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The Truth About Black Currants

April 3, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

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.

Blackberries on the VineI’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:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Antioxidants in Black Currants

In addition to the more common uses of black currants, I also came across some promising, but highly preliminary findings about possible future uses.

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”.

Be well!

JP

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9 Comments to “The Truth About Black Currants”

  1. Euphoria Says:

    There are many berries this color that are good for health including bilberries, yumberries and the acai berries. They are very good for cardiovascular health.

  2. JP Says:

    I agree with you, Euphoria. Many berries are a wonderfully good source of nutrition.

    I know they do my heart good! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  3. laura Says:

    I adore black currant juice… it need not be purchased at “wonder remedy” prices. I can find it for less than $3 for a half-liter aseptic package at local specialty food stores that carry Eastern European items.

  4. JP Says:

    Thank you for the tip, Laura! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Robert Marengo Says:

    To call blackberries, blueberries, elderberries and black currants a “family” betrays ignorance of plant taxonomy. They may have nutritional traits in common, but they are about as distantly related botanically as you can get. Blackberries & black currants are closer to each other (both are in the rose family), but blueberries & elderberries are not related to each other, or to blackberries & currants.

  6. JP Says:

    Robert,

    Your point about plant taxonomy is taken. However, I think you’re ascribing more meaning to that particular sentence than I intended. I was simply referring to berries as a class of fruit. Since the three mentioned berries all end with the word “berries” and contain similar characteristics and phytochemicals … I grouped them together.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. HK Expat Says:

    Just picked up some back currant concentrate today, mixed some up and it tasted great… looking around for nutritional info…and it looks like a winnner…

  8. Jerry Says:

    Research from Purdue University and many other food research institutions worldwide all show black currants are superior to blueberries in almost every area. The reason for the lack of quantity of research is because there are almost no commercial growers of black currants in the United States to fund the research. (it was illegal to grow them for almost a hundred years due to a disease that infected white pine)Your only consideration should be cost and availability. Now that the ban has been lifted in many areas of the US more growers will emerge and availability should increase while costs decrease. The issue of which berry is superior pound for pound is well established so there is no reason to wait 2-3 years for the benefits. Just eat ‘em!

  9. JP Says:

    Thank you for comments, Jerry! Since writing this column, additional research has been published. Here are a few of the highlights:

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/96/3/527.abstract

    http://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/335961

    http://www.clinchem.org/content/57/11/1524.long (blackcurrant & bilberry combination)

    Be well!

    JP

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