How healthy is the aronia berry?

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)
Aloe vera, chia, ginger, blueberries, avocado and the like: the title "superfood" has already been awarded to many foods. It stands for fruits, seeds, vegetables and more that are said to have a particularly health-promoting effect in one or more areas due to their ingredients. One of these superfoods was researched as part of a study at the Medical University of Graz by Sandra Holasek from the Department of Immunology at the Otto Loewi Research Center: the local aronia berry and its juice.

Superstar polyphenol

One reason why some fruits and vegetables become superfoods is their high polyphenol content. Polyphenols are substances that are associated with several health-promoting properties and are found exclusively in plants. They have an antioxidant effect, have a positive impact on our immune system and can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. The aronia berry, which is also grown in Europe and Austria, is characterized (among other things) by its high polyphenol content, but can also convince with other nutrients such as various (pro-)vitamins. A better supply of fruit and vegetables in Austria can certainly do no harm, as only around a third of Austrians reach the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

Although aronia is theoretically bursting with healthy nutrients, the bioavailability of the substances in the fruit, i.e. the body’s ability to absorb them effectively, is still under discussion. In addition, intolerances are a major issue when it comes to the superfruit. This aspect was also analyzed in the research work of Sandra Holasek and her team.

The results of the study

Around half of the women who took part in the study reported intolerances in connection with drinking chokeberry juice, whereupon the tolerance of the juice in connection with the intestinal microbiome was also analyzed in order to gain a better understanding of the health effects of the chokeberry fruit.

A total of 40 women took part in the study, during which the participants drank either natural aronia juice or a polyphenol-free placebo drink with a comparable nutritional profile. This first phase was followed by a wash-out phase, which also lasted six weeks.

"The six-week study showed that in the group with intestinal complaints, the diversity of the microbiome remained unchanged and the aronia juice led to the microbial production of gases, while the diversity of the microbiome of the participants who tolerated the juice increased continuously and produced several bile acids that could help metabolize the polyphenols," Sandra Holasek explains the results of the study. In the pilot study conducted on women, the results suggest that individualizing polyphenol intake could help consumers to better benefit from the health benefits of superfoods.

Sandra Holasek further summarizes the study as follows: ,,Aronia berry is a polyphenol-rich superfood with potential benefits for cardiovascular and metabolic health. However, the tolerability of aronia juice is highly variable, with some individuals reporting gastrointestinal discomfort. Given the importance of the gut microbiome in the digestion of our food, in a recent study we investigated whether tolerability is related to changes in gut microbiota and bacterial metabolites."

Profile: Sandra Holasek

Sandra Holasek heads the Nutrition and Metabolism research unit at the Otto Loewi Research Center. The focus is on nutritional assessment and methods for the standardization of nutritional interventions, measurement of body composition, nutrient intake and analysis of relevant metabolites (focus on adipocyte biology). Another focus is the influence of diet quality and gut microbiome on the immune system in connection with eating disorders, lifestyle, body fat and age.