By: Jean Johnson for Heart1
Call it an industry-funded study if you like since Polyphenolics, a division of Constellation Wines U.S., Inc., paid for the recent work and supplied the grape seed extract for testing. But, a recent study out of the University of California at Davis (U.C. Davis) showed that patients who took grape seed extract significantly reduced their blood pressure and in some cases even lowered their LDL cholesterol levels.
|Managing Your Health and Blood Pressure
High blood pressure readings are ignored at one’s peril. Even if patients think short term stress is the reason for a high reading, they are wise to monitor and record readings for several months to ensure that they are not moving into territory that needed medical evaluation.
The National Institutes of Health offers the following guidelines on blood pressure ranges:
Normal is 120 over 80.
Pre-hypertension is 121 to 139 over 81 to 89.
Stage 1 hypertension is 140 to 159 over 90 to 99.
Stage 2 hypertension is anything over 160 on the systolic side and over 100 on the diastolic.
See actual government charts at www.nhlbi.nigh.gov.
Metabolic syndrome – a combination of high blood pressure, excess abdominal weight, high blood cholesterol fats, and high blood sugar – is a behavioral problem. This lifestyle disease has powerful implications for heart and circulation system function.
Grape seed extract showed an ability to reduce high blood pressure in 16 patients studied by researchers at UC Davis in Sacramento Calif.
U.C. Davis researchers may argue that they are insulated from bias through both the virtue of full disclosure and that their salaries are paid not by industry, but by the university. The researchers will present their findings at two high-profile spring 2006 professional meetings: The American Chemical Society Meeting and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
“Also, what’s wrong with people in the grape and wine business wanting to take advantage of all parts of the grape?” asked Laura Belle Nelson of Napa, Calif., in the heart of wine-making country. “I think that’s right in line with the sustainable thinking that’s going on these days – and to be commended. I do agree that it’s important to have university researchers involved. But the private sector trying to get ideas they think have merit onto the public radar screen just makes good sense for everyone, I think.”
Additionally, according to U.C. Davis information, “the extract has received the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) certification from the Food and Drug Administration and has no known side effects.”
But whatever the larger debate, the news is that patients in the U.C. Davis study who took grape seed extract experienced significant reductions in blood pressure. That was a good thing since all the participants have what’s known as metabolic syndrome.
According to the U.C. Davis Health System news release, metabolic syndrome is “a combination of risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease.” These factors include:
High blood pressure
The above combination can be a deadly one, as evidenced by the effect of these factors on the heart. Indeed, when you think about the heart pumping away in your chest at around 70 beats every single minute of the day and night and then add the burden of extra weight, clogged arteries, blood laden with sugar, and a high pressure circulation system – no wonder researchers are seeking ways to help bring metabolic syndrome under control.
Excess abdominal body weight
High blood cholesterol fats
High blood sugar
While activity and sensible eating would, of course, be our best recourse for this lifestyle problem, human behavior can be difficult to change. Thus science tries its best to help as it can. That science has its hands full is an understatement, though.
According to information from U.C. Davis, medical statistics estimate that 50 million Americans – a rather whopping 40 percent of the adult population – have metabolic syndrome.
Over the course of one month, 24 patients of both genders participated in the U.C. Davis study. Researchers divided the group into three, giving eight patients placebos and eight 150 milligrams of grape seed extract. The last group of eight took 300 milligrams of the extract.
“Participants in the two groups receiving grape seed extract experienced an equal degree of reduced blood pressure. The average drop in systolic pressure was 12 millimeters. The average drop in diastolic pressure was 8 millimeters,” said the study’s lead researcher C. Tissa Kappagoda, professor of cardiovascular medicine and director of the Preventative Cardiology Program at U.C. Davis.
Kappagoda also notes that the patients who took the higher dose of grape seed extract lowered their bad or LDL cholesterol levels. “Generally, the higher their initial oxidized LDL level was, the greater the drop by the end of the study,” he said.
With promising results as motivation, the U.C. Davis team has initiated a subsequent study designed to see if grape seed extract is effective in helping people on the verge of becoming hypertensive keep their blood pressure in check.
Specifically, researchers will be evaluating the effects of the extract on pre-hypertensive patients with pressures ranging from 120 to 139 mmHg on the systolic end and 80 to 89 mmHg on the lower diastolic number.
Fruit of the Vine Possibly Helpful for Hardening of the Arteries Too
Controlling blood pressure, however, may be only the beginning of what this apparent powerful grape seed extract is capable of.
“Three previous studies in animal models by this team have indicated that grape seed extract may also prevent atherosclerosis,” read the U.C. Davis news release related to the study.
Hypertension – The Silent Killer
“My friend Lucille Lyons died from a stroke caused by high blood pressure,” said Bobbye Smith of Flagstaff, Ariz. “She was only in her late 40s. She was heavy, it’s true. And instead of taking her high blood pressure medicine, she’d been experimenting with biofeedback. I guess she thought it was working well enough for her to stop her medications.
“But then I got the call. They found her at home half conscious from a stroke. I rode on the ambulance to the hospital, and she was so very sick – even vomiting at one point. She never did recognize me I don’t think. And it wasn’t 24 hours, but what she was gone.
“Now that I think about it in terms of this metabolic syndrome, I think she must have had that since she did have a big belly. Also as I recall – it’s been 20 years now since she went – she had diabetes and high cholesterol problems.
“It was hard. She just loved her pecan pies and fried chicken and potato salad all those good things we used to eat so much of. I guess it was being on the farm that let us get by with all that. Lucille was a school teacher, and even at home, she didn’t garden or do anything much like that. Mostly she liked to cook, and since her children were raised, she ended up eating too much I guess.”
Smith’s sad story points to why high blood pressure is so deadly. Most people can’t tell when it’s elevated. There are few signs. You don’t feel bad. You don’t get dizzy or light-headed. There really is nothing other than a blood pressure cuff to alert us that something is amiss.
Also, in many cases, strokes from high blood pressure can take a person down in seconds but do not kill and instead leave people paralyzed so severely that they spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs with curtailed mobility in their arms as well.
That said, it’s important to not dismiss a high reading as the results of just being stressed at a particular moment.
“The last time I went to the doctor, I got so annoyed with the long wait that by the time I got back to the exam room I was pretty excited,” said Tom Krohn of Los Angeles.
“They asked me about the reading and I said it was just the doctor office syndrome. So they gave me a wallet card to get some readings over the course of a few months. When I’d think about it I’d stop at one of those blood pressure stations groceries and pharmacies have. And after a few normal readings, I was convinced that I was okay – they thought things looked pretty good as well when I called in the pattern I’d observed.”
A variety of ways to treat high blood pressure other than with medications are being explored continually by researchers. In addition to the recent U.C. Davis work on grape seed extract, others have looked at the herb stevia, an Iranian herb called Achillea wilhelmsii, and milk fermented by certain friendly bacteria.
There have also been studies that point to the benefits of vitamin C, calcium and vitamin D. Other homeopathic approaches to easing hypertension include hatha yoga and tai chi.
So, if in doubt, stay active with a gentle program of exercise that incorporates relaxation, and eat your veggies and whole grains. Between that and regular visits to your physician, you can hedge your bets on metabolic syndrome and take your grape in much more exciting ways than seed extract.
“I’ll drink to that,” said Laura Belle Nelson raising her crystal wine glass to a light-filled California evening. “To your health.”