Vitis vinifera: given its Latin name, you might think grapes are some kind of exotic plant found only in faraway locations. Fortunately for us, the common grape is a favorite fruit of everyone from sophisticated sommeliers to hungry children hunting for a refreshing after-school snack.
What most grape-lovers don’t know, however, is that grapes actually have an abundance of health benefits in addition to their nutritional value, particularly the extract from their seeds.
What is grape seed extract, and how is it made?
As the name suggests, grape seed extract is an oil derived from the seeds of grapes. A century ago, our ancestors harvested this oil by crushing grapes between stones. Today, heat and solvents are often used, which is a much more efficient process. Some professional extractors use steam distillation or cold pressing instead. In the end, though, the result is the same: an extract with several exciting properties when it comes to human health.
#1 Helps control blood pressure.
A meta-analysis of research on the matter found that grape seed extract had a positive effect on blood pressure overall. In particular, it had the strongest effect on certain populations:
- People under the age of 50
- People with a Body Mass Index of 30 or higher
- People metabolic disorder
This is particularly exciting because these are groups of people who have a higher risk of complications if they also have high blood pressure.
#2 Improves circulation.
Grape seed extract has been shown to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of blood clotting, which may benefit those with circulatory problems.
One study in 29 adults with high blood pressure found that 300 mg daily lowered systolic blood pressure by 5.6% and diastolic blood pressure by 4.7% after six weeks
If you’ve ever taken a long flight and experienced uncomfortable swelling in your feet and ankles, you’ve experienced edema. Chronic venous insufficiency (when the veins on your legs are weakened from sitting too much over days or years) and edema are both common conditions that can lead to more dangerous issues down the line.
These include difficulty walking, decreased circulation overall, and increased risk of skin ulcers. Initial studies have shown that grape seed extract may reduce the symptoms of both of these conditions.
#3 Keep you sharp as you age.
Grape seed extract is very high in proanthocyanidins which could prevent cognitive decline.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is supporting preliminary research into the use of grape seed extract to prevent Alzheimer’s disease-type cognitive decline.
Initial studies on mice found that mice who were given grape seed extract daily for five months had significantly less cognitive deterioration than mice given a placebo. This has yet to be replicated in adults, but the research is very promising! It’s likely that these naturally occurring chemicals in grape seeds are responsible for the reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk in regular wine drinkers as well.
#4 Helps support healthy histamine levels.
Histamines are inflammatory chemicals released by the body when allergic reactions occur. Histamines are meant for your body to fight infection locally. In response to a perceived infection, histamines create inflammation to help push infection out, and increase the permeability of your smallest blood vessels, allowing white blood cells to get in and attack any invaders. This is also what causes runny nose and watery eyes, as increased levels of fluid pass through to the tissues of the sinuses.
All of this makes sense if you’re fighting an infection. But as seasonal sufferers know well, the body can be tricked into thinking something innocuous (such as pollen, dander, or dust) is a dangerous infection. When dealing with allergies rather than an infection, grape seed extract could be invaluable for supporting healthy histamine levels and saying goodbye to those “histy-fits”.
How? The bioflavonoids inside grape seed extract strengthen cell membranes and protect them so that they don't break down. These compounds can also inhibit the enzymes that form histamine in the cells.
All in all, grape seed extract can be a powerful addition to your medicine cabinet.
The possible benefits and uses of grape seed extract are endless. As long as you do not have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners, grape seed extract should be a safe and potent supplement that has many far-ranging benefits to offer. Please consult your doctor before taking any new supplements.