A lot of attention has been drawn to the fact that people in Europe who drink a lot of wine live a long time. Part of this is due to the synergistic health effects created by the Mediterranean diet, but it turns out that at least part of it has to do with the substance of red wine itself.
In particular the tannins found in red wine are highly reactive in your body, and in a very good way. They dissolve very easily and help stabilize oxidative pathways that would leave your DNA, cell membranes, and intracellular proteins malformed. The latter property is the hallmark of what’s referred to as an “anti-oxidant.” Grapes have a lot of these, and they’re almost all located within the seed.
The White Knight of Electrons
The distilled components of the grape seed have been used in a variety of tests, studies, pharmacological applications, and clinical trials and as far as I know they repeatedly show a similar effect: your body regains an ability to balance itself, and regrow better, healthier cells that better perform their innate biological function.
These effects can be seen in the following areas:
- Improved cholesterol transport throughout the body
- Reduced blood pressure
- Removed toxins from the bloodstream
- Improved wound healing and skin complexion
- Improved immune response
And perhaps others. What’s better is that you don’t need a truckload of condensed grape seed extract to experience these benefits. Many of the proven effects of grape seed extract have been reported with dosages around 50-200mg, and sometimes as little as 10-30. This is very beneficial because a common problem with health claims for medicinal herbs is that you’d have to intraveneously inject a liter into your bloodstream everyday to get the desired benefit.
But natural grape seed extract does its job in very small quantities and is very well absorbed by the body. For grape seed extract to be dangerous the typical male would have to consistently consume 300 g/day, which is several orders of magnitude more than what even a regular supplement user would digest.
So grape seed extract is safe, robust, and well digested. But how does it work?
An Antioxidant to Rule Them All
It’s axiomatic that antioxidants are good for you and free radicals are bad for you but very few people have any idea what either of them do. They’re often used in conjunction with other medical terminology that’d make you think you need lots of letters after your last name to understand them but conceptually they’re quite simple.
All the molecules in your body have outer shells of electrons floating around them. Free radicals take these floating electrons away, and anti-oxidants give them back. That’s it. Your body actually needs both reactions to function properly, and at all times they’re being given and taken away at different rates in different parts of your body, but modernity tips the scale in favor of free radicals.
This is problematic because once a protein, lipid, or DNA fragment has electrons taken away, it becomes unusually reactive and will begin to react with other free radicals or oxygen around it, which produces more “naked” molecules which will react with still more free radicals and this process repeats itself until something stops it……like an antioxidant.
If the oxidizing reactions go on for a long time sections of your cells will eventually become malformed and no longer work the way they’re supposed to. A lifetimes of this can create serious problems.
Take your DNA for example. A DNA fragment that’s exposed to free radicals will have an exposed binding site to to bond with other molecules floating around in the nucleus, which will affect the way your genes replicate, which will cause your cells to stop making accurate copies of themselves. Copies of copies of copies eventually bear only a crude resemblance to their original and this is no less true in your body. It’s why an antioxidant/free radical imbalance can accelerate the aging process.
Proanthocyanidins: The Antioxidant Engine That Just Hums
The bulk of work done by grape seed extract is due to a particular type of molecule called a proanthocyanidin. It’s similar in function to other plant micronutrients you read about: polyphenols, flavonoids, catechins, etc. It’s very good at stopping free radicals, and I reckon all the benefits of grape seed extract are different manifestations of its proclivity to tilt your body’s electron balance to a more suitable state.
Proanthocyanidins are very useful in your body but not that mysterious. They just dissolve easily and reverse oxidizing reactions in their tracks. They’re also not unique to grape seeds. They’re found in all sorts of plant foods, and apples and cranberries are the most potent sources in your day-to-day diet. Grape seed proanthocyanidin is just unusually concentrated and well absorbed.
A Few Recipes to Get Started
You don’t need to buy grape seed extract to get proanthocyanidins. Other berries will suffice, and you only need to get about 200mg a day to get your full share.
However, grape seed extract seems to be particularly potent, and a grape seed supplement would remove some of the burden that comes with eating a complete diet.
So if you’re looking for a tasty way to get incorporate it into your diet, here’s a good smoothie recipe.
The Antioxidant Smoothie
1/2 c blueberries
1 C coconut milk
1 tsp turmeric (not enough to taste)
1 soft banana
1/4 c pomegranate juice
1/2 soft avacado
150 mg grapeseed extract (either in liquid or powder form)
1/2 c frozen raspberry
stevia to taste
Add all ingredients and fill to the top with coconut milk, blend until smooth, and enjoy!
Bagchi, Debasis, et. al. “Free Radicals and Grape Seed Proanthocyanidin Extract: Importance in Human Health and Disease Prevention”
Yamakoshi, J., et. al. “Safety Evaluation of Proanthocyanidin-rich extract”