The miracle of anti-aging herbs



Protect your heart with grape seed extract-and prevent diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and more

What would you call an herb that could safely help slow the aging process, promote heart health, and reduce the risk of cancer and other serious diseases? A miracle? Well, maybe. But science calls it an antioxidant.

How do antioxidant herbs help maintain health? Their actions on the body are both direct and indirect. First, they trap molecules known as free radicals, which would otherwise react with proteins, fats, and nucleic acids to cause changes that could lead to heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and various degenerative conditions.

Almost all of these conditions are associated with the aging process, so the direct effects of antioxidants can actually reduce some of the effects of growing old.

Someone once told me that a free radical sounded like an escaped terrorist. And in a sense, that's true. The free radicals that I'm talking about are highly reactive oxygen molecules, formed as products of normal metabolic reactions. They act upon the cells and tissues of the body to produce significant damage-terrorizing them, if you will. (Yes, oxygen is a good thing, but if you want to see the damage it can cause, slice open an apple and let it sit for half an hour.)
Herbs Join the Antioxidant Army

You may know that vitamins C and E and the carotenoids are antioxidants. (In fact, if you want to protect that sliced apple from oxidative damage, you need only squeeze a little lemon juice-vitamin C-on it.) But there are many herbal antioxidants that offer the same health protection. And some are as much as 50 times more powerful than the antioxidant vitamins.

Among the most effective are a series of what are called polyphenolic derivatives, known by a truly bewildering number of names. For convenience, we often abbreviate these compounds as OPCs. They are found in a number of species of higher plants, ranging from foods such as blueberries to grape seeds, pine bark, and green tea.
How Antioxidants Protect the Heart

OPCs prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad cholesterol) in the blood-which makes the LDL "sticky" so it gloms onto artery walls-and thus help reduce the risk of heart disease. Another very important indirect effect of these compounds is the inhibition of various enzymes that affect the walls of the tiny blood vessels, preventing seepage of fluid into the adjoining tissues. By doing so, OPCs help improve circulation and reduce the tendency toward varicose veins.
Grape Seed-One of Nature's Most Powerful Antioxidants

Certainly one of the most effective of the OPC antioxidants is that derived from grape seed (Vitis vinifera). Weight for weight, its antioxidant activity is some 50 times greater than that of vitamin E and 20 times greater than vitamin C. Grape seed has been carefully studied in France and Italy, two countries where grapes abound. The seeds used to be considered a worthless by-product of wine production.

Grape seed extract has proven to be valuable in the treatment of inadequate bloodflow in the veins, helping to relieve the pain, nighttime cramping, and edema (swelling) associated with that disorder. It has also been found to be of potential value in treating certain eye problems, including ocular stress and macular degeneration, and even in reducing the effects of glare from bright lights.

Another important feature of grape seed extract is its ability to act synergistically with vitamin C. Synergistically simply means that the combination is more effective together than alone. This combination facilitates wound healing and even tends to promote the elimination of excess cholesterol.

OPCs occur in grape seeds as well as in the skins of the fruit and are believed to be partly responsible for the so-called French Paradox: In France, there is a low incidence of cardiovascular disease (high cholesterol, heart attacks, and the like) in spite of the fact that the people there enjoy lots of high-fat, cholesterol-rich foods. However, their diet also involves consumption of lots of red wine, fruits, and vegetables. Scientists agree that the OPCs in red wine exert a protective effect against the cardiovascular damage caused by a high-cholesterol diet.

The French Paradox always reminds me of the sign one sometimes sees in European bistros or folksy restaurants that reads (in translation), "There are more old wine drinkers than old doctors." I guess that's true, but nonalcoholic red grape juice will work just as well if you want to avoid the alcohol.
How to Make Grape Seed a Part of Your Life

You don't have to drink your herbal antioxidants at all. You can get the same healthy benefits simply by taking grape seed extract capsules. These are readily available throughout the US and have become a popular dietary supplement-their 1997 sales totaled about $10 million. To prevent the various conditions described, the recommended dosage is 50 to 100 milligrams (mg) per day of a 100:1 concentrated grape seed extract containing 80 to 85% OPCs. Actual treatment of the various conditions involves the consumption of somewhat larger quantities, up to 300 mg daily.
The Herb at a Glance

Common name: Grape seed extract

Scientific name: Vitis vinifera

Active constituents: Compounds variously known as procyanidins, condensed tannins, complex flavonoids, pycnogenols, leucoanthocyanins, oligomeric proanthocyanidins, and OPCs

Beneficial effects: Prevention or treatment of circulatory disorders, varicose veins, eye problems including macular degeneration, capillary fragility (fluid seepage from small blood vessels), and other conditions associated directly or indirectly with free radicals (oxidation)

Side effects: None reported

Dosage: Maintenance, 50 to 100 milligrams (mg) per day of standardized extract containing 80 to 85% OPCs. Therapeutic, up to 300 mg daily.

Interesting fact: Formerly, most OPCs were obtained from peanut skins, until African peanut growers began supplying European markets with shelled, instead of whole, peanuts.

PHOTO (COLOR): Tiny grape seeds pack a huge antioxidant wallop.



By Varro E. Tyler, PhD, ScD

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