Health Benefits of Maqui Berry
Maqui berries have become the latest craze among health-conscious individuals, but what are they, and what do they do?
The maqui berry plant is also known as the Chilean wineberry or by its Latin name of Aristotelia chilensis. As the name suggests, maqui berries hail from Chile and parts of Argentina, where they can be found growing in temperate rainforest areas. Maqui berries themselves are rarely cultivated by farmers, and instead are normally harvested from wild plants.
Traditionally, maqui berries have been used in Chilean folk medicine, as pain killers or to reduce inflammation.
More recently, however, Maqui berries have gained a reputation in the west thanks to the dark purple-black berries that they produce. Like many other berries such as blueberries or currants, maquis are rich in a range of different beneficial nutrients and may offer consumers an effective way to maintain their everyday health.
Benefits of Maqui Berries
It is tempting to think that maqui berries are just like many other soft fruits, but that would be missing one critical element. The natural chemicals that give maqui berries their deep colouration are known as “anthocyanins”. Coming from the Greek words “anthos” meaning “flower” and “kyaneos” meaning “blue”, it is these anthocyanins which are believed to offer so many potential health benefits.
The key thing to realize is just how many anthocyanins may be found in maqui berries. Scientists have analyzed numerous fruits to test their anthocyanin content, and found that maqui berries can contain six times as many of these beneficial compounds than the average berry, potentially making for far more potent health benefits.
But what do maqui berries - and their anthocyanins - actually do?
Our bodies are constantly under attack from so-called “free radicals”. These are molecules that have an uneven number of electrons flying around them, which can make them unstable. The goal of such a free radical is to rebalance itself, ensuring that it has an even number of electrons. There are a number of ways that it can do this. It can, for example steal an electron from another molecule. This hardly solves the problem on a wider scale, however, because it just makes the other molecule unstable.
As electrons are “stolen” from other molecules, so damage can occur in our bodies. Free radical activity has been implicated in everything from skin cancer to cardiovascular problems, so finding ways to control these naturally-occurring free radicals is of great importance.
Fortunately, evidence suggests that many plant-based foods offer rich antioxidant protection. They do this by “donating” electrons to these unstable molecules, essentially preventing them from causing further damage to the body.
So we know that antioxidants can help to keep us healthy, but where to maqui berries specifically come into the picture?
Firstly, scientists have actually designed a test for how much antioxidant protection different molecules offer - known as an “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity” or ORAC for short. A study using ORAC assessed the potential benefits of a range of different anthocyanins and found that one, known as cyanidin-3-glucoside, is particularly effective. It is reputedly up to three times stronger than some other anthocyanins.
Pleasantly, studies of the anthocyanins in maqui berries have shown that the main constituents are known as delphinidin and - you guessed it - cyanidin. This suggests that maqui berries may offer much higher antioxidant protection than many other fruits and vegetables. Indeed, another study of maqui berries found that they “score better for total radical-trapping potential and total antioxidant reactivity… when compared to different commercial berries”.
A group of men were provided either with a placebo tablet or one containing 640 mg of anthocyanin each day for four weeks. Cholesterol levels were recorded at the start, and again on the last day of the study, to assess the impact of anthocyanins on healthy cholesterol levels.
As a refresher there are two types of cholesterol - “good” cholesterol (typically known as HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). The key is the ratio of these two forms. If a diet or activity can raise the levels of good cholesterol, or reduce levels of bad cholesterol, then this is considered a positive step. After all, an unhealthy cholesterol balance is associated with a range of circulatory problems, including atherosclerosis.
What the experts found was that the participants taking the anthocyanins experienced “significantly higher” levels of good cholesterol. This suggests that a diet rich in maqui berries may help to keep your circulatory system healthy for longer.
Improved Blood Sugar Levels
Diabetes is a growing problem in many parts of world, and is associated with a range of unpleasant health impacts. There are two recognized “versions” of diabetes mellitus; Type 1 which occurs from birth and Type 2 which can occur at any time. It is this type 2 diabetes that is of particular interest to many health professionals, as it is a potentially preventable source of illness. One of the most likely contributing factors to the onset of Type 2 diabetes is regular, large shifts in blood sugar levels.
Maqui berries and other plant-based foods are notable because the anthocyanins they contain may help to even out blood sugar levels and positively impact insulin sensitivity in the body.
When we consume food, enzymes in our digestive system break them down into smaller, more usable pieces. These can then be absorbed across the gun wall, into the bloodstream, where they can travel to their destination.
There is evidence to suggest that anthocyanins inhibit one particular enzyme known as α-glucosidase. This enzyme is responsible for the breakdown of starch, which is known to cause spikes in blood sugar. Indeed, one therapy for diabetes is to deliberately control α-glucosidase activity; something which foods like maqui berries seem to do naturally.
In another study, pancreatic cells were treated with a range of different anthocyanins to see whether or not they stimulated the release of insulin - another important factor implicated in diabetes. Not only did they experience positive results, but they also found that the most beneficial anthocyanins are commonly found in maqui berries.
A group of scientists carried out three simultaneous experiments. Firstly, they worked out the anthocyanin content of various foods. Secondly, they used this to assess the volume of anthocyanins that 805 volunteers were consuming each day. Thirdly, and most importantly, they then followed the health of these participants for a period of five years.
What were they looking for? The answer was a relationship between anthocyanin intake and heart health. During their study period 38 men suffered from a heart attack. Correlated with their intake of anthocyanins, the scientists found a “significant” relationship between the two, suggesting that the consumption of foods or supplements rich in these compounds could contribute to a healthy heart.
Whilst we already know that maqui berries are rich in beneficial anthocyanins, what you might not realize is that studies have found it to be the richest known natural source of one particular chemical known as “delphinidin”, which makes up 34% of the maqui berry’s anthocyanin content.
Pleasantly, delphinidin has been particularly feted for its potential to naturally fight cancer. In one study, colon cancer cells in the lab were dosed with delphinidin to see if they had any impact. The scientists in question reported that the treatment led to a far greater number of cancer cell deaths than in the absence of anthocyanins. Based on their findings they stated that “delphinidin could have potential in inhibiting colon cancer growth”.
Obviously these findings have excited the scientific community, and more research is ongoing. It may be that we find further cancer cells also respond to a diet rich in maqui berries and their kin.
It has been suggested that a major contributing factor to the natural aging process is the continued build-up over time of free radical damage in the body. As we have seen, however, fruits and vegetables that are display strong antioxidant activity may help to neutralise this danger, and so it follows that this may contribute to healthy aging.
One study assessing the impact of berries on the process of aging pointed to the potential impacts on not just physical decline but also cognitive aging. The experts in question suggested that “cognitive aging… should be slowed, and possibly even reversed, by appropriately increasing levels of antioxidants.”
How Much Maqui Berry Should I Take?
Research on maqui berries is in its infancy, and no studies have yet ascertained the optimal intake of these berries. It is important to appreciate that the active ingredients found in maqui berries are anthocyanins, which you are likely to already be consuming to some degree with a balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables.
That said, the research that has indicated beneficial impacts on health have used dosages varying between 500 and 1000mg. As anthocyanins are water soluble, and therefore will simply be excreted if not needed, it seems unlikely that consuming more will cause any problems at all.
Our own very popular supplement offers an impressive 2000mg of maqui berry goodness in each tablet for maximum health benefit.
Risks and Side Effects of Maqui Berry
As maqui berries are a natural food that has been consumed in South America for generations it seems unlikely that any major side effects should be expected. All the same, it is important to highlight that the research on potential side effects is scarce at present.
One consideration is that, like all fruits, maqui berries can be quite high in sugar. The fibre content of these berries is believed to negate this risk to a degree, but maqui berries should only be consumed as part of a balanced and calorie-controlled diet.
Excessive consumption of any fruit has the potential to cause stomach upsets or diarrhoea in a minority of cases. It is recommended that you seek professional advice from your doctor before you begin taking any new supplement or change your diet.
Maqui berries are becoming known as the next “superfood” thanks to the high levels of anthocyanins they contain. While research is in its infancy, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that these chemicals offer a whole host of potential health benefits. Some of the most hopeful findings point to beneficial impacts on antioxidant damage, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and all-round heart health. Eating berries never looked so appealing.