Blackcurrants fight hospital superbug, studies show

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Vitamin c

British blackcurrants, used to make the country's popular Ribena
soft drink, may offer a range of health benefits and could protect
against hospital superbug MRSA, recent research shows.

Special compounds found in British blackcurrants effectively prevented the spread of the Staphylococcs aureus bug, more commonly known as MRSA. The compounds also stopped other bacteria in their tracks, including salmonella and listeria.

The results were found by laboratory studies in Scandinavia and New Zealand.

UK hospitals have spent recent years battling to control rising outbreaks of MRSA, nicknamed a 'superbug' because of its resistance to antibiotics. The bug is normally harmless but due to its durability it can be fatal if picked up by those already weak or ill.

The emergence of the research could be good news for the Ribena soft drink, which uses up 95 per cent of Britain's blackcurrants. Ribena, made by GlaxoSmithKline, has long been a national favourite and is now sold in more than 20 countries.

And, if more research on blackcurrants' health properties proves fruitful, producers could find new avenues across the functional food industry.

Blackcurrants' success in preventing MRSA growth has been attributed to compounds called proanthocyanidins. A range of fruits contain these compounds, but blackcurrants have particularly high levels.

Eating or drinking products containing blackcurrants on a regular basis would likely be enough to have a protective effect, according to Dr Derek Stewart, from the Scottish Crop Research Association and who has worked on health studies involving blackcurrants and other fruits.

The compounds are able to survive pasteurisation, used to kill bacteria in soft drink production.

"It's a case of defence is the best form of offence. I don't think they would be used in a hospital environment, it's very much a dietary thing,"​ Stewart told​.

"The compounds will be broken down by the body's digestive system, but a small part will get through."

Blackcurrants are also high in two other compounds - anthocyanins and ellagitannins - which are considered to carry health benefits.

Researchers are keen to examine which potential health benefits from blackcurrants can be traced to high vitamin C content and which to the compounds. This information could facilitate new breeding programmes to enhance levels of these compounds in blackcurrants.

Stewart said he was nearing the end of a large study examining the effects of blackcurrants on heart disease. The results, to be released shortly, were looking positive, he said.

Scientists from SCRI are already mid-way through a project in collaboration with Ribena maker GlaxoSmithKline to boost vitamin C levels in blackcurrants.

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