If you thought the top of the superfruit market was the açai berry or the blueberry, get ready for the aronia berry. Aronia melanocarpa, otherwise known as the chokeberry (not to be confused with chokecherry), is a small dark purple fruit that has just begun making a name for itself in the health-food world.1 Commercially, aronia juice has become increasingly popular in the United States and is available in many large grocery stores.

Background

Aronia grows as a low shrub with oblong, dark green, waxy leaves and is indigenous to the southeastern United States as well as Europe.1 According to folklore, the name “chokeberry” comes from the extremely sour taste that makes the raw berries almost unpalatable (supposedly as a deterrent to birds and other pests).1 This aspect makes it particularly attractive to commercial growers because it is a low-maintenance and almost pest-free crop. The fruit has very high pectin content, making it suitable for preserves, jams, and jellies.2

Science

A standard method for expressing antioxidant quality is the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC).3 This measure has proven useful in evaluating various foods and supplements for potential human benefit. The blueberry, which is one of the more popular superfruits, has an ORAC score of 6,520.3 In comparison, aronia berry has an astonishing ORAC score of 15,820.3

The fruit component credited with most of this activity is the group of chemicals known as polyphenols.4 These agents are potent antioxidants thought to be protective against cellular damage from carcinogens found in alcohol.4,5 Phenolics are also thought to be effective in limiting atherosclerotic damage in heart disease.6 Of particular interest is a finding by Japanese researchers that aronia extract actually blocks the action of COX-2, a potent pro-inflammatory agent, or prostaglandin, and, in studies, was equivalent to a 10-mg dose of prednisolone.7 As a further benefit of this apparent COX-2-blocking action, aronia has been shown to reduce gastric irritation from such nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as indomethacin.8 Aronia also prevents swelling caused by histamine release in allergic reactions.8

In another impressive study, 44 patients with a recent history of MI and concurrent statin therapy were randomized to addition of either aronia extract 85 mg t.i.d. or placebo for a period of six weeks. In the treatment group, LDL was reduced by 29% in comparison with placebo, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) levels were reduced 23%. As an unanticipated result, systolic and diastolic BP were reduced an average of 11 and 7.2 mm Hg, respectively.9

In a similar study, rats being fed a diet high in cholesterol were also given aronia fruit or placebo. The experimental group was given daily doses of the juice for one month, and then both groups were assessed for plasma lipid levels. Rats who consumed aronia juice showed significantly lower levels of all oxidative lipids than the placebo group.10

Safety and use

Because of the nearly endless list of human ailments that are known to be furthered by cellular oxidative processes, aronia is under investigation for the treatment of such conditions as diabetes and neurologic disorders as Alzheimer’s dementia.11 There are no reported side effects from aronia ingestion, but since it is a plant substance, allergic responses are possible.

How supplied, cost, and dose

Aronia extract, powder, or juice is usually available from health-food stores. Be prepared, however, for a very mouth-puckering taste if the product is not blended with other fruits or sweetened with added sugar.11 Freshly picked ripe berries have a sugar content of approximately 20%, but this sweetness is offset by the high content of tannins, the chemicals responsible for the astringent taste.1

Aronia is most commonly available as a liquid extract or powder-filled capsule. The cost varies widely with supplier and location, but a typical bottle of 60 capsules ranges from $15 to $30. Although there is no definitively established recommended dose for aronia, a review of available products indicates that the usual daily dose is 150-400 mg with food.

Summary

With all that we’re learning about oxygen free radicals and the effects that they and other inflammatory chemicals have on the human body, looking to nature seems an appropriate place to find weapons to fight this battle. Richly colored fruits and vegetables have higher levels of many nutrients as well as antioxidants, and the average American’s diet is woefully lacking in this food group. Encourage patients to “go for the color” when choosing foods. Aronia may be a particularly useful additive to their daily food palette.

References

1. Hort.net. Aronia melanocarpa Michx.
2. Scott RW, Skirvin RM. Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa Michx.): a semi-edible fruit with no pests. Journal of the American Pomological Society. 2007;61:135-137.
3. United States Department of Agriculture. Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of selected foods—2007.
4. Krajka-Kuzniak V, Szaefert H, Ignatowicz E, et al. Effect of chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) juice on the metabolic activation and detoxication of carcinogenic N-nitrosodiethylamine in rat liver. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57:5071-5077.
5. Matsumoto M, Hara H, Chiji H, Kasai T. Gastroprotective effect of red pigments in black chokeberry fruit (Aronia melanocarpa Elliot) on acute gastric hemorrhagic lesions in rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52:2226-2229.
6. Oszmianski J, Wojdylo A. Aronia melanocarpa phenolics and their antioxidant activity. European Food Research and Technology. 2005;221:809-813.
7. Ohgami K, Ilieva I, Shiratori K, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of Aronia extract on rat endotoxin-induced uveitis. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2005;46:275-281.
8. Barclay L. The disease-fighting power of polyphenols. Life Extension. February 2008.
9. Naruszewicz M, Laniewska I, Millo B, Dluzniewski M. Combination therapy of statin with flavonoids rich in extract from chokeberry fruits enhanced reduction in cardiovascular risk markers in patients after myocardial infarction (MI). Atherosclerosis. 2007;194:e179-e184.
10. Valcheva-Kuzmanova S, Kuzmanov K, Tsanova-Savova S, et al. Lipid-lowering effects of Aronia melanocarpa fruit juice in rats fed cholesterol-containing diets. J Food Biochem. 2007;31:589-602.
11. Everhart E. Aronia—a new crop for Iowa. Iowa State University Extension.

All electronic documents accessed November 16, 2009.