The Buzz about Grape Juice
OK, it's not wine. But it has many of its health benefits.
April 3, 2000 (Petaluma, Calif.) -- Even the most heartening news about the
health benefits of wine wasn't enough to convince Susan Sanford to imbibe.
"I've just never liked the taste of alcohol," says Sanford, 42, a film
sound engineer in Northern California. "Still, with all the headlines, you
can't help wondering whether you're missing out on something that might lower
your risk of heart disease."
Well, Susan Sanford, worry no more. If you don't like wine, the latest
studies show you can get almost all the same benefits from grape juice. The
reason: Purple grape juice contains the same powerful disease-fighting
antioxidants, called flavonoids, that are believed to give wine many of its
What'll It Be: Wine or Welch's?
The flavonoids in grape juice, like those in wine, have been shown to
prevent the oxidation of so-called bad cholesterol (LDLs, or low-density
lipoproteins) that leads to formation of plaque in artery walls. In a study
published in 1999 in the journal Circulation, researchers at the
University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison asked 15 patients who already
showed clinical signs of cardiovascular disease -- including plaque-constricted
arteries -- to drink a tall glass of grape juice daily. After 14 days, blood
tests revealed that LDL oxidation in these patients was significantly reduced.
And ultrasound images showed changes in the artery walls, indicating that their
blood was flowing more freely.
Grape juice can also lower the risk of developing the blood clots that lead
to heart attacks, according to unpublished findings from Georgetown University
researcher Jane Freedman, MD. So can red wine, but in this case grape juice is
the more practical way to go: "Wine only prevents blood from clotting [when
it's consumed] at levels high enough to declare someone legally drunk,"
says University of Wisconsin researcher John Folts, Ph.D. "With grape
juice, you can drink enough to get the benefit without worrying about becoming
What's more, alcoholic drinks don't seem to improve the function of cells in
blood vessel linings the way grape juice does. And alcohol generates free
radicals -- unstable oxygen molecules that can actually cause damage to blood
vessel tissues -- dampening any of the benefits that red wine's antioxidants
Even better news, for Sanford and other teetotalers, is that the
antioxidants in grape juice appear to linger in the body longer than do those
in wine. At the University of California, Davis, researchers took a 1996
cabernet sauvignon, removed all the alcohol, and asked a group of nine
volunteers to alternate between drinking the nonalcoholic wine one day and an
alcoholic version the next. In their findings, reported in the January 2000
issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a key antioxidant
called catechin remained in the blood for more than 4 hours after the
volunteers drank the nonalcoholic wine, compared to only 3.2 hours for the
full-strength cabernet. Apparently, alcohol hastens the breakdown of the
antioxidant in the blood, speeding its elimination from the body.