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By Daniel Gastelu
Section 4. Grape-Seed Extract
Ever since scientists discovered that grapes have a beneficial effect on the circulatory system, a good deal of attention has been given to the grape, and more recently to grape-seed extract a standardized supplement that has been shown to have various health benefits. Some of these benefits include improvements to cardiovascular health, protective antioxidant effects, improved eye health, and anti-inflammatory action.
Q. What is the difference between ingesting grape-seed extract and other grape products?
A. The grape plant, Vitis vinifera, is native to the western peninsula of Asia. It was introduced to Europe and other continents over 1,000 years ago. Historically, the fruit of the plant-the grapes-has been used most often. While bioflavonoids can be found throughout the grape plant, the grapes contain the most potent bioflavonoids with interesting health benefits, such as reducing platelet aggregation. Grape products, such as grape juice and wine, also contain these beneficial bioflavonoids.
However, grape juice should not be over-consumed because it contains sugar, and daily consumption of wine is not recommended due to the potential adverse effects of alcohol. Therefore, as a means of providing people with a safe, nontoxic, standardized product that has all the benefits of grapes, various grape-seed extracts have been developed. These are available as dietary supplements in pharmacies, health food stores, and supermarkets.
Q. Can drinking red wine and grape juice really lower my risk of coronary heart disease?
A. A phenomenon, sometimes referred to as the "French paradox," was discovered in the late 1970s by researchers who found that some population groups who consume diets high in cholesterol have low rates of cardiovascular diseases. They discovered that there was a direct correlation between wine consumption and death rates. After this discovery, researchers began investigating the substances in red wine to determine which of them has this circulatory system health effect. They eventually determined that the polyphenols-a group of plant chemicals-in red wine, including the bioflavonoids, exhibited antioxidant protection against harmful LDL-cholesterol, as well as the other beneficial cardiovascular effects typical of bioflavonoids.
In 1996, Dr. John D. Folts of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that drinking grape juice reduced blood-platelet aggregation, which makes the blood less prone to clot formation and clogging. More recently, Dr. Folts conducted a human study focusing on how much grape juice is needed for these beneficial effects to occur. He also attempted to determine if other juices, such as orange and grapefruit, also provide such benefits. The anti-platelet aggregation effect of grape juice was observed immediately in those subjects who drank 20 to 24 ounces of the juice and after a week in those who drank only 10 to 12 ounces per day, which seems to indicate that purple grape juice has a cumulative protective effect. In Dr. Folts' study, orange juice and grapefruit juice did not appear to inhibit platelet aggregation.
Q. If I can get the benefits of grape-derived bioflavonoids from grape juice or red wine, why bother with grape-seed extract?
A. Grape-seed extract products contain standardized amounts of the bioflavonoids that have been found to have beneficial effects-particularly on the circulatory system. The primary bioflavonoids and their powerful antioxidant cousins-catechins, procyanidins, and proanthocyanidins-are also found in grape-seed extracts. In addition to their antioxidant activities, anthocyanins are recognized for their circulatory system health-promoting activities. Also, there have been scientific studies performed on grape-seed extract to determine its various biological effects. Taking grape-seed supplements enables you to get the beneficial effects of grapes without the calories and sugar contained in grape juice and without the alcohol from wine.
Q. What benefits does grape-seed extract have on the cardiovascular system?
A. Grape-seed extract has the same benefits as purple grape juice or red wine: inhibition of LDL-cholesterol oxidation; anti-platelet activity; protection of the blood vessels by blocking enzymes that break down the lining of the capillaries and supportive tissues that give the blood vessels strength and elasticity; and relaxation of the blood vessels to allow ease of blood flow. Clinical studies using 150 to 350mg of supplements containing procyanidins showed improved vein functionality in patients with vein-related circulation problems after several weeks. The supplements also significantly reduced the symptoms of pain, nighttime cramps, and edema that are associated with poor circulation.
Q. Can these circulatory benefits help with varicose veins?
A. Varicose veins are veins that have become weakened, swollen, and stretched due to factors that include oxidation and the breakdown of collagen and elastin. The antioxidant effects of grape-seed extract offer protection against free-radical damage, as well as from the enzymes that break down collagen and elastin fibers, which support the circulatory system. In this way, the grape-seed extract bioflavonoids help restore, to a certain extent, structure and function to the veins by giving the body a chance to rebuild healthy connective tissues. There is also some research that suggests that taking grape-seed extract can help hemorrhoids-a form of varicose vein that occurs around the anus and in the rectum-by strengthening and protecting the veins that are susceptible to hemorrhoid formation with their antioxidant and elastin-protection action.
Q. How does taking grape-seed extract help prevent wrinkles?
A. In addition to the circulatory benefits that help maintain blood flow to the skin and provide antioxidant protection against damaging free radicals, research indicates that grape-seed extract can help maintain the structure and appearance of skin with its anti-elastase activity. Elastase is an enzyme that breaks down elastin-an important component of skin and connective tissues. By reducing the breakdown of elastin, skin is suppler and maintains a more youthful appearance.
Ex vivo, or test tube, studies have demonstrated that the bioflavonoids in grape-seed extract cross-link and strengthen capillary walls. Because the skin is largely made up of collagen and elastin, reducing the breakdown of these tissues and improving their structure helps the skin stay firm, supple, and youthful looking.
Q. What is the best way to get the benefits of grapes in my daily diet?
A. Drink one to two glasses of purple grape juice daily and take a dietary supplement that contains 40 to 80 mg of a grape-seed extract standardized to at least 80-percent polyphenols. For therapeutic purposes, use 150 to 550 mg of grape-seed extract standardized to at least 60 percent proanthocyanidins for a few months. Always consult your health-care professional if you are treating a medical condition. Look for standardized grape-seed extract, such as Activin, which has been clinically and experimentally studied for safety and effectiveness.
Q. Do I need to take grape-seed extract if I'm already taking Pycnogenol or vice versa?
A. The research on Pycnogenol and grape-seed extract have yielded similar results, which is due to the high concentrations of proanthocyanidins and other substances contained in both. At this time, there are no noteworthy clinical studies comparing the biological effects of these two different sources. If you are looking for general dietary health benefits, either bioflavonoid source or a combination of the two will be sufficient. However, if you are looking for specific therapeutic results, choose the product that has clinical research supporting the desired effects.
In the January/February 1995 issue of American Journal of Natural Medicine, Dr. Michael T. Murray, a famous naturopathic doctor, reviewed this very issue in his article, "PCO sources: Grape seed vs. pine bark." (PCO stands for proanthocyanidins. The term OPC-oligometeric proanthocyanidin complexes-refers to the same thing.) Dr. Murray concluded that both grape-seed extract and Pycnogenol are well-defined chemically and both are excellent sources of PCOs. However, he points out that over the past twenty years, grape-seed extract has undergone more clinical and experimental research, and that grape-seed extract may be a more potent and effective antioxidant due to its other free-radical scavenging components. Finally, grape-seed extract products tend to be cheaper than Pycnogenol or other pine-bark extracts due to the annual crop of grape seeds that are available from the grape juice and wine industries. In the end, it's most important to include one or both of these bioflavonoid products in your dietary regimen in order to reduce your risk of disease, such as cardiovascular disease, while improving your overall health and well-being.
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