Chokeberry bushes have for centuries been residents of eastern deciduous forests where their bright red and dark purple fruits continue to be favorite snacks of local bird species. Native Americans have also traditionally eaten dried chokeberries and prepared teas from parts of the plant, and several domesticated varieties now grace contemporary lawns and gardens from coast to coast. However, the chokeberry (Aronia) is enjoying a new claim-to-fame as a potentially powerful antioxidant, and can now be found for sale in the dietary supplement and "health food" aisles of your local pharmacies and grocery stores.
What makes the humble chokeberry so healthful? Scientists think the answer lies in their unusually high levels of substances called anthocyanins (from the Greek anthos + kyanos meaning dark blue). There are many different anthocyanins in these colorful berries, but they all function as antioxidants originally protecting the chokeberry seed from sunshine-induced oxidative stress. And when we eat them, they also appear to protect our bodies from a variety of damaging situations, including exposure to pollution and metabolically-derived free radicals. Indeed, a growing body of scientific literature has shown promising effects of chokeberry consumption on diseases ranging from cancer to obesity. These health-promoting effects may be due to the potent anti-inflammatory properties of anthocyanins, as uncontrolled inflammation is now universally recognized as a common thread in many of our most prevalent and deadly diseases. In addition, certain anthocyanins including those found in chokeberry have also been shown to improve blood sugar and the function of insulin.
To better understand how chokeberries influence health, Drs. Bolin Qin and Richard Anderson from the US Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, MD studied what happens when prediabetic rats are fed chokeberry extracts for an extended period of time. The results of their research
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Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology