Heady Over Grapes?
Can the seeds heal?
Sept. 11, 2000 -- At 42, Linda Walsh of Buena Park, Calif., could hardly
believe that age spots were spreading up her shins and down her feet. To make
matters worse, her hair was beginning to fall out, her joints were becoming
stiffer by the day, and fatigue weighed every step she took.
Then she discovered grape-seed extract.
Now, four years later, Walsh's skin is free of blemishes, her hair is
lustrous and full, and there's a new bounce in her stride. "I feel good and
I look five years younger than before," she says. For this transformation,
Walsh gives credit to an extract taken from the seeds of ordinary grapes. She's
so enthusiastic that she now sells the extract and other supplements full
Indeed, glowing testimonials from people like Walsh have made grape-seed
extract one of the most popular supplements in the United States. In 1999,
Americans spent $141 million on grape-seed products, a jump of 26% over the
previous year, according to The Hartman Group, a market research firm.
So do grape seeds really work? The question is far from settled, but
scientists aren't ready to rule out the possibility that they might. The key
ingredient in grape seeds has shown promise against disease-causing chemicals
in test tubes. And a few preliminary experiments in humans have produced
One reason it's not easy to weigh the claims for grape-seed extract is that
much of the research is done by people with a stake in selling it. Many of the
studies most often cited come from the laboratory of Debasis Bagchi, PhD, a
Creighton University professor of pharmaceutical and administrative sciences
who also works for grape-seed product maker InterHealth Nutraceuticals.
Bagchi has labored to show that a substance within grape-seed extract,
oligoproanthocyanidin, or OPC, is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants disarm
free radicals -- molecules that can damage DNA, cells, and tissues, eventually
contributing to heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses. Because of its
structure, one OPC molecule can neutralize several free radicals at once, while
each molecule of better-known antioxidants like vitamins C and E can handle
only one at a time, Bagchi says.
Putting It to the Test
In one experiment, Bagchi and his team placed OPC, vitamin C, and vitamin E
in three separate test tubes filled with free radicals similar to those found
in the body. After 15 minutes, the researchers found that OPC had knocked out
up to 81% of the free radicals in its test tube. By comparison, vitamin C and E
neutralized up to 19% and 44%, respectively. (See the February 1997 issue of
the journal Research Communications in Molecular Pathology and
While such findings are promising, they don't prove that grape-seed extract
can actually prevent or cure heart disease, cancer, or any other illness, says
Harry Preuss, MD, of Georgetown University, who led the cholesterol study
(which was partly funded by InterHealth Nutraceuticals). "The benefits are
potentially there," he says. But in order to know how a human being's
health is really affected over a long period of time, "You have to do these
huge, huge studies." So far, no one has been willing to pay the cost of
such a study.