From the limited data, black currant oil and juice extracts appear useful as an antioxidant source and in treating rheumatoid arthritis and night and fatigue-related visual impairment; the oil and juice extracts also exhibit limited antimicrobial and anticancer properties.
No trials have been conducted to establish appropriate dosage.
Contraindications have not been identified.
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
No adverse reactions have been reported. Although no direct evidence is available, use caution in epileptic patients because of reports of lowered seizure threshold with evening primrose oil.
No toxicity, carcinogenicity, or teratogenicity has been reported.
Black currant is a stout, woody, usually spineless, deciduous shrub with toothed-edged, maple-like leaves growing to a height of about 1.2 to 2.1 m unless trimmed. It is native to the midwestern United States, and the fruits are some of the hardiest in resistance to cold or changing temperatures. They do not thrive in hot or dry climates. Some of the species are fragrant, but R. nigrum emits a strong, unpleasant odor. In spring, the flowers are yellowish-white and look like small bells growing alternately in a row. In the fall, clusters of 4 to 6 black-red fruits ripen from the main branch.
Black currant was used for centuries in Chinese folk medicine as a diuretic, diaphoretic, and febrifuge, and as an ingredient in nutraceuticals, wines, juices, and jams in China and Europe. 4 , 5 It was used in “Syrupus Ribis Fructus BPC” (100 parts red currants, 10 parts red cherries, 5 parts black currants) as a flavoring and coloring agent.
An infusion of the leaves has been used in the treatment of dropsy, rheumatic pain, whooping cough, sore throats, and mouth ulcers. The young roots and bark decoctions also have been used.
The chemical composition of the leaves, seeds, and berries of black currant have been determined using various analytical methods. The different methods give rise to differences in reported concentrations of each component. There appears to be variation of chemical content within the species but not necessarily as a consequence of the cultivation method (organic versus commercial). 6 , 7 , 8 , 9
Aside from a high content of vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), 10 the berries contain flavonoids, including quercetin, myricetin, and kaempferol; 7 , 11 , 12 , 13 and at least 15 different phenolic acids, including anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins. 2 , 8 , 10 , 12 , 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 p-Coumaric acid has been identified as one of the predominant phenolic acids. 12 , 15 , 17 The aroma of juice extracts is attributed to the presence of terpenes, esters, and alcohols. 18
The oil from the seeds of the plant contains varying amounts (15% to 19%) of fatty acids: gamma- and alpha-linolenic acids, and stearidonic acid, 6 , 19 as well as anthocyanins, flavonoids, and 2 nitrile-containing compounds. 20 The leaves of the plant contain prodelphindins. 21
Uses and PharmacologyAntioxidant activity
The antioxidant activity of the black currant berries and juice has been examined for potential cardiovascular and anticancer effects.In vitro studies
The total antioxidant capacity of black currant berries is relatively high when compared with other berries and closely correlates to the total phenolic content. 9 , 12 However, the individual phenolic compounds are suspected in contributing to differing extents. 14 , 22 , 24 , 25 , 26 It is further suggested that the lipophilic antioxidant capacity is low, while the hydrophilic antioxidant capacity of phenolic compounds is higher. 14
The vitamin C content is considered to be the major contributor to the antioxidant capacity of black currant. 8 A correlation between vitamin C content and in vitro inhibition of cancer cell proliferation was found when examining antioxidant capacity. 27In vivo studies
No difference in antioxidant activity and biochemical markers were found in 22 elderly people participating in a 2-week trial of berry-enriched desserts, 30 and no difference was found in oxidative DNA damage in a 3-week trial with 60 healthy, adequately nourished adults receiving large amounts of berries in their diet. 31Rheumatoid arthritis
A Cochrane review of available trial data suggests some benefit from gamma-linolenic acid in rheumatoid arthritis, despite the relatively poor quality of the individual studies. 34 A trend toward reduction of morning stiffness and joint tenderness as well as pain relief was shown. Sufficient evidence was found to warrant further larger trials to provide information regarding outcome, optimal dosage, and duration of therapy. 34 Two randomized, controlled trials using black currant seed oil were included in the review. 35 , 36Other
In one study, 37 black currant showed the least activity against gram-negative bacteria compared with other berries studied. In another study, it inhibited all tested bacteria. 38 A crude extract suppressed the late stage growth of the influenza virus type A and B in canine kidney cells, and inhibited the release of virus from infected cells. 39 Plaque formation, replication in cells, and the attachment of herpes simplex virus type 1 on cell membranes were inhibited in another in vitro study. 4Vision
In a double-blind, crossover trial involving 12 subjects, a single dose of a black currant anthocyanin extract showed a dose-dependant effect on lowering the dark adaptation threshold. 40 A review of 12 placebo-controlled trials of bilberry anthocyanins on night vision found no support for effect but noted considerable confounding variables in the trials. 41 In other in vitro studies, black currant anthocyanins were shown to accelerate the regeneration of rhodopsin and produce sustained and progressive relaxation of bovine myopic ciliary muscle. 42 , 43Anticancer
An in vitro study found black currant extract to inhibit the proliferation of breast cancer cells and, to a lesser extent, colon cancer cells. An inverse relationship between vitamin C content and cancer cell proliferation was noted, so that berry extracts with high vitamin C content inhibited cancer cells to a greater extent. 27Lipid profile
The effect of black currant extracts and anthocyanins on the lipid profile has been investigated. Varying results indicate positive 33 , 44 , 45 and negative 46 effects on cholesterol and triglycerides. Links with positive cardiovascular effects are yet to be established.Diabetic neuropathy
In a study in diabetic rats, the effect of black currant oil on nerve conduction velocity was compared with other gamma-linolenic acid-containing oils. Black currant oil had a lesser effect than all other oils tested. 47Urolithiasis
In a small study in humans, black currant berries were noted to increase the urine pH (alkalinizing effect) as well as increase citric and oxalic acid secretion. 48
No trials have been conducted to establish appropriate dosage; however, 330 mL of black currant juice was given daily in a trial investigating urolithiasis. 48 In rheumatoid arthritis trials, black currant seed oil equivalent to gamma-linolenic acid 525 mg was used in 1 trial 35 and 10.5 g oil daily in another. 36 In another study, six 750 mg capsules were administered daily. 3
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
Because gamma-linolenic acid was demonstrated to decrease platelet aggregation and increase bleeding times in rats fed evening primrose oil, a theoretical interaction exists between black currant oil and anticoagulants, such as warfarin. 49 Other in vitro studies add to this consideration. 33 , 50
No adverse reactions have been reported. Although no direct evidence is available, use caution in epileptic patients because of reports of lowered seizure threshold with evening primrose oil. 51 , 52 , 53
No toxicity, carcinogenicity, or teratogenicity has been reported.
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