Chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), mostly represented by cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic pulmonary diseases, cancers, and several chronic pathologies, are one of the main causes of morbidity and mortality, and are mainly related to the occurrence of metabolic risk factors. Anthocyanins (ACNs) posses a wide spectrum of biological activities, such as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cardioprotective, and chemopreventive properties, which are able to promote human health. Although ACNs present an apparent low bioavailability, their metabolites may play an important role in the in vivo protective effects observed.
This article directly addresses the scientific evidences supporting that ACNs could be useful to protect human population against several NCDs not only acting as antioxidant but through their capability to modulate cell redox-dependent signaling. In particular, ACNs interact with the NF-κB and AP-1 signal transduction pathways, which respond to oxidative signals and mediate a proinflammatory effect, and the Nrf2/ARE pathway and its regulated cytoprotective proteins (GST, NQO, HO-1, etc.), involved in both cellular antioxidant defenses and elimination/inactivation of toxic compounds, so countering the alterations caused by conditions of chemical/oxidative stress. In addition, supposed crosstalks could contribute to explain the protective effects of ACNs in different pathological conditions characterized by an altered balance among these pathways. Thus, this review underlines the importance of specific nutritional molecules for human health and focuses on the molecular targets and the underlying mechanisms of ACNs against various diseases.