Life Extension Magazine July 2005
Broad-Spectrum Effects of Grape Seed Extract
By Terri Mitchell
It is clear that France gave us the Statue of Liberty to protect us and french fries to kill us.
They themselves are not harmed by their fatty food, but we Americans are. Despite high blood pressure and cholesterol, a Frenchman’s risk of dying from heart disease is the lowest of any Western industrialized nation—up to 50% lower than in America and parts of Europe.1-3 (The risk for French women is less clear.) The French also happen to drink more wine, particularly red wine, than anyone else.
The “French paradox” has become a cottage industry all unto itself. New explanations appear regularly to explain how the French consume fatty foods yet escape heart attacks. French researchers recently proposed that the real paradox of France is that it spends a lot of money on health care, yet has very few scanners such as the positron emission tomography (PET) scanner.4 Americans have proposed that the betaine (trimethylglycine, or TMG) added to cheap wine is the real reason for the French paradox.5
The most consistent explanation is that wine contains factors that keep the French from having heart attacks. Some have argued that it is the alcohol itself, and there is support for this argument. But the strongest evidence for what is behind the heart-protective effects of wine centers around the non-alcoholic part. In this respect, red wine is the winner, but white wine also is a contender. Both contain powerful antioxidants and other factors that protect the heart and vascular system.6-8
Protective Factors in Wine
Grapevines are living pharmacies. Each part of the plant creates its own medicinal agents. Leaves, for example, make their own sunscreen.9 Grapes make their own pesticide.9 Grapes and grape leaves make their own fungicide.10 As fascinating as this is, even more interesting is that humans can benefit from these natural nutraceuticals as much as the plants. Grapevines contain dozens of different phytocompounds that have different effects on different areas of the human body. The most studied of these phytocompounds are quercetin, resveratrol, proanthocyanidins (from seeds), and anthocyanins (which give purple and red grapes their color). All of these phytocompounds are classified as polyphenols.
The seeds of grapes contain many good things. First are the antioxidants, more rightly called super-antioxidants. They’re not only more powerful than standard antioxidants like vitamin E, but also more diverse. The factors contained in grape seed go way beyond the ordinary. Running the gambit from vaporizing the effects of environmental stress to intercepting free radicals created by food, the compounds in grape seed extract provide broad-spectrum antioxidant protection.11,12
It doesn’t end there, however. Scientific studies document multiple effects, including antibiotic, anti-tumor, anti-diabetic, anti-ulcer, pro-heart and arteries, and anti-brain aging.11,13,14
Catching the “Molecular Sharks”
Proanthocyanidins are the main active ingredients in grape seed extract that go after “molecular sharks” otherwise known as free radicals. They make up about 90% of grape seed extract. Various versions are all united by a similar chemical structure and possess powerful antioxidant activity15—20 times stronger than that of vitamin E and 50 times stronger than that of vitamin C.16 The “super-antioxidant” effects are neatly summed up in a study showing that pretreatment with grape seed extract reduces DNA fragmentation in the brain by a whopping 50% and in the liver by 47% after exposure to a strong chemical.12 Proanthocyanidins, along with resveratrol and quercetin, are some of the healthy factors in wine.
When wine is consumed is another factor to consider. It is often overlooked, but wine is usually consumed with meals, and this may be an important factor in its health effects. After a person eats, the “molecular sharks” go crazy.17 Protein, carbohydrates, and fat from food provoke free radicals to intensify. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) remains susceptible to free radical attack up to three hours after a meal.18 Italian researchers have demonstrated that grape seed extract can significantly reverse this phenomenon. Three hundred milligrams of grape seed extract consumed with a meal reduces levels of plasma lipid hydroperoxides (intermediates of lipid peroxidation) by 1.5 times.18
Syndrome X and Blood Sugar
Fat, blood sugar, diabetes—they all affect the cardiovascular system. People do not have to have full-blown diabetes to have sugar-related damage to their heart and vascular systems. Damage can accumulate at a low level for years. Even with normal blood sugar and body weight, cardiovascular health is threatened by environmental stresses such as smog, chemicals, and age. What can be done?
The number-one antidote is a healthy diet. Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and—again—vegetables. Second, take out insurance. Scientific studies show that high-quality supplements may be the best health insurance you can get for your cardiovascular system. They neutralize chemicals, counteract free radicals, and slash the risk of age-related cardiovascular diseases that kill and disable the most Americans.19-21 They provide a consistently high dose of concentrated nutrients in a tiny package, and in some cases, they are absorbed better than the nutrients from food.22
Syndrome X is a condition characterized by a fat belly, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, heart problems, and elevated cholesterol. This diabetes-like condition is reaching “epidemic proportions.”23
Researchers in France recently induced the equivalent of Syndrome X in rodents by feeding them a diet with 60% fruit sugar (fructose).24 Such a diet causes blood pressure to skyrocket, free radicals to accelerate, and the heart to begin to enlarge. Previously, the same researchers had demonstrated that polyphenols from red wine could reverse all Syndrome X symptoms in rodents except insulin resistance.25 Now they wanted to go after insulin resistance as well. In this condition, the pancreas makes more and more insulin but seems to be less and less effective at handling blood sugar. In humans, white wine after a meal can reduce insulin and glucose, suggesting that polyphenols can improve blood sugar.26
This time, instead of using whole grape extract, the researchers broke the extract down into its various components, looking for the one component that might improve insulin resistance. They found it in the seed, which prevented insulin resistance in the face of huge amounts of sugar.24
By study’s end, all the negative effects of the fructose diet had been brought under control by various components of grapes. High blood pressure and heart enlargement were prevented by the “anthocyanin” part of grape skin.24 Triglycerides responded best to the “procyanidins” found in the seeds, while free radicals were blocked by all parts of the grape.24
As compelling as this research is, it is important to note that it was conducted under highly controlled laboratory conditions in which huge amounts of the grape compounds (along with huge amounts of sugar) were fed directly into the rodents’ stomachs. It is not something that can be replicated at home.
This is a compelling study, but blood sugar is not the only thing grape nutraceuticals can normalize. Heart and blood vessel problems involve several abnormalities that respond to grape phytocompounds. Resveratrol, quercetin, and catechin from grapes, for example, reduce so-called “fatty streaks” in blood vessels, and they do it in amounts roughly equivalent to what a person would get from drinking several glasses of red wine a day.27 Grape seed extract helps prevent blood from clumping into clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke.28,29 It reduces “foam cells” caused by a high-fat diet30 by as much as 60% depending on the dose (100 mg/kg).31 Pretreatment with grape-derived resveratrol may offer cardioprotection and enhanced recovery from a heart attack.32 Resveratrol also appears to have extremely powerful effects against stroke.33 These are some of the things that grape nutraceuticals can do for the heart and vascular system.
Your Brain as a Radio Receiver
Ever wonder what your cell phone might be doing to your brain cells? You might if you found out that talking on a cell phone is somewhat like holding a microwave oven up to your head. In their publication “Cellular telephones and effects on the brain: the head as an antenna and brain tissue as a radio receiver,” researchers in Israel report, “the human head can serve as a lossy [energy-dissipating] resonator for the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the cellular telephone, absorbing much of the energy specifically from these wavelengths.”34 The smaller the head, the bigger the risk, which is why researchers who have studied cell phones advise that children should not use them.35,36
Last year, researchers reviewed 20 studies of cell phone-type radiation. None of the studies demonstrated that cell phone-type radiation is safe.37 The risk ranges from miniscule to five times, but these studies are “iffy” because they were short term, poorly controlled, and based on people remembering details about their cell phone use. Controlled studies in rodents exposed to cell phone microwaves suggest that there is no increased risk.38,39 Still, brain cancer is not something to mess around with, and pesky data link cell phone radiation to unfriendly abnormalities at the cellular level, such as might affect the blood-brain barrier.40 It is very likely that some people are susceptible to cell phone radiation, while others are not.41 The problem is determining into which category you fall before the diagnosis, not afterwards. Is there a way to counteract the effects of cell phone radiation until more is known?
Research in this field is very preliminary, but there are clues about how microwaves affect the brain and what can be done to protect against them.
Not surprisingly, cell phone radiation generates free radicals.42 Radicals damage DNA and provoke increases in natural antioxidant enzymes that can become depleted with prolonged exposure.42,43 The affected antioxidant enzymes include superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase.44,45 Even more importantly, cell phone radiation changes the levels of dozens of proteins in cells, some of which affect energy production and others that affect the blood-brain barrier.40,46
Ginkgo biloba is the first supplement to be tested against cell phone radiation.44 Pretreatment with this brain-protective supplement reverses cell phone-induced oxidative stress and depletion of antioxidant enzymes in rodents.
The biochemistry of ginkgo is very similar to resveratrol, and both interact with quercetin. Resveratrol and grape seed extract both protect against the type of oxidative stress induced by cell phones, though they haven’t been tested directly against cell phone radiation.47-50