The Potentially Game Changing Benefits of Haskap Berries
By Dr Evie Kemp
Dr Evie Kemp is a consultant in occupational medicine with a special interest in doctors’ health and lifestyle medicine. She is also co-founder and research director for Haskapa.
The recently discovered haskap has shown the potential to improve the performance of endurance runners by a potentially game-changing 2%, according to new research at Northumbria University.
Have you heard of the haskap berry?
This small, odd-looking ‘new’ berry is thought to have originated millennia ago in the frozen wilderness of Siberia and carried by birds to the northern Japanese Island of Hokkaido, where it was named ‘haskap’ by the indigenous Ainu people, who claimed it as the “the elixir of life and berry of good eyesight”.1,2
There is a long history of haskap berries being used in traditional medicine in Japan, Russia and China. The berry has been used to reduce the risk of hypertension and heart attacks and to treat a variety of medical problems including inflammation and liver conditions.1-4
Now cultivated as an agricultural crop in Europe and North America, haskap berries were registered as a Traditional Food in the European Union in 2018.
Haskap berries (botanical name Lonicera caerulea) look a little like elongated blueberries. Each berry contains two twin purple-blue berries, wrapped in an outer purple-blue skin, with a vibrant crimson flesh. The berries have a waxy outer coating and tiny, almost undetectable seeds. They have a distinctive flavour – a blend of tangy and sweet.5
It’s all about the anthocyanins.
Haskap berries contain high levels of vitamin C content with published values of up to 186mg/100g.6
But it’s the fact that haskap berries contain one of the highest levels of anthocyanins found in any berry that makes it so exciting. Anthocyanins are naturally occurring plant pigments that give fruit and vegetables their deep purple, blue and red colours. The high anthocyanin content is explained by the double purple skin and crimson flesh of the berries.
Haskap berries also have a unique anthocyanin profile, with one specific anthocyanin called cyanidin-3-glucoside, known as C3G, making up 79-92% of the total anthocyanin content and over 60% of the total polyphenols. 6
In addition, haskap berries contain other phytochemicals of importance including phenolic acids such as chlorogenic acid, flavonols such as quercetin and monoterpenoids such as iridoids, which are present in significant amounts.6 Iridoids are rarely found in fruits and are thought to have important anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 7
The new research that’s creating a buzz
Two recent review papers looked primarily at the in vitro and preclinical research base for haskap berries which is significant and growing. Haskap anthocyanins in general and C3G in particular are associated with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, cardioprotective and antidiabetic properties. 5,6 In addition, the first clinical pilot study looking at the acute effects of haskap berry extract on cognition, mood and blood pressure was published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2018. 8
But until now, no research has examined the haskap’s potential to improve exercise performance. Glyn Howatson, Professor in Human and Applied Physiology at Northumbria University has led new research, published in the scientific journal Nutrients, into the potential benefits of consuming Haskap berries, and their capacity to improve endurance running performance.9
For more than 15 years, Professor Howatson and his team have led ground-breaking research into the effects of fruits and vegetables on human performance and athletic recovery after strenuous sporting activity.
After conducting a series of endurance tests on 30 male recreational runners, Professor Howatson’s team discovered that it took longer for athletes who had consumed Haskap berries to fatigue (or reach point of exhaustion) compared with those who hadn’t. In a subsequent test of their speed over a 5 kilometre distance (the same distance as the globally popular ParkRun), runners who had consumed the berries also saw their overall time improve by around 20 seconds.
The power of purple
Professor Howatson said: “We have always been intrigued by the power of the food we eat and its hidden potential to increase our performance and improve health. These powerful little purple-blue berries appear to help runners perform better during fatiguing tasks, and increasing running speed over a commonly run distance of five km. We saw around a 2% improvement in running time performance, which is not trivial. In other words, you run about 0.25 km/h quicker over the same distance”.
“The study also showed that Haskap berries can improve performance, but we don’t yet fully understand the mechanisms behind this. We believe the Haskap berries might be affecting our ability to combat exercise-induced inflammation and oxidative stress or improve vascular function and oxygen utilisation or indeed a combination of the three.
“What is exciting is that this is a food that can be easily consumed, is very palatable, and has the potential to improve athletic performance in running, but also perhaps in other endurance sports like cycling. What we really like about these applied studies is that we are unlocking the power of fruits, like Haskap berries, to understand how they can directly benefit athletes.”
Haskap berries are an exciting, new and tasty addition to the range of berries available to the health-conscious consumer. There is a growing body of in vitro and pre-clinical research looking at the potential benefits of the berry, with the first clinical haskap studies published and more underway.
Shimoyama Y (ed.). (2008). The hascup – An introduction. Hokkaido Government, IBURI Subprefectural Office, Department of Industrial Promotion, Agricultural Affairs Divison. Available on: http://www.iburi.pref.hokkaido.lg.jp/ss/num/hasukappu.htm
Thompson, M. M. (2006). Introducing haskap, Japanese blue honeysuckle. Journal of the
American Pomological Society, 60(4), 164–168.
Anikina EV, et al. (1988). Bitter iridoid glucoside from the fruit of Lonicera caerulea. Chem. Nat. Comp., 24: 512–513.
Lefol E. (2007). Haskap market development—the Japanese opportunity (pp. 1–53). Saskatoon: Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan
Gołba, Marta, Anna Sokół-Łętowska, and Alicja Z. Kucharska. “Health properties and
composition of honeysuckle berry Lonicera caerulea L. An update on recent studies.” Molecules 25.3 (2020): 749.
Rupasinghe HPV, Arumuggam N, Amararathna M, De Silva ABKH. (2018) The potential health benefits of haskap (Lonicera caerulea L.): Role of cyanidin-3-O-glucoside. Journal of Functional Foods. 44. 24-39. 10.1016/j.jff.2018.02.023.
Kucharska, Alicja Z., and Izabela Fecka. “Identification of iridoids in edible honeysuckle
berries (Lonicera caerulea L. var. kamtschatica Sevast.) by UPLC-ESI-qTOF-MS/MS.”
Molecules 21.9 (2016): 1157.
A pilot dose–response study of the acute effects of haskap berry extract (Lonicera caerulea L.) on cognition, mood, and blood pressure in older adults. Bell, L. & Williams, C.M. Eur J Nutr (2018).
Howatson G, Snaith GC, Kimble R, Cowper G, Keane KM. Improved Endurance Running Performance Following Haskap Berry (Lonicera caerulea L.) Ingestion. Nutrients. 2022; 14(4):780. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14040780
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