|| Vitis vinifera
The medicinal and nutritional value of grapes (Vitis vinifera) has
been heralded for thousands of years. Egyptians consumed this fruit at least
6,000 years ago, and several ancient Greek philosophers praised the healing
power of grapes -- usually in the form of wine. European folk healers developed
an ointment from the sap of grapevines to cure skin and eye diseases. Grape
leaves were used to stop bleeding, inflammation, and pain, such as the kind
brought on by hemorrhoids. Unripe grapes were used to treat sore throats and
dried grapes (raisins) were used to heal consumption, constipation, and thirst.
The round, ripe, sweet grapes, were used to treat a range of health problems
including cancer, cholera, smallpox, nausea, eye infections, and skin, kidney,
and liver diseases.
Seedless varieties were developed to appeal to fickle consumers, but
researchers are now discovering that most of the healthful properties of grapes
may actually come from the seeds themselves.
Among other beneficial effects, the active compounds in grape seed are
believed to have antioxidant properties. In fact, a recent study of healthy
volunteers found that supplementation with grape seed extract substantially
increased levels of antioxidants in the blood. Antioxidants are substances that
scavenge free radicals -- damaging compounds in the body that alter cell
membranes, tamper with DNA (genetic material), and even cause cell death. Free
radicals occur naturally in the body, but environmental toxins (including
ultraviolet light, radiation, cigarette smoke, and air pollution) can also
increase the number of these damaging particles. Free radicals are believed to
contribute to the aging process as well as the development of a number of health
problems including heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants found in grape seeds
can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the
damage they cause.
Today, professional herbalists use standardized extracts of grape seed to
treat a range of health problems related to free radical damage, including heart
disease and cancer. Studies in laboratories, animals, and people lend some
support to these uses.
Heart disease: Flavonoids found in red wine have been shown to inhibit the
oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. (LDL oxidation can lead to hardening of
the arteries or atherosclerosis). Studies have demonstrated a relationship
between flavonoid intake (from food) and reduced risk of death from coronary
The Mediterranean Style Diet is comprised of whole grains, fresh fruits and
vegetables, fish, olive oil, and moderate, daily wine consumption. In a
long-term study of 423 patients who suffered a heart attack, those who followed
a Mediterranean Style Diet had a 50% to 70% lower risk of recurrent heart
disease compared with controls who received no special dietary counseling. Some
researchers believe that some of the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean
Style Diet are due to flavonoids found in red wine. (Another well-known theory
along these lines is called "The French Paradox." The belief is that drinking
wine protects those living in France from developing heart disease at as high a
rate as those living in the U.S., despite the rich fatty foods they eat.)
Others speculate that the healthful effects of moderate wine consumption are
due to its alcohol content and not its flavonoid content. If it is indeed the
flavonoids contributing to heart protection, then grape seed extracts offer an
important alternative to alcohol, particularly given the down sides of drinking
alcohol (see below). A third concept is being proposed by a group of researchers
who believe that the beneficial effects of wine may be triggered by a complex
interaction of alcohol and flavonoids. As the controversy of which ingredient in
wine is the most important continues, both grape seed extracts and red wine
continue to be promoted for heart health. Plus, several test tube and animal
studies confirm that antioxidants from grapes offer cardioprotection in their
It is also important to note that the use of alcohol is not advocated by the
American Heart Association and other organizations because of the potential for
addiction and the other serious repercussions such as motor vehicle accidents
and the development of hypertension, liver disease, breast cancer, and weight
gain. If red wine is consumed, it is recommended that men have no more than 2
glasses (20 g ethanol) per day and women, no more than 1 glass (15 g
In a recent study, 40 people with high
cholesterol were randomly assigned to receive grape seed extract, chromium, a
combination of both, or placebo for 2 months. The combination of grape seed
extract and chromium was more effective than either substance alone or placebo
in reducing total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
High blood pressure
In one animal study, a proprietary grape
seed extract substantially reduced systolic blood pressure in healthy mice.
Further studies are needed to determine whether grape seed extract confers the
same benefits to people with high blood pressure.
In one recent study of only three patients with
chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), a commercially available
grape seed extract significantly reduced the frequency and intensity of
abdominal pain after conventional medications failed to improve symptoms.
Further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary findings.
Laboratory studies have found that grape seed extract
prevents the growth of breast, stomach, and lung cancer cells in test tubes.
Grape seed extract was also effective in preventing damage to human liver cells
caused by chemotherapy medications. While surveys indicate that many people with
cancer are using grape seed extracts, it is still premature to know whether the
positive effects seen in the laboratory will prove beneficial for people.
Although herbal extracts have been promoted as
anti-cellulite agents, a recent study found that a proprietary herbal product
containing grape seed oil, evening primrose oil, ginkgo, sweet clover, sea-weed,
and lecithin was no more effective than placebo in getting rid of cellulite.
Professional herbalists may also recommend grape seed
extract for a variety of circulatory ailments (including varicose veins and
chronic venous insufficiency) and other diseases related to free radical damage,
including age-related macular degeneration, an eye disorder that develops with
age and can lead to blindness. Grape seed extract may help improve night vision
and photophobia (sensitivity to light) as well. Interestingly, some laboratory
and animal studies suggest that procyanidins from grape seed may promote hair
growth; this idea has yet to be tested in people.
Grapes are native to Asia near the Caspian Sea, but were brought to North
America and Europe around the 1600's. This plant's climbing vine has large,
jagged leaves, and its stem bark tends to peel. The grapes may be green, red, or
|What's It Made Of?|
Vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid, and compounds called procyanidins (also
known as condensed tannins, pycnogenols, and oligomeric proanthocyanidins or
OPCs) are highly concentrated in grape seeds. These healthful compounds can also
be found in lower concentrations in the skin of the grape. Procyanidins are also
found in grape juice and wine, but in lower concentrations.
Grape seed is available in capsules, tablets, and fluid extracts. Look for
products that are standardized to 95% OPC content.
|How to Take It|
There are no known scientific reports on the pediatric use of grape seed.
Therefore, grape seed extracts and supplements are not currently recommended for
children. Of course, whole grapes make a healthy snack and are certainly safe
for children to consume.
To prevent heart disease or circulatory disorders, take 50 mg standardized
extract (standardized to 95% OPC content) per day. For specific illnesses, 150
to 300 mg per day may be recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
At the recommended dosage, grape seed is considered very safe. However,
pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid grape seed
There are no known scientific reports of interactions between grape seed and
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|Review Date: April 2002|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Robert A. Anderson, MD (April
1999), President, American Board of Holistic Medicine, East Wenatchee, WA;
Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley
Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine,
Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson
Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February
2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD,
Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary &
Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David
Winston, Herbalist (April 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ;
Tom Wolfe, P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All
interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including
Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria,
VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T
Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor,
University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for
Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and
Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
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