In the pantheon of evidence-based botanical ingredients that can have a profound effect on human health, French grape seed extract is the most impressive. Research has shown that it can prevent heart disease, kill cancer cells, speed the healing of damaged muscle tissue, reduce non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, reduce inflammation, and slow the progression of diabetes.
Protects Your Cardiovascular System
Most people probably know grape seed extract because of its benefits for the heart. There’s a good reason for this. Grape seed extract reduces high blood pressure, protects the blood vessel walls from damaging free radical activity, and prevents the dangerous oxidation of LDL cholesterol—one of the first steps on the road to a heart attack or stroke. In an Italian clinical study, individuals with pre-or mild hypertension were divided into three groups, two with grape seed extract, at lower and higher dosages (150 mg and 300 mg per day, respectively), and one with a diet and exercise intervention only, serving as a control group. At the end of the four-month trial, both grape seed extract groups saw an improvement in blood pressure, although those at the higher dosage—300 mg daily—noticed more dramatic effects. In fact, blood pressure numbers normalized in 93 percent of those in the higher dosage group. Research published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences examined the vasodilating—blood vessel relaxing—properties of grape seed fractions. By allowing blood vessels to open rather than restrict, blood travels with less force, reducing pressure.
This study showed that grape seed procyanthocyanidins promoted nitric oxide (NO) release and an increase in cyclic GMP levels. Nitric oxide is a molecule that is only active for a few seconds at a time in the bloodstream. Even though it is considered a free radical, it has beneficial effects on blood pressure, helping signal the opening of blood vessels and arteries. Cyclic GMP (cGMP) also relaxes smooth muscles, including blood vessels. Another clinical study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food compared the results of individuals with mildly high cholesterol taking a grape seed extract versus placebo for 8 weeks. Lipid profiles and oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol were improved in those taking grape seed extract. The researchers concluded that grape seed extract decreased the risk of blood clotting (without adverse effects on blood thinning) and other cardiovascular disorders.
Speeds Recovery from Exercise and Injury
The anti-inflammatory power of grape seed extract has brought it to the attention of researchers studying its effects on muscle recovery. In these investigations, grape seed OPCs have boosted anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-10) and helped regenerate damaged muscle fibers. Macrophages, known for their ability to stop bacteria and viruses, also help heal injured tissue. One study found that elevated levels of macrophages and neutrophils (white blood cells found at the scenes of inflammation) were completely resolved in just 5 days when using grape seed extract.
Prevents Cancer and Tumor Growth
Colorectal cancer has the second-highest mortality rate in the United States. While lifestyle and diet can prevent or modify the risk, there is an urgent need for effective therapies that don’t come with a host of serious adverse effects.
Cancer develops through many mechanisms, and that’s why it is so difficult to treat. However, a breakthrough study found that a tannin-free grape seed extract (French Grape Seed VX1™) was found to suppress colorectal cancer cells in a variety of ways. It inhibits the growth of tumors, stops the cycle of cancer cell signaling, and induces apoptosis—the death of cancer cells by stopping the growth phase. But perhaps even more importantly, it also kills cancer stem cells.
This is an amazing breakthrough because even though conventional chemotherapy can kill cancer cells, it doesn’t finish off cancer stem cells-—the very reason cancer can recur and spread throughout the body. The OPCs from this grape seed extract eliminated the cancer cells. Other research has examined the effect of grape seed extract on breast cancer cells when used alone or with conventional treatment. The results showed that the two interventions worked well together, but that grape seed extract alone was a strong inhibitor of breast cancer cells. These results have been mirrored in other research showing that grape seed extract polyphenols have a strong ability to stop tumor growth.
One of the reasons for this is that grape seed extract inhibits aromatase, an enzyme that converts androgen into estrogen. Certain types of cancer grow and spread in the presence of estrogen. Breast and prostate cancer tissues typically have higher levels of aromatase. A study published in the journal Cancer Research discussed the valuable potential of grape seed extract when their research showed that it inhibited aromatase activity and reduced growth in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. They concluded, “We believe that these results are exciting in that they show grape seed extract to be potentially useful in the prevention/treatment of hormone-dependent breast cancer through the inhibition of aromatase activity as well as its expression.”
Stops Inflammation and Oxidative Damage
Grape seed extract OPCs fight inflammation and the effects of free radicals throughout the body. While we often associate antioxidant power with anti-aging, it also controls the immune system to reduce everything from damaging chronic joint inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to allergic responses.
A Saudi Arabian study found that grape seed OPCs were able to regulate the activity of certain immune-regulating T-cells, inducing some and reducing others, in a way that stopped inflammatory markers. The researchers concluded that grape seed extract proanthocyanidins could become an adjunct therapy for RA, or possibly an alternative treatment. Because autoimmune inflammation also interferes with the process of bone formation and resorption, individuals with RA often contend with structural joint damage. However, researchers in Korea discovered that the ability of grape seed OPCs to reduce inflammation also stopped the symptoms of collagen-induced arthritis in a laboratory study. It helped get the natural process of building bone back on track.
Aside from combating RA symptoms and bone damage, grape seed extract prevents the inflammation that causes allergy-induced asthma symptoms. A Korean study found that grape seed extract reduced the allergic hyper-responsiveness that restricts bronchial airways as well as the number of inflammatory markers in lung tissue. The researchers felt that grape seed extract could be a valuable therapeutic ingredient for acute and chronic asthma.
Slows Alzheimer’s Progression and Promotes Cognitive Health and Focus
Because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, grape seed OPCs are increasingly on the cutting edge of Alzheimer’s research. Studies have shown that they protect the delicate circuitry of the brain. For example, an Indian study found that grape seed proanthocyanidins reduce the effects of oxidative stress in the aging brain and consider it a neuroprotectant to prevent cognitive loss. The nutrient’s ability was due, in part, to its blood glucose-lowering as much as its free-radical fighting power. Considering the growing body of research that points to a connection between blood sugar levels and the risk of Alzheimer’s, this is an important discovery.
Other Powerful Benefits of Grape Seed Extract
Researchers in Austria have found that OPCs from grape seed are effective antibacterial agents against ten different pathogens. A study reported in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences measured the abilities of grape seed extract against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a staph bacterium that is difficult to treat because it has developed resistance to antibiotics. The researchers found that grape seed extract was effective against 43 strains of the bacteria, and could, in the words of those conducting the study, “signify a major advancement in the treatment of MRSA diseases.” Grape seed extract also shows promise for people suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a form of hepatic steatosis where the fats are deposited in the liver. The causes can vary—some people are just genetically prone to the disease, while other research points to dietary reasons, including the overconsumption of soft drinks. In fact, 70 percent of the cases of NAFLD are associated with metabolic syndrome.
Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics