It's no secret that berries contain a multitude of vitamins and healthy nutrients -- but now researchers have found a new health benefit.
Berries owe their color to natural pigments called anthocyanins, a type of flavonoids. Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments and based on their pH, they can be red, purple, or blue. It's not just berries that contain them -- anthocyanins are also found in significant quantities in blood oranges, black rice, and black soybean.
The pigments have been studied before but now, a particular one seems to hold special promise in cancer treatment.
"The most interesting results of our study relate to cyanidin, which is an anthocyanin found abundantly in wild bilberry, blackcurrant and lingonberry," says Minna Rahnasto-Rilla, Doctor of Pharmacy, the lead author of the article.
Before we can talk about these special properties of cyanidin, we need to introduce another actor to the stage: sirtuins. Sirtuins are a class of proteins that regulate important biological pathways. Ageing causes changes in sirtuin function, with these changing contributing to various (and very serious) diseases. For instance, Sirtuin 6, or SIRT6 for short, regulates glucose metabolism and ensures DNA repair and telomere maintenance.
What cyanidin, the pigment found in berries, does, is it increases the SIRT6 enzyme levels in human colorectal cancer cells, and promote the expression of the tumor suppressor genes. Researchers believe this could eventually be used as a treatment avenue for some cancers.
They also designed a computer-based model that allowed them to predict how different flavonoid compounds in plants can regulate the SIRT6 enzyme, with promising results. The study also paves the way for the development of new drugs that can regulate SIRT6 function.
But it's important to note that this shouldn't be read as "berries cure cancer" or "berries can treat cancer" -- again, berries are typically very nutritious, and are welcome in any healthy diet. However, this doesn't make them a cure for cancer. It simply means that a specific compound that they contain can be used to fight some diseases, including cancer.
Journal Reference: Rahnasto-Rilla M, Tyni J, Huovinen M, Jarho E, Kulikowicz T, Ravichandran S, A Bohr V, Ferrucci L, Lahtela-Kakkonen M, Moaddel R. Natural polyphenols as sirtuin 6 modulators. Sci Rep. 2018 Mar 7;8(1):4163. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-22388-5.