Putting the blackcurrant ‘fitness factor’ to the test


Can New Zealand blackcurrants ‘get you fitter faster’? That’s the question being investigated as part of a broader scientific study currently underway in North Carolina.

A consortium of researchers–including New Zealand’s own Plant & Food Research, the Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at North Carolina State University, Appalachian State University and Queens University–are testing the hypothesis that high levels of polyphenols (like those found in blackcurrants) can increase mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of human cells, so increased function means increased energy and fitness.

To put their hypothesis to the test, researchers recruited three groups of students who are young and healthy, but relatively unfit. They take part in a four-week exercise regimen to improve their fitness, and blood draws are taken at the start and finish of the trial to measure how well they’ve done.

The crux of the experiment is in the administration of polyphenols–the powerful antioxidants found in most berries. The students are given either powdered blackcurrant capsules, freeze dried blueberries, or a placebo throughout the testing period. Their relative fitness levels are then compared to determine if either of the supplements helped them gain fitness more quickly than the placebo.

The New Zealand Plant & Food scientists are focused solely on the blackcurrant strand of the research, in particular on the effect of anthocyanins on fitness. Anthocyanins are the star of New Zealand blackcurrant nutrition, with our berries registering some of the highest levels in the world.