Forget sour. The news about the health value of grapes just keeps getting sweeter.

Researchers at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York published a paper in 2008 that suggests grape seed extract might well slow down the onset and degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Certain polyphenol compounds in grape seed extract thought to prevent plaque buildup in cells that otherwise leads to the brain impairment of Alzhemer’s.

The Mt. Sinai scientists used a grape seed extract product marketed as MegaNatural-AZ by Polyphenolics, a supplement company that in part supported the study. The federal government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, provided additional grant money. Polyphenolic compounds are a category of antioxidants also abundant in wine, tea, chocolate and some fruits and vegetables.

Two specific compounds were deemed most effective in fighting Alzheimer’s: catechin and epicatechin.

The five-month study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, studied the positive effects of the grape seed extract in mice that were manipulated to develop Alzheimer’s tendencies. But the grape seed extract appeared to stave off development of life-diminishing symptoms. Two specific antioxidant polyphenols, catechin and epicatechin, were deemed to be most effective and also are plentiful in tea and cocoa.

What’s promising about catechin and epicatechin is that it worked well on the mice in small doses and the Mt. Sinai researchers extrapolated that it wouldn’t require huge doses for humans, either. In contrast, resveratrol, the active ingredient in red wine associated with health benefits, is believed to most valuable in higher doses than most doctors feel at all comfortable recommending to patients who might develop Alzheimer’s.

“The potential of natural compounds to provide real health benefits to brain function is only now beginning to realized by brain researchers,” said Gary Arendash, a Ph.D. researcher at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute who was not affiliated with the study. “The lesson they may eventually learn is that sometimes you just can’t improve upon Mother Nature.”

Of course, more research will be needed to determine the potential for grape seed extract in humans. Along with identifying how much antioxidants to take, a pressing question is when should someone with a family history or other Alzheimer’s risk begin a course of grape seed extract.

The beauty of incorporating nature into our diet and health-style is that we don’t necessarily have to wait for those research studies to be completed. Finding ways to use grape seed oil in cooking, fresh grapes (maybe even with seeds) and grape seed extract seems like good ideas.

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