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Heady Over Grapes?

Can the seeds heal?

Patching the Pipes

Nor has anyone funded a conclusive study on the other intriguing claim made for grape-seed extract: that it reinforces collagen and elastin, the bricks and mortar of blood vessels and other supportive tissues.

If it can achieve these effects, it could benefit people suffering from a wide range of diseases. For example, it might improve capillary resistance, the ability of capillaries to hold blood. People with diabetes and high blood pressure sometimes have such low capillary resistance that their blood leaks into the surrounding tissue, causing red spots (purpura) on their skin. In one study, published in the June 8-15, 1981, issue of the French journal Semaine des Hopitaux (Hospital Week), researchers found that 13 patients who took OPC experienced much higher capillary resistance than a group of 12 people who took a placebo.

But this research, too, is preliminary -- the study didn't show whether the patients' purpura or other symptoms improved. And a good diet might be just as effective, says Rita Redberg, MD, associate clinical professor of cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco. To avoid diseases of the heart and blood vessels, Redberg says, the surest approach is eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. "If you want to do these things and also take grape-seed extract, that's fine," Redberg says.

Or maybe not so fine, says Kedar Prasad, PhD, director of the Center for Vitamins and Cancer Research at the University of Colorado Health Science Center. Taking too much OPC, vitamin C, or other antioxidant, could -- theoretically at least -- add to your risk of cancer. That's because free radicals don't just damage healthy cells; they also act as a check on cancer growth. And some researchers worry that antioxidants may blunt the effects of radiation and chemotherapy used to treat cancer.

Such warnings remain hypothetical, though, and they aren't likely to sway the likes of Linda Walsh. She says that the supplement cured her son's allergies and may prevent her from suffering a heart attack like the ones that killed her mother at age 60 and her father at age 50. "People think I'm exaggerating," she says. "I'm just thankful that I found a product that helped."

Laura Lane, an associate editor at WebMD, has a master's degree in biological sciences from Stanford University. Her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News, the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter, CNN Interactive, Healthy Living magazine, and Shape magazine.


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