Background: Anthocyanins have been shown to improve endothelial function in animal models. However, whether these compounds have similar beneficial effects in humans is largely unknown.
Methods: In a short-term crossover study, 12 hypercholesterolemic individuals were given oral anthocyanins (320 mg) isolated from berries or placebo. Brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (FMD) was assessed before and after the intervention. In a long-term intervention trial (12 weeks), 150 hypercholesterolemic individuals were given anthocyanins (320 mg/day, n = 75) or placebo (n = 75), after which we measured FMD, plasma cGMP, and other serum biomarkers. Another short-term intervention was conducted in the presence of NO-cGMP inhibitors in 6 people and in a rat aortic ring model (n = 8).
Results: Significant increases of FMD from 8.3% (0.6%) at baseline to 11.0% (0.8%) at 1 h and 10.1% (0.9%) at 2 h were observed after short-term anthocyanin consumption, concomitantly with increases of plasma anthocyanin concentrations (P < 0.05). In the study participants who received long-term anthocyanin intervention, compared with the control group, we observed significant increases in the FMD (28.4% vs 2.2%), cGMP (12.6% vs -1.2%), and HDL-cholesterol concentrations, but decreases in the serum soluble vascular adhesion molecule-1 and LDL cholesterol concentrations (P < 0.05). The changes in the cGMP and HDL cholesterol concentrations positively correlated with FMD in the anthocyanin group (P < 0.05). In the presence of NO-cGMP inhibitors, the effects of anthocyanin on endothelial function were abolished in human participants and in a rat aortic ring model.
Conclusions: Anthocyanin supplementation improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypercholesterolemic individuals. This effect involves activation of the NO-cGMP signaling pathway, improvements in the serum lipid profile, and decreased inflammation.