What Is It?
As its name implies, grape seed extract is derived from the small seeds (and occasionally the skins) of red grapes–the same kind that are pressed to make wine. Used extensively in Europe, grape seed extract is rich in flavonoids, phytochemicals that have antioxidant properties some consider even greater than the old standbys vitamin C and vitamin E. Antioxidants are believed to prevent and control numerous ailments by safeguarding cells against the ravages of unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals.
The most valuable flavonoids in grape seed extract are procyanidolic oligomers (also known as proanthocyanidins), commonly called PCOs. Beyond their antioxidant powers, PCOs are thought to improve blood circulation and help strengthen blood vessels. These actions benefit people with heart disease and cancer.
An alternative source for PCOs is Pycnogenol (pik-NODGE-en-all), the brand name for a PCO derived from the bark of the maritime pine. Experts compare its health benefits to those of grape seed extract, and in fact many research studies examining the therapeutic effects of PCOs have relied on the use of Pycnogenol. It’s more expensive than grape seed extract, however.
European doctors prescribe PCO-containing drugs for various vascular (vessel) disorders that are likely to benefit from increased blood flow, such as diabetes, leg cramps, varicose veins, arm and leg numbness or tingling and even impotence. Macular degeneration and cataracts–vision-robbers of the elderly–may also improve by means of the extract’s effects on circulation.
Disorders such as endometriosis, which are affected by the release of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, may benefit from the extract’s ability to block the release of this pain- and inflammation-causing chemical. Grape seed extract effectively penetrates cell membranes throughout the body with its antioxidant properties. It can even cross into the brain (traversing the blood-brain barrier) to protect brain cells from free-radical damage.
As an ingredient in facial creams, the extract may help maintain skin elasticity; many European skin creams feature grape seed extract for this purpose.
Specifically, grape seed extract may help to:
• Prevent heart disease. The risk for heart attack and stroke may be reduced with this potent antioxidant, which is believed to prevent the plaque development that can clog arteries. A recent study of 38 smokers indicates that PCOs may function as effectively as aspirin in keeping blood cells from sticking together and forming blood clots (called an anticoagulant effect). And the PCOs posed no risk of the gastrointestinal irritation or bleeding generally associated with aspirin. Interestingly, another preliminary study using grape seed oil (which is related to grape seed extract) indicates that using 2 tablespoons a day to replace other oils in cooking could increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 14% and reduce triglycerides by 15% in just four weeks.
• Minimize fibromylagia damage. Fibromyalgia is an elusive disorder associated with chronic muscle pain and stiffness. The antioxidant power of grape seed extract can help by protecting besieged muscle cells from damage.
• Deter cancer. The antioxidants in grape seed extract work hard at helping to control cellular damage, routinely hunting down and neutralizing mutations within the genetic material of cells that could lead to tumor formation. The development and progression of cancers of the lung, breast, stomach, prostate, colon, skin and other body parts may be stalled as a result.
• Fight skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema. Certain components within the skin–collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid–participate in keeping it healthy. PCOs help keep these substances in good shape by blocking enzymes that might disrupt their chemical structure. In this way, grape seed extract may be useful in treating inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis. Its flavonoids also inhibit allergic reactions that can generate such skin problems as eczema.
• Slow progression of macular degeneration and cataracts. Grape seed extract improves blood flow in the eye’s tiny vessels, where certain eye diseases can cause blockages and impairments that result in vision damage. Cataracts are an example. The extract’s antioxidant powers are of particular value in warding off the free-radical damage so frequently cited as the leading cause of macular degeneration.
• Lessen allergy symptoms. As a natural antihistamine, grape seed extract may help to control the sneezing, congestion and other hallmarks of an allergic reaction. The extract also inhibits the release of chemicals called prostaglandins that can generate inflammation during an allergic response. Working in concert, the nutrient’s antihistamine and anti-inflammatory actions can help to keep at bay such allergic responses as hives, hay fever and eczema.
• Ease eye strain. People who stare at computer monitors for extended periods may benefit from taking grape seed extract. The findings of one recent study indicate that 300 mg, taken daily, will ease eyestrain and enhance perception of contrast after just 60 days.
Note: Grape seed extract has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Grape Seed Extract.
–Always use a grape seed extract preparation that’s standardized to contain 92% to 95% PCOs.
• For general antioxidant and cancer-prevention use: Take 100 mg each morning. Smokers should take 100 mg three times a day.
• For the majority of other ailments: Take 100 mg three times a day.
Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Grape Seed Extract, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
Guidelines for Use
• Take grape seed extract at any time of day, but be consistent about when you take it, especially if you are using it to fight a particular condition.
• To realize a consistent benefit from grape seed extract, you need to take it regularly. Only about 30% of its PCOs remain in your body 24 hours after taking the supplement.
• There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with the use of grape seed extract.
Possible Side Effects
• No adverse effects or toxic reactions have been reported.
• Based on the limited research that has been done on grape seed extract so far, it appears to be very safe.
Aging 100 mg once a day
Cancer Prevention 100 mg each morning; may be partially covered by daily antioxidant complex
Cataracts 100 mg once a day
Eczema 100 mg twice a day; may be partially covered by your daily antioxidant complex
Fibromyalgia 100 mg twice a day
Hair Problems 100 mg twice a day; may be partially covered by antioxidant complex
Heart Disease Prevention 100 mg twice a day; may be partially covered by your daily antioxidant complex
Lupus 100 mg twice a day
Macular Degeneration 100 mg twice a day
Psoriasis 100 mg twice a day
David Edelberg, M.D.
In addition to being many times more powerful than either vitamin C or vitamin E as an antioxidant, grape seed extract is a potent flavonoid that helps keep your blood vessels healthy. It belongs to a group of compounds called proanthocyandins, or procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs).
HOW IT HELPS FIBROMYALGIA
The use of a supplement for fibromyalgia that is both an antioxidant and a flavonoid is twofold. First, antioxidants are helpful in protecting cells from free-radical damage, something that occurs in the soft tissues affected by fibromyalgia (as evidenced by biopsy studies). Second, the flavonoids are very important because of their ability to support the health of these soft tissues.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Grape seed extract comes in capsules and pills.
If you use grape seed extract alone, you’ll probably need approximately 200 mg daily. You can get away with considerably less if the grape seed extract is part of a good antioxidant combination.
David Edelberg, MD