Saskatoon Berries

Saskatoon Berries

Figure 1. Picture of Saskatoon Berries

Saskatoon berries are sweet, purplish-blue berries that are found in the western Canadian prairies and northern US states. They look very similar to blueberries but show somewhat more variation in colour and size. People have used plenty of names to describe the same berries, including: Serviceberries, June berries, Shadberries, Sugar pears and Indian pears. This well-known western Canadian fruit has been used by indigenous peoples for centuries, and became an important part of the diet of early European pioneers in the 1800's. Saskatoon berries can be baked into pies, turned into jams or jellies, eaten as-is, or even made into juice and wine! Sweet, tasty, and juicy, saskatoon berries are part of the Rosaceae family (Pruski) of plants. Their scientific name is Amelanchier alnifolia Nutt (Juríková). The berries can be found on low-growing deciduous shrubs not unlike blueberries. And like blueberries, their nutritional profile is out of this world! Rich with vitamins (riboflavin, vitamin A and C, folate, biotin), minerals (iron, manganese, potassium), phenolic acids, anthocyanins, flavonoids, and hydroxycinnamic acids, saskatoon berries are great for maintaining or improving your health, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, fighting cancer, and more!


Vitaminc berry
Figure 2. Structural diagram of vitamin C

Vitamina berry
Figure 3. Structural diagram of vitamin A
Like many fruits and vegetables, saskatoon berries are rich in vitamins A and C. Vitamin C is crucial in maintaining collagen - a protein found in skin, bones, tendons, ligaments and many other parts of your body. Without vitamin C, you would develop a disease called "scurvy", which is characterized by bleeding gums, spotty skin, jaundice and wounds that don't heal. Vitamin C is a also critical cofactor that plays a key role in fat and hormone metabolism [Hidgson 1]. Vitamin A, which is abundant in saskatoons, is important for vision - it is used in the eye's light absorbing protein (called rhodopsin) - and the immune system, where it stops invading bacteria and viral infections from spreading (HOW???). Children who are not getting enough vitamin A can become blind. Indeed, vitamin A deficiency and childhood blindness is a major problem in the developing world [Hidgson 2].

Beneficial B-Vitamins

Saskatoon berries contain high levels of three types B-vitamins, and each one plays a different role in the body. Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, is an orange-yellow chemical, and like other B-vitamins, is needed for the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. It's also very important for maintaining healthy teeth, skin, hair, and nails, as well as in making sure that the thyroid functions properly [Cimino]. Folic acid is another important vitamin found in saskatoons. Folate is a supplement that all pregnant women need to take to prevent their babies from developing spinal cord problems (such as spina bifida or acephaly) and cognitive birth defects. But folate isn't just for babies and moms-to-be, it's for everyone. Folate is essential for the growth of new cells (especially red blood cells). It can also decrease risk of developing cardiovascular disease (HOW??), and can reduce side effects of certain arthritis medications and cancer chemotherapies (HOW??) [Wang, Shea, Nadhananan].
Finally, 100g??? or a cup of saskatoon berries can fulfill 67% of your daily recommended intake of biotin, also known as vitamin B7 (source). This vitamin is an essential nutrient for humans [HMDB], and if levels of it become too low, you can experience a number of adverse health effects including hair and nail loss as well as rashes. Shortages of this vitamin in pregnant women can lead to congenital birth defects.
Bottom Line: The B-vitamins in saskatoons will make you B-eautiful! Riboflavin, folic acid, and biotin all have great effects on the hair, skin, teeth, and nails, and ensure growth of new cells in the body.

Folic acid berry
Biotin berry
Figure 4. Structural diagram of riboflavin
Figure 5. Structural diagram of folic acid
Figure 6. Structural diagram of biotin

Metals in Berries?!

Berries metal
Figure 7. Picture of berries
Saskatoon berries are an incredible source of all kinds of essential minerals including manganese, iron, and potassium! Who knew that saskatoons were into heavy metal? Metals, just like vitamins, play key roles in the function and many enzymes by serving as co-factors or active site catalysts. Manganese is often forgotten when dieticians formulate the nutritional values of foods, but its importance cannot be overlooked. Saskatoon berries are known to be very rich in manganese [Mazza]. Manganese is found in the active site of many enzymes that are used in key metabolic pathways. These enzymes include XXX and YYY and ZZZ and they play a major role in protein, carbohydrate and cholesterol metabolism. A manganese deficiency has been implicated in many bone-related problems, and some metabolic issues [National Research Council].
Another metal found in abundance in saskatoons is iron. Iron is very important to many body functions, especially because it is a key part of the oxygen carrying protein called hemoglobin. Without enough iron, your body's ability to transport oxygen is reduced, and you're susceptible to a blood condition called anemia. Symptoms of this disease typically include tiredness, dizziness, and general muscle weakness. Saskatoon berries are a good, easily absorbed source of this essential metal.
Another essential mineral/metal found in abundance in saskatoons is potassium. Controled by the kidneys, potassium is important in regulating blood pressure because it can restore the balance between Na+ and K+ levels. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure and combats hypertension, reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease [He, Weaver]. Potassium also helps to maintain bone density, lowering the risk of osteoporosis and other related bone diseases. Having enough potassium becomes more important as you age [Tucker et al.].
Bottom Line: Manganese, iron, and potassium are just some of the helpful heavy metals in saskatoons! Each play an essential role in bodily function.

Phenolic Acids

Phenol ring
Figure 8. Structural diagram of phenol ring
Like most other berries, saskatoons are chock-full of phenolic acids. Phenolic acids are secondary plant metabolites possessing a phenol (carbolic acid) and a carboxylic acid [Robbins]. Some of these phunny looking phenols include anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, tannins, flavonoids, and stilbenes. Phenolic acids are usually quite dark in colour and they're generally found beneath the skin of saskatoon berries. Although the complete set of health benefits of phenolic acids are less well-known than other health-promoting phytonutrients, a large body of research is dedicated to the various anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties that phenolic acids possess...

Anti-inflammatory Anthocyanins

Flavylium backbone
Figure 9. Flavylium ion backbone of anthocyanidins & anthocyanins
Anthocyanins are blue, purple, or red pigments that are found beneath the skin of saskatoons. In fact, saskatoon berries may be the richest sources of anthocyanins of almost any fruit! Some saskatoon berry anthocyanins actually have anti inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen and aspirin! Both ibuprofen and aspirin are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, that inhibit cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes to reduce inflammation. The anthocyanins in saskatoon berries are also COX inhibitors [Adhikari]! There are two COX enzymes: COX-1 and COX-2, both are important in the production of prostaglandins - the compounds that cause pain and inflammation. COX inhibitors prevent the COX enzymes from functioning normally, preventing the formation of the prostaglandins [Vane]!
The anthocyanins in saskatoons also are good for your immune system. In fact some of these anthocyanins were found to induce the production of TNF-α (tumour necrosis factor-alpha) proteins, which are important in regulating the lymphocytes in your immune system [Wang and Mazza]. TNF-α is a cell-signalling protein or adipokines (a type of cytokine) that regulates the immune system by initiating an acute phase reaction in response to inflammation [Abbas]. If the production of TNF-α gets deregulated, then a variety of health problems can arise: such as Alzheimer's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, major depression and cancer [Swardfager, Brynskov, Dowlati, Locksley].
Bottom line: A handful of saskatoon berries is tastier and cheaper than pack of Advils


Figure 10. Structural diagram of quercetin

Figure 11. Structural diagram of rutin
Flavanoids are a large class of secondary plant metaobolites that are characterized by multiple, joined polyphenolic rings. Flavanoids can be further divided into subclasses such as flavones, flavonols, flavanals, anthoxanthins and anthocyanidins. Quercetin and rutin are two related flavonols, both of which are abundant in saskatoons [Jurikova]. Many polyphenols appear to have beneficial health effects. Quercetin has been found to inhibit asthma, improve cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation [Park-Colmalada]. Its closely related cousin, rutin, is also a very potent compound. Rutin inhibits an enzyme called protein disulfide-isomerase (PDI) involved in thrombosis, which prevents blood clots [Jasuja]. Other research suggest that rutin is an effective anti-inflammatory, inhibiting a protein called High Mobility-Group Protein B1 (HMGB1) that is key for triggering the inflammation process [Yoo H]. Rutin has also been shown to be beneficial in fighting cancer! One study found that rutin increased thyroid iodide uptake by proliferating a transport protein (thyroid cancer patients have reduced iodide uptake), while also having an antiproliferative effect on the cancer tissue [Lima]. Another study used rutin to treat rats with XXX cancer. In these studies the tumor sizes decreased, and life spans increased [Alonso].
Bottom line: This duo of funky flavonoids are fantastic for fighting inflammation and frying cancer.

Hydroxycinnamic Acids

Saskatoon berries are surprisingly acidic - between 3.65 and 4.18 on the pH scale [Zatylny]. This acidity come from the many organic acids in the berries, including hydroxycinnamic acids - a class of organic acids that is full of healthy benefits [Ozga]. There are three hydoxycinnamic acids sound in saskatoons that are particularly noteworthy: caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid and ferulic acid. Caffeic acid (not related to caffeine) is a member of the hydroxycinnamic class. Recent research indicates caffeic acid has a number of beneficial anti-cancer properties. In one study, caffeic acid induced the death of cancerous cells (apoptosis) by inhibiting a protein associated with apoptosis regulation, this led to a molecular domino effect that eventually killed the cancerous cells [Chang]. In another study, caffeic acid was shown to have the same apoptosis-inducing effect on colon cancer cells [Jaganathan]. Furthermore, caffeic acid can unleash a barrage of cellularly produced cancer killing compounds, , including reactive oxygen species (ROS) that damage a cancer cell's DNA and induce apoptosis. [Rajendra]. Caffeic acid also has some very clear anti-inflammatory effects. Caffeic acid will hunt down harmful chemicals in an effort to reduce inflammation, inhibit inflammatory genes, as well as reducing damage created by inflammation [de Cunha/Zhang/Yang]. Chlorogenic acid, which is also found in coffee, is another magnificent member of the hydroxycinnamic class [McCarty]. Several studies have shown that chlorogenic acid has an anti-diabetic effect that is caused by delaying glucose absorption in the gut and promoting glucose uptake by muscle cells through an enzyme called AMP-Kinase (AMPK) [Johnston/Ong/Hunyadi]. Chlorogenic acid has also been associated with improved lipid metabolism by activating the same AMPK enzyme [Cho/Ong]. Ferulic acid is a third member of this hydroxycinnamic class of compounds. Ferulic acid has been shown to significantly lessen the effects of UV radiation on skin, so much so that it has actually been used in sunscreen [Di Domenico]. This includes inhibiting cancer-causing enzymes, attenuating degradation of collagen fibers and reducing hyperplasia (a cancer-like proliferation of cells) [Staniforth]. Ferulic acid is also effective in preventing cancer growth: it promotes the production of apoptosis-causing enzymes (caspase), and increasing ROS (reactive oxygen species like super-oxide) levels in an effort to kill cancer cells, and inhibit cancer growth. [Alias/Karthikeyan/Peng/Prabhakar].
Bottom line: Don't ask why, just eat saskatoon berry pie

Caffeic acid
Chlorogenic acid
Ferulic acid
Figure 12. Structural diagram of caffeic acid
Figure 13. Structural diagram of chlorogenic acid
Figure 14. Structural diagram of ferulic acid