Elderberry, used as a medicine and as a food for thousands of years, is one of the richest sources of plant pigments called anthocyanins, found to improve microcirculation to the skin.
This was confirmed by research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which investigated how anthocyanins might benefit obese women by decreasing oxidation and inflammation and improving microcirculation.
The study found that there was a significant improvement of microcirculation of blood to the skin as a result of anthocyanin consumption. The improvement was greatest when the consumption of anthocyanins was combined with exercise.
This improvement in circulation, combined with the potent antioxidant action of elderberry anthocyanins, may slow the rate at which skin ages (shown to slow the ageing process by reducing the level of oxygen free radicals in the body).
Elderberry berries and their extracts are most often consumed for their anti-bacterial and anti-viral action.
While anthocyanins are commonly found in fruits such as berries, research published in the Journal of Functional Foods and the journal Mechanisms of Ageing and Development shows that the European black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is one of the richest sources of anthocyanins, as well as vitamins.
Research has, however, also shown that after being absorbed into the body, the anthocyanins found in elderberries are excreted from the body within four hours.
Manufacturers of concentrated elderberry extracts like Italian company Iprona AG, Italy, recommend that people should take a dose of elderberry every four hours for optimal benefit against colds or flu.
As we age, the flow of blood to the skin is reduced. By age 70, the microcirculation to our skin is just 40 percent of what it was in youth.
This reduced blood supply has an effect on the underlying structure of the skin, which is part of the process that causes the skin to lose its elasticity and its youthful fullness and leads to the appearance of lines and wrinkles. The reduced blood supply also causes wounds to the skin to take longer to heal.
Blood supply to the skin is reduced by a number of factors such an increase in total blood cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, but the greatest cause of the decline in blood circulation is the change in hormone levels that comes with age.
Lifestyle factors such as exercise, diet, smoking and obesity also have an influence on circulation to the skin and, consequently, the rate at which the skin ages.
A study published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases reported that even moderate aerobic training improved the microcirculation of sedentary obese subjects.
Exercise also resulted in reduced blood pressure and an improvement in the level of adiponectin in plasma, which increased the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
After considering the evidence that supports the use of elderberry to slow the signs of skin ageing by improving microcirculation, the next question to resolve is whether to eat elderberries in their natural state, or to use a commercial concentrate.
The experts say that a commercial concentrate is a better choice. An article published in the Journal of Complementary Medicine quoted Dr Hans Wohlmuth, a pharmacologist and the curator of the Medical Plant Herbarium at Southern Cross University, and Dr Kerry Bone, Associate Professor in the School of Health at the University of New England (both in regional NSW), who said that standardised commercial extracts offered greater potency and overcame the problem of variations in the therapeutic value of the berries in their natural state.
“A standardised extract is manufactured to contain a consistent level of one or more phytochemical constituents that are derived from the original starting material. In the properly standardized extract, the entire chemical profile of the extract displays a very high degree of consistency from batch to batch,” Dr Bone said.
The black elderberry is a wonder of nature and should take a permanent place in our diet, not just to fight infections, but also to reduce oxidative stress and improve skin health.
- By Carl Thompson, an Australian freelance health and medical journalist. He specialises in natural alternatives to the synthetic products of the pharmaceutical industry, and is a research writer for BerryPharma, an Australian-Italian company that produces standardised berry extracts for medicinal uses.