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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine September 2007
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Protecting Cardiovascular Health with Whole Grape Extract

By Julius G. Goepp, MD

Keeping Platelets Slippery

The formation of abnormal arterial blood clots (thrombosis) is a primary cause of heart attack and stroke. Thrombosis is the pathological clumping together of platelets, the tiny cell fragments in blood normally responsible for healthy blood coagulation after injury. There are many chemical triggers that cause platelets to clump, or aggregate, and laboratory studies have demonstrated how the polyphenols found in red grape products (including grape seed extracts) act powerfully to regulate platelet aggregation.37-40

In humans, strong support for the health-promoting effect of polyphenols from red grapes comes both from studies of large populations and from clinical trials.41 People who live in cultures where moderate red wine is consumed regularly have lower rates of illness and death from coronary heart disease, and that effect has been tracked in part to decreased platelet activity.42,43

Researchers in Chile determined the coagulation-related risk reduction more specifically when they studied two groups of 21 healthy young men given a “Mediterranean diet” or a high-fat diet for 90 days.44,45 For one month in the middle of that period, the men drank 8 ounces of red wine daily, and various blood factors associated with clotting were determined throughout the study. Regardless of whether the men ate the healthful Mediterranean diet or the riskier high-fat diet, when red wine was added to the mix, clotting factors decreased substantially.

Intriguing research supports the role of red grapes in averting aberrant platelet aggregation and coagulation. In 2002, Italian scientists showed that when they gave 20 healthy subjects 10 ounces per day of either red or white wine (both with the same alcohol concentration), the red wine-drinking subjects had significantly lower platelet aggregation after a stimulus than did the white wine-drinkers.46

Not to be outdone, researchers in France’s Bordeaux region showed that it didn’t even have to be red wine, so long as the source of the beverage was the whole grape.47 In a study that can only be described as sophisticated, these scientists randomly assigned healthy volunteers to drink either one ounce of vodka (no polyphenols) or Armagnac, a distilled brandy derived from polyphenol-rich grapes.48 The researchers found that after 14 days, platelet aggregation in the Armagnac group was reduced by 31%, compared to only 11% in the vodka group.47 Equally importantly, two weeks after the alcohol consumption stopped, the vodka drinkers experienced a “rebound” increase of platelet aggregation, which was not seen in the Armagnac group. These results point to the importance of grape polyphenols as the source of the benefits.

A study from China further illustrated the “blessings of the grape.”49 Scientists investigated the effects of both red wine and resveratrol, one of the main components of grape extracts, on aggregation of platelets from healthy human volunteers. When they treated the platelets with resveratrol they found that aggregation was inhibited in direct proportion to the amount of resveratrol used. When they conducted the same experiment using rabbits with elevated serum cholesterol and increased platelet aggregation, the researchers were again able to demonstrate potent reduction using grape extract-derived resveratrol. These results provide strong evidence that red grape polyphenols such as resveratrol produce their cardioprotective effects at least in part by inhibiting platelet aggregation.

Some skeptics have suggested that the effects of extracts are only seen in the laboratory, where they can be directly applied to the cells being studied.50 It has been convincingly demonstrated, however, that the grape extract components are in fact absorbed from the human intestinal tract in large enough quantities to cause reduction in risk of atherosclerosis.51 This effect can be enhanced when the extracts are high in the polyphenols extracted from grape seeds, and contain a large proportion of the short-chain polyphenols known as oligomers.52-54

Other Cardiovascular Benefits of Grape Extracts

In addition to the many human clinical trials cited in this article, there are now dozens of exciting animal studies providing a tantalizing preview of even more cardioprotective effects of polyphenols and proanthocyanidins from grape seed extracts. Here is a quick synopsis of some of the most dramatic recent research:

  • Grape seed polyphenols increase nitric oxide production (which enhances endothelial function) and influence prostaglandin synthesis (which reduces inflammation).4

  • Aortic valve thickness resulting from elevated cholesterol levels is lower in mice receiving grape seed extract than in control animals, probably the result of improved endothelial function.56

  • Plasma triglycerides and cholesterol accumulation in the aorta are lower in guinea pigs receiving grape extract than in controls—this study used guinea pigs whose ovaries had been removed to create a model of post-menopausal women (whose risk for atherosclerosis rises sharply).57

  • Mice bred to be at high risk of atherosclerosis had less atherosclerotic plaque when they consumed a freeze-dried whole grape extract rich in polyphenols.58

  • Grape seed proanthocyanidin extract improved cardiac function through a wide variety of mechanisms in animal models of cardiac disease, including: reducing infarct size, improving ventricular function, and preventing rhythm disturbances following heart attack.59

Supplementing with Grape Seed Extract

Grape seed extract supplements provide a readily-available, convenient way to capture the abundant cardiovascular benefits of the grape. The Physician’s Desk Reference reports that grape seed extract is safe, with no known toxicity, adverse reactions, or drug interactions.55 Many health practitioners recommend supplementing with 100-600 mg of grape seed extract daily in divided doses.

Conclusion

As cardiovascular disease claims more lives than any other disease in America today, grape seed extract may offer much-needed protection. Grape polyphenols fight several key triggers of deadly cardiovascular disease—lipid peroxidation, endothelial dysfunction, and aberrant platelet aggregation. Further, grape polyphenols show promise in protecting against the effects of oxidative stress and poor dietary choices. By incorporating grape seed extract in your daily wellness program, you can help ensure optimal protection for your cardiovascular system.

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