Grapes: Farm-aceutical of the Future?

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Grapes, a popular fruit easily located on grocery store shelves, have potent health benefits: researchers have studied the benefits of consuming the whole fruit, grape seed extract and resveratrol, a type of phenol found in the skin of grapes. Although high in sugar, grapes and their extracts are a possible therapeutic treatment for a variety of ailments including cardiovascular and obesity-related diseases

The wide variety of natural compounds found in grapes has made them a source of intense research for decades.[i] Researchers are particularly interested in the phytonutrients contained in grapes, such as resveratrol, a type of antioxidant that may prevent a variety of diseases and promote health..[ii],[iii]

Grape seed extract, another grape derivative, has also held the research community's fascination due to its ability to reduce oxidative stress and exert positive effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.[iv],[v]

There is some concern about the consumption of grapes due to their high concentration of sugar. While it's true that grapes are higher on the glycemic index than fruits such as apples or berries, research shows that the consumption of whole fruits (as opposed to sugar-laden fruit drinks or juices) has benefits that may outweigh these concerns.

Additionally, consumption of whole fruits is associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, while fruit juice consumption is related to a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.[vi] The research further indicates that the benefits of grape consumption far outweigh any concerns about sugar content, especially if consumed in moderation.

Benefits of Grape Consumption

Researchers have found that resveratrol, grapes and grape seed extract may potentially have therapeutic benefit for a variety of diseases and ailments, including:

  • Resveratrol and Grape Juice Reduce Oxidative Stress

Research shows that resveratrol significantly decreases oxidative stress levels in the body, and may increase lifespan.[vii]

Oxidative stress plays a large role in the development of age-related diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, and researchers believe that grape extract and resveratrol could play a role in reversing the aging process and reducing the risk of such disorders.[viii],[ix]

In other studies, high consumption of juice derived from Bordo grapes, a type of red grape imported from Brazil, had protective effects against oxidative stress.[x]

  • Grape Seed Extract and Resveratrol Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Researchers have demonstrated that grape seed extract lowers systolic blood pressure and heart rate without causing any adverse side effects in patients with stage 1 hypertension or pre-hypertension.[xi],[xii]

Polyphenols found in grape juice and grape seed extract attenuate the development of atherosclerosis, a disease caused by a buildup of fats and cholesterol on the inner linings of arteries.[xiii]

Additional research has shown that resveratrol is similarly effective in treating cardiovascular disease by improving diastolic and systolic function and reducing negative atrial and left ventricular remodeling, and researchers believe there is a chance resveratrol could be used to prevent heart failure, although more research is needed in this area.[xiv]

  • Anti-Obesity Effects of Grapes

Research has revealed that resveratrol and grape seed extract may protect against the effects of diet-related obesity, such as insulin resistance and fatty liver, and chronic diseases associated with obesity, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes.[xv],[xvi],[xvii]

In one study, grape powder supplements improved glucose tolerance and inhibited the development of Type 1 diabetes in subjects with high-fat diets.[xviii]

  • Resveratrol as a Potential Therapeutic Approach to Control High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a global health care concern, affecting 1 in 3 adults worldwide and contributing to numerous health problems.[xix] In a randomized, crossover, double-blind study of 50 prehypertension patients and 50 patients with stage 1 hypertension, researchers demonstrated that resveratrol has great potential in reversing or preventing high blood pressure.[xx]

Furthermore, resveratrol also has vasoprotective properties and induces vascular remodeling, an important benefit given the strain on vascular function caused by high blood pressure.[xxi],[xxii]

  • Grape Extracts Reduce Inflammation and Risk of Inflammation-Related Diseases

Grape seed extract contains large amounts of dimeric and oligomeric procyanidins, two types of flavonoids with anti-inflammatory effects.[xxiii] These procyanidins have additional antioxidant effects, induce anti-lipid peroxidation and inhibit the formation of inflammatory cytokines.[xxiv]

Researchers believe that grape seed extract is safe even in high concentrations and dosages, but further research is needed before grape seed extract can be used as a treatment for inflammation-related disorders.[xxv] Resveratrol has shown similar anti-inflammatory effects in several diseases, although the exact cause of its anti-inflammatory effects are not fully understood.[xxvi]

Since chronic inflammation can be a precursor to the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases, researchers believe that resveratrol may be an effective preventative and therapeutic treatment.[xxvii]

When you consider the vast database of research available today on and on on the therapeutic potential of grapes, it is a wonder that we don't hear more about their use for the prevention and treatment of disease. The primary reason, sadly, is that there are no patents available on natural compounds or extracts of natural substances, and therefore they will not receive FDA drug approval which only applies to patented, and often highly toxic synthetic compounds (note: one exception are FDA approved botanicals which are still very rarely approved and still require massive capital expenditures to attain). Until the legal-regulatory situation shifts, some well meaning researchers are still testing dosages and working to understand how individual grape polyphenols can positively affect different stages in the progression of these diseases.

In the meantime, researchers have concluded that dietary consumption of grapes is an ideal way to prevent the onset of a variety of illnesses, probably because of the increased bioavailability of multiple ingredients in the whole fruit.[xxviii]

For more information about the research being done on grapes and their individual phytonutrients, please visit the grape research dashboard.

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