we strongly recommend that prior to using any blackcurrant juice as a therapy that you first discuss with your doctor whether it is safe and appropriate for you.

Emma Timewell
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8692
Mobile: +64-21-2429 365

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