Nature's Healthiest Chemical

Anthocyanins and Where to Get Them

Nature’s coolest ingredient can limit fat gain, make you insulin sensitive, control blood sugar, and more.

Mother Nature creates delicious foods full of ingredients that give us long lives free from disease and many of the infirmities of aging. But then, in a perverse act of peevishness, she makes these ingredients largely unavailable to us.

I’m talking about the class of chemicals known as polyphenols. Many have powerful health effects but, unfortunately, they aren’t absorbed very well. Many just pass through the digestive system and into the sewage system.

For example, blueberries and blackberries contain a particularly powerful (and elusive) branch of polyphenols known as anthocyanins. Harnessing their power conveys an impressive list of beneficial effects, from limiting abdominal obesity to mimicking the life-extending capabilities of calorie-restriction diets. Getting at these anthocyanins, though, is hard unless you ingest them with the milk-protein casein or take the supplement route.

The Casein Connection

You know casein, right? It’s generally the best muscle-building protein, and it’s the basis of the best protein powders. If, however, you were to examine a high-quality casein through an electron microscope, you’d likely see peptides (short chains of amino acids) joined together in amorphous but stable agglomerates known as micelles.

For muscle-building, casein rich in micelles is particularly desirable because micellar casein is the only protein shown in lab studies to be anti-catabolic (Boire, 1997). So not only does it increase protein synthesis, it helps prevent muscle breakdown during and after intense exercise.

But there’s something else particularly beneficial about these micelle agglomerates – their internal structure is porous. Look inside them and you see channels a tad bigger than 5 nanometers. Look further and you see inner cavities ranging in size from 20 to 30 nanometers. These channels and cavities are of particular interest to us when it comes to blueberry anthocyanins (and probably other polyphenols).

The channels and cavities provide “safe passage” to anthocyanins and their metabolites, allowing them to bypass the stomach lining and enter the bloodstream where they can work their magic to make you healthier.

This isn’t just theory, either. Scientists recently combined blueberries with casein and, after feeding the mixture to rats, found that anthocyanins and their metabolites’ absorption increased from 1.5 to 10.1 times, depending on the specific anthocyanin or metabolite. There’s no reason to think it doesn’t work with humans, too.

Why Should I Care About These Anthocyanins?

We all know that blueberries are “good for us,” but it’s sometimes worth digging into what they can do. Their superpowers come from several anthocyanins and metabolites, but the one most interesting to humans is cyanidin-3-glucoside, or C3G.

This particular anthocyanin, responsible for much of the blueberry’s color, has the following effects on mammalian physiology:

  • C3G enhances the uptake of glucose by myotubes, causing calories to be preferentially used by muscle fibers instead of being stored as fat.
  • C3G raises adiponectin levels, which regulates glucose levels and increases fatty acid breakdown.
  • C3G decreases leptin levels, a hormone directly connected to body fat and obesity.
  • C3G improves endurance by increasing the production of chemical intermediates involved in producing ATP, the cell’s energy currency.
  • C3G increases insulin sensitivity and limits fat gain.
  • C3G, taken before a workout, helps shuttle energy from pre-workout nutrition directly to muscle cells.
  • C3G enhances the activity of brown adipose tissue.
  • C3G transforms white adipose tissue into brown adipose tissue.
  • C3G increases mitochondrial number and function and prevents mitochondrial dysfunction.
  • C3G limits abdominal obesity and reduces systemic inflammation.
  • C3G reduces triglycerides, lowers blood sugar, and reduces cholesterol.
  • C3G improves skeletal muscle endurance by increasing levels of ATP.
  • C3G improves night vision and helps prevent eye fatigue.
  • C3G promotes liver health and fortifies it against damage from alcohol.
  • C3G reduces risk of heart attack.
  • C3G mimics the life-extending benefits seen in calorie-restriction diets.
  • C3G reduces inflammation in fat cells, causing them to shrink.
  • C3G compares favorably in laboratory experiments with acarbose, a prescription glucose-disposal drug.

You clearly want to get C3G and other berry anthocyanins and metabolites into your system, but just eating a handful of naked blueberries isn’t the best way to do it. You need to combine your berries with a casein-based protein drink, as in a blended protein drink. However, there’s another alternative.

This Works Even Better

Biotest faced the anthocyanin-absorption problem years ago when it wanted to bring its Indigo-3G product to market. Its solution was to combine C3G with a pharmaceutical standby called gelucire.

Gelucire is a mixture of mono, di, and triglycerides used to increase the bioavailability of various drugs. It’s a blend of fatty acids with extreme hydrophobicity and low density, making it an ideal compound/drug carrier.

So Biotest took pure C3G, each batch chemically harvested from an impressive amount of berries, and combined it with gelucire to make an extremely potent anthocyanin delivery system. It’s virtually impossible to ingest enough berry/casein shakes to approximate the dosage and effects of one serving of Indigo-3G.

However, IF you’ve got some blueberries or blackberries handy and you’re preparing a protein (casein-based) shake, blend them together to get the most out of those berries.

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  1. Lang Y et al. Effects of Alpha-Casein on the Absorption of Blueberry Anthocyanins and Metabolites in Rat Plasma Based on Pharmacokinetic Analysis. J Agric Food Chem. 2021 Jun 9;69(22):6200-6213. PubMed.
  2. You Y et al. Cyanidin 3-glucoside attenuates high-fat and high-fructose diet-induced obesity by promoting the thermogenic capacity of brown adipose tissue. Journal of Functional Foods. 2018 Feb;41:62-71.
  3. Shi M et al. The effect of cyanidin-3-O-β-glucoside and peptides extracted from yoghurt on glucose uptake and gene expression in human primary skeletal muscle myotubes from obese and obese diabetic participants. Journal of Functional Food. 2018 Dec;51:55-64.
  4. Guo H et al. Cyanidin-3-O-β-glucoside regulates fatty acid metabolism via an AMP-activated protein kinase-dependent signaling pathway in human HepG2 cells. Lipids Health Dis. 2012 Jan 13;11:10. PubMed.
  5. Wei X et al. Cyanidin-3-O-β-glucoside improves obesity and triglyceride metabolism in KK-Ay mice by regulating lipoprotein lipase activity. J Sci Food Agric. 2011 Apr;91(6):1006-13. PubMed.
  6. Guo H et al. Cyanidin 3-glucoside attenuates obesity-associated insulin resistance and hepatic steatosis in high-fat diet-fed and db/db mice via the transcription factor FoxO1. J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Apr;23(4):349-60. PubMed.
  7. Sasaki R et al. **Cyanidin 3-glucoside ameliorates hyperglycemia and insulin sensitivity due to downregulation of retinol binding protein 4 expression in diabetic mice.**Biochem Pharmacol. 2007 Dec 3;74(11):1619-27. PubMed.
  8. Tsuda T et al. Anthocyanin enhances adipocytokine secretion and adipocyte-specific gene expression in isolated rat adipocytes. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2004 Mar 26;316(1):149-57. PubMed.
  9. Guo H et al. **Cyanidin 3-glucoside protects 3T3-L1 adipocytes against H2O2- or TNF-alpha-induced insulin resistance by inhibiting c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase activation.**Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Mar 15;75(6):1393-401. PubMed.
  10. Tsuda T et al. Microarray profiling of gene expression in human adipocytes in response to anthocyanins. Biochem Pharmacol. 2006 Apr 14;71(8):1184-97. PubMed.
  11. Tsuda T et al. Gene expression profile of isolated rat adipocytes treated with anthocyanins. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 Apr 15;1733(2-3):137-47. PubMed.
  12. Grace MH et al. Hypoglycemic activity of a novel anthocyanin-rich formulation from lowbush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium Aiton. Phytomedicine. 2009 May;16(5):406-15. PubMed.
  13. Tsuda T et al. Dietary cyanidin 3-O-beta-D-glucoside-rich purple corn color prevents obesity and ameliorates hyperglycemia in mice. J Nutr. 2003 Jul;133(7):2125-30. PubMed.

If more ppl would read these articles, maybe, just maybe shows like 600lb life wouldn’t be around…


I wonder if this would apply to a cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa with their polyphenol qualities?

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My breakfast for the last 5-6 years has been: oats with 50 grams micellar casein powder and about 1/3 cup of blueberries. Score one for the Dietitian! :laughing:

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Are ya’ asking if combining a casein-based protein with those drinks would enhance the absorption of polyphenols? It’s certainly possible. Maybe even likely.

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TC, I recall several years ago reading in T-Nation that the tannins (sp?) in teas hampers the absorption of C3G in Indigo-3G. Is that still true?

I can’t find anything to confirm that they do interfere with its absorption. I wouldn’t worry about it (taking them with tea or coffee, etc.)

Why do you guys get C3G from black rice and not blueberries?