Most people know them for their plump, refreshing juiciness, as well as their characteristic seedlessness when cultivated for snacking purposes. I’m talking about grapes, that timeless aliment of kings and the fruit that dreams are made of − especially if you’re a wine aficionado. But in all seriousness, grapes have long held high status as being one of the world’s most popular fruits, and they just so happen to be loaded with miracle nutrients that can help reverse the aging process while warding off degenerative diseases like cancer.
The skins and seeds of grapes are particularly remedial for human health because they contain a treasure trove of powerful antioxidant compounds that science has linked to vibrant quality of life and longevity. Nearly every imbalance, ailment, and pathology afflicting modern man, in fact, is a potential target for the various nutritive substances found in grapes. This is why these bulbous little berries are among the most well-studied fruits within the realm of functional, food-based medicine.
Resveratrol in Grape Skins: An Anti-Aging Marvel
Like with most foods that quietly boast medicinal properties, the popularity of the grape hasn’t traditionally centered around its therapeutic potential, at least not in the West. The average grape-lover today prefers this fruit because of its succulent tartness and sweetness, not because it has the ability to prevent cardiovascular events and infections. But this is changing, thanks to the devoted work of scientists who are uncovering how grape constituents such as resveratrol, found primarily in grape skins, can help prevent and treat a host of human health conditions.
Resveratrol is arguably the most well-known therapeutic substance found in grapes, a natural outcome of everything that science has uncovered over the years about its incredible anti-aging potential. A fat-soluble polyphenolic compound, resveratrol’s claim to fame centers around is prominence in longevity research. Many a study has shown its effectiveness at preventing and treating a wide range of age-related health conditions. Things like heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cognitive decline, and even cancer.
The strong antioxidant effects of resveratrol make it an ideal nutritional supplement for combating the oxidative stress brought about by free radical damage. Resveratrol essentially neutralizes free radicals throughout the body, preventing them from stoking the types of inflammatory responses that end up leading to chronic, and potentially terminal, health conditions like coronary heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
One of the biggest contributing factors to rapid aging is hardening of the arteries, another area where resveratrol shines with flying colors. Studies have shown that resveratrol directly up-regulates endothelial progenitor cells. These are the adult stem cells that work to keep blood vessels elastic and healthy, helping to promote healthy circulation and blood flow to and through the heart. Long-term cardiovascular health is contingent upon a flexible, well-flowing circulatory system, and resveratrol is a perfect fit for this important job.
Can Grape Seeds Turn Back the Aging Clock, Too?
But it doesn’t stop at resveratrol. Grape seeds contain their own unique healing constituents as well that work symbiotically as a complement to resveratrol. Unfortunately, grapes that actually contain seeds are becoming increasingly harder to find in the produce aisle as many people prefer seedless varieties. But don’t spit out those seeds! Grape seeds are naturally rich in oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPC), a class of plant metabolites that studies have shown bear strong antioxidant.
OPC are therapeutic in a number of ways, exhibiting antibacterial, antiviral, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, and vasodilatory activities. They also help protect cell membrane lipids against oxidative damage; prevent platelet aggregation and blood clots; strengthen capillary integrity; and promote the function and efficiency of enzyme activity.
Perhaps you’re familiar with a dietary supplement known as pine bark extract (PBE), often sold under the brand name of Pycnogenol, that’s marketed as an anti-aging supplement. PBE, it turns out, is composed of roughly 65-75% procyanidin compounds by weight. Procyanidin falls into the larger category of OPCs, which are also found in grape seeds.
Extracts of grape seed (GSE) containing high levels of OPC are similarly anti-aging in nature, performing a number of important functions inside the body. Like PBE, grape seed extract contains a wide range of catechins, procyanidins, phenolic acids, linoleic acid, and flavonoids that, biologically speaking, support life in a number of important ways.
Studies suggest that grape seed extract may help:
- Strengthen bones and improve bone formation
- Support oral health by protecting teeth against decay and remineralizing cavities
- Normalize blood pressure by dilating blood vessels and guarding against oxidative damage
- Improve circulation, thus preventing conditions like chronic venous insufficiency and edema
- Boost brain function and protect against cognitive brain conditions like Alzheimer’s
- Prevent diabetes and blood sugar disorders by normalizing metabolic function
- Reduce the likelihood of hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and other conditions symptomatic of poor circulation
Some studies have also found that grape seed extract may help prevent the growth of various types of cancer cells, including those of the breast, stomach, prostate, lung, and colon, at least in vitro. The University of Maryland Medical Center, while offering the caveat that test tube studies aren’t necessarily indicative of efficacy in humans, admits that GSE could eventually prove to be a powerful anti-cancer medicine, and I’m of the persuasion that they’re right.
One study out of Austria that looked at the effect of OPC on prostate cancer cells found that these nutritive substances are both anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic, meaning they stop cancer cells from spreading and cause them to commit suicide. Another study out of South Korea found OPC exerts the same anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects against colorectal cancer cells.
You Need More Than Just Whole Grapes to Benefit
To truly benefit from the benefits of resveratrol and OPC takes more than just eating a handful of grapes (or drinking a glass of wine). The reality is that you’d have to eat massive quantities of whole grapes and whole grape seeds in order to obtain the therapeutic doses of resveratrol and OPC you’d need to achieve these types of health benefits. I’m talking many large clusters of grapes just to get even a moderate dosage of these important nutrients.
That’s why the preferred method of intake is dietary supplements that have been standardized to at least 40% (or preferably as high as 80%) proanthocyanidins, and at least 95% OPC. Therapeutic dosages of resveratrol can vary from anywhere between one milligram to 500 milligrams, depending on the desired health outcome.
Since neither class of compound has shown signs of toxicity, even at high levels, and with no established dosage for efficacy, my suggestion is to lean towards taking too much GSE and resveratrol rather than too little. In this case, the more the merrier is a good and safe rule of thumb.