March 31, 2005 -- Grapes contain natural chemicals that have the potential to stop the spread of cancer cells.
The researchers reporting that news recommend going for grapes, not supplements.
"The findings add to the argument for eating whole foods," says Elvira Gonzalez de Meija, an assistant professor in the food science and nutrition department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"By eating the fruit, we know that the bioactive component involved goes into your bloodstream and relocates to other regions," says de Meija, who worked on the grape study.
Supplements probably won't offer the same rewards, since they might not have all the key chemicals needed, she explains in a news release.
Just how many grapes does it take? The scientists aren't sure yet. But so far, they say grapes may have protective potential against cancer that is independent of its antioxidant properties. Plus, reams of other research encourage eating plenty of produce -- at least five fruits and veggies a day for maximum benefits, say health experts.
Tracing Grapes' Goodness
Scientists already knew that grapes (and lots of other fruits and vegetables) are rich in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids. They're among the plant chemicals that have also shown potential against heart disease.
The research team has identified 10 previously unknown flavonoids in grapes. They also figured out that those chemicals work best as a team, not as lone rangers.
"It's very clear that the synergy is critical," says de Meija in the news release. "The findings add to the argument for eating whole foods."
Strength in Numbers
The researchers didn't just pick grapes off the vine. Instead, they made extracts from specially bred red grape plants. That allowed the scientists to quickly make bigger quantities of the flavonoids for study.
Next, the extracts went up against an enzyme that is responsible for the arrangement and rearrangement of genes in the cell and for cell growth and reproduction. Inhibiting this enzyme may kill cancer cells or stop their growth.
Working together, the flavonoids had more success against the enzyme than by themselves. They also outperformed two other previously identified flavonoids, quercetin and resveratrol.
The flavonoids are now being tested on animals. "We are getting direct evidence that these components in grapes work synergistically in fighting cancer," says de Meija in the news release. "They have to work together to obtain the potency that works."
The study appears in the April 6 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.