Thursday, June 23, 2005

Peel Me a Grape

Some people take grape seed extract (GSE), a supplement with many antioxidant properties, because it's said to improve vascular disorders, diabetes, leg cramps, skin problems and even impotence. Now researchers have found that when they put GSE into mammalian tissue, it produces molecular changes that suggest the supplement could protect normal brains against dementia. The study was conducted at the University of Alabama-Birmingham for the Purdue-UAB Botanicals Center for Dietary Supplements Research, and initiated in part by the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. I talked with Eric Yarnell, ND, president of the Botanical Medicine Academy and author of many books on complementary and alternative medicines, about the study. Dr. Yarnell is a firm supporter of the use of GSE. He says that its antioxidants do in fact make it a powerful tool for all the reasons listed above. But, surprisingly, he isn't particularly impressed with this study. Although the study bills itself as the first direct evidence that GSE affects specific proteins in normal brains protecting them against future dementia, Dr. Yarnell says that it has been known for some time that grape and grape compounds help protect the brain. The findings are not new, he says. The only distinctive feature of this test-tube study is that it demonstrates one particular mechanism of action that now provides an explanation for results science had previously found. Still, the study does serve to underscore the effectiveness of GSE. Dr. Yarnell explains that it is the proanthocyanidins, a class of nutrients belonging to the flavonoid family, also called procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs), that make GSE so valuable for health. In addition to their antioxidant properties, PCOs are believed to strengthen blood vessels and assist blood circulation, hence their relationship to vascular health. You don't need to take GSE, though, to add PCOs to your diet, says Dr. Yarnell. And you also don't have to eat grapes if you don't like them. Most berries, such as cranberries and blueberries, have the same benefits. In fact, he says all fruits and vegetables that are purple or red are good, as is hawthorn, a berry found in supplement form. With summer berry season just around the corner, the benefits of PCOs give another reason to enjoy the bounty of the season.

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