Whether it is grape juice as a child, wine (a.k.a “Mommy Juice”) when we are older, jelly at any age and time of the day, or snacking on some delicious whole grapes, we consume grapes in one form or another throughout our lives 1. Little did you know, this is great news for our brains, both in the short and long-term. As we age there is a decrease in blood flow to the brain and, through both our personal diet/lifestyle and the normal aging process, an increase in inflammation. This is why consuming antioxidants from tea, berries, grapes (you didn't see that coming), carrots, cocoa (that's "superfood" chocolate to you and me. You REALLY didn't see that one coming) etc. are important. For the moment though, let’s take a deeper look into grapes and specifically how they can benefit your brain.
There are many antioxidant compounds (polyphenols) found in grapes including from the grape skin, the juice and the grape seed. The most popular antioxidant compound found in grapes is resveratrol, but there are many others, epicatechins, catechins, malvidin etc. When compared to other antioxidants those found grapes were observed, for example, to be 20 times stronger than vitamin C and 50 times stronger than vitamin E!2 Wow, that's some powerful stuff! When combined with other antioxidants such as vitamin C, there also seems to be some synergistic (multiplying) effect in the antioxidant ability of grapes 3. Maybe you should add some oranges to your bowl of grapes?
One of the many benefits of the powerful antioxidant capacity in grapes is their ability to reduce inflammation, which is so important as we age. Inflammation plays a big role in many diseases, recovery from an injury or exercise, and the aging process 4,5,6. Inflammation plays an important biological role, but it often gets out of hand. Anything that requires the body to maintain constant, ongoing inflammation is forcing the body to harm itself in the long run. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress which in turn reduces your body’s need for an exaggerated inflammatory response 7.
Antioxidants → ↓Oxidative stress = ↓ Inflammation = Happier + Healthier you!
But wait, there's more! Grape polyphenols have been observed to inhibit the formation of inflammatory cytokines (cell signaling molecules that play an important role in the immune system and inflammation)8. While cytokines help in ramping up the immune system which is important when fighting an infection, sometimes too much of a good thing is bad. Think of chronic inflammation or “Cytokine Storm”, which you may have heard recently with Corona virus (COVID-19). This overreaction of the immune system can be dangerous and even deadly.
Found in the Brain
The blood brain barrier (BBB) is a highly selective filter that protects the brain from pathogens amongst many other solutions. Think of it as that really big bouncer at the door; Not just anyone is getting in! So, the fact that grape polyphenols have been found to pass through the BBB is a really big deal! More importantly, these polyphenols were most frequently observed to end up in the hippocampus and cortex which are involved in memory and brain function 9,10. The settling of these antioxidant compounds in these important cognitive regions suggests that they may be providing neuroprotective effects as well as playing a role in memory function 11,12.
Looking at the effects of grape polyphenols in animals, their consumption has been shown to improve behavior 9,10, while on a molecular level an increase in proteins involved in brain development and maintenance were observed 13. On the flip side, scientists saw a decrease in the expression of proteins that are normally observed to be at elevated levels in Alzheimer’s Disease 14. Interesting!!! So far all signs are pointing to grapes and their polyphenols being deliciously powerful ingredients… you see what I did there.
Okay, we aren’t done yet. Let’s take a look at some of our favor beverages. In 2010 a study was done to test the effects grape juice consumption on older individuals (average age 78) with failing memory. Yes, the delicious grape juice you had when you were younger. Anyway, after 12 weeks of consumption it was observed that the group that drank 2-3 glasses of grape juice everyday had improved memory 15. It may be high in sugar, but you might reconsider giving your child more grape juice or even telling grandma to start adding it to her daily regimen.
Vineyard. Sicily, Italy
What about wine? Everyone has heard that a glass… or two of wine to be healthy for you. This notion of wine being healthy became popular in 1986 becoming known as the “French Paradox”, as individuals in France and Sardinia were observed to have increased longevity and lower overall mortality 16. Let’s take a look at the some of the research on wine polyphenols and brain heath. In studies using mice with cognitive deterioration, moderate red wine consumption (a nice Cabernet Sauvignon was used! I wonder if it was a good year?) reduced the rate of cognitive decline 17,18. In other animal models red wine polyphenols showed neuroprotective effects against ethanol damage in the area of the brain involved in memory (Hippocampus) 19. So, I guess if you drink too much red wine you don’t have to worry about not remembering the night? (Please don’t try this theory out!) The Protective mechanism behind the wine polyphenols was looked at further using neuron (brain cell) cultures and it was observed that resveratrol (grape/wine polyphenols) promoted the clearance of plaque (clumps of proteins that can disrupt brain cell communication and cause inflammation) 20. Looking at resveratrol specifically (one of the more famous polyphenols in red wine), its supplementation has been observed to improve memory and cognitive function in health older individuals (50-75 yrs. old) 21 and reduce biomarkers (biological molecules found in blood, tissue or bodily fluids) that are normally seen in with dementia 21, 22.
Powder of proprietary Sicilian grape Extract (Cognigrape®) from BIONAP S.r.L.
Lastly, I would like to talk to you about a proprietary extract made from Sicilian grapes that are rich in grape polyphenols. Besides the high polyphenol concentration in these grapes, what makes this extract so unique is that it is from the juice and skin of the grapes, not the grape seed which you usually hear about. (The skin protects the grape, so that's where the potent stuff is at!). With its high polyphenol content, the cognitive health benefits of the extract have been examined in healthy older individuals over a 12-week period. Compared to the placebo group, the group taking the Sicilian grape extract had significant improvement in several cognitive areas, including memory, attention, and visuo-spatial ability. If that wasn’t good enough, subjects receiving the Sicilian grape extract also experienced an improvement in mood.
Small amounts of this expensive clinically tested extract can occasionally be found in supplements, but I liked it so much that I had to put it in our KINETIQ product. Besides the health benefits, it provides a beautiful red color.
- As we age an increase in inflammation and decrease in blood flow in the brain can lead to a reduction in brain function.
- Grapes contain strong antioxidants (polyphenols).
- These antioxidants can improve cognitive benefits, partially by their ability to reduce inflammation.
- The benefits of grapes can be found in grape juice and, thankfully, wine!
- The “French Paradox”, is a term coined in the 1980s for the health benefits of wine.
- The health benefits from grapes are found in the skin, juice, and seed.
Both healthy and delicious, grapes and grape products can provide some amazing benefits in the short and long term. With that said, by no means am I saying that the ingredients in grapes are the cognitive cure all; what they are is a great addition to a healthy diet that may help keep you sharp and age a little more gracefully.
- Deary I, Corley J, Gow A, Harris S, Houlihan L, Marioni R, Penke L, Rafnsson S, Starr J. 2009. Age-associated Cognitive Decline. British Medical Bulletin. 92:135-152. DOI: 1093/bmb/ldp033
- Shi J, Yu J, Pohorly J, Kakuda Y. 2003. Polyphenolics in Grape Seeds Biochemistry and Functionality. Journal of Medicinal Food. 6(4): 291-299.
- Yokogoshi H, Kobayashi M, Mochizuki M, Terashima T. 1998a. Effect of theanine, r-glutamyethylamide, on brain monoamines and striatal dopamine release in conscious rats. Neurochemistry Research. 23: 667-673.
- Bagchi D, Swaroop A., Preuss H.G, Bagchi M. 2014. Free Radical Scavenging, Antioxidant and Cancer Chemoprevention by Grape Seed Proanthocyanidin: An Overview. Mutation Research – Fundamental and Molecular Mechanism of Mutagensis. 768:69–73.
- Nunes M.A, Pimentel F, Costa A.S, Alves R.C, Oliveira M.B.P. 2016. Cardioprotective properties of grape seed proanthocyanidins: An update. Trends in Food Science and Technology. 57:31–39.
- Middleton E, Jr, Kandaswami C. 1992. Effects of Flavonoids on Immune and Inflammatory Cell Functions. Biochemical Pharmacology 43:1167–1179
- Weseler A, Bast A. 2017. Masquelier’s Grape Seed Extract: From Basic Flavonoid Research to a Well-Characterized Food Supplement with Health Benefits. Nutrition Journal. 16(1):5 DOI: 1186/s12937-016-0218-1
- Li W, Zhang X, Wu Y, Tian X. 2001. Anti-inflammatory effect and mechanism of proanthocyanidins from grape seeds. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica. 22:1117–1120.
- Joseph J, Arendash G, Gordon M, Diamond D, Shukitt-Hale B, Morgan D. 2003. Blueberry supplementation enhances signaling and prevents behavioral deficits in an Alzheimer disease model. Nutritional Neuroscience. 6:153-163.
- Andres-Lacueva C, Shukitt-Hale B, Galli R, Jaurengui O, Lamuela-Raventos R, Joseph J. 2005. Anthocyanins in aged blueberry-fed rats are found centrally and may enhance memory. Nutritional Neuroscience. 8(2):111-120.
- Ishige K, Shubert D, Sagar Y. 2001. Flavonoids protect neuronal cells by three different mechanisms. Free radical Biology & Medicine. 30:433-446.
- Olszanecki R, Gebska A, Kozlovski V, Gryglewski R. 2002. Flavonoids and nitric oxide synthase. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 53(4):571-584.
- Deshane J, Chaves L, Sarikonda K, Isbell S, Wilson L, Kirk M, Grubbs C, Barnes S, Meleth S, Kim H. 2004. Proteomics Analysis of Rat Brain Protein Modulations by Grape Seed Extract. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 52:7872-7883.
- Tsuji T, Shiozaki A, Kohno R, Yoshizato K, Shimohama S. 2002. Proteomic profiling and neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurochemical Research. 27(10): 1245-1253.
- Krikorian R, Nash T, Shidler M, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph J. 2010. Concord grape juice supplementation improves memory function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. British Journal of Nutrition. 103:730-734.
- Renaud S, Gueguen R, Siest G, Salamon R. 1999. Wine, Beer, and Mortality in Middle-Aged Men From Eastern France. Archives of Internal Medicine. 159(16):1865-1870.
- Wang J, Ho L, Zhao Z, Seror I, Humala N, Dicksterin D, Thiyagarajan T, Percival S, Talcott S, Pasinetti G. 2006. Moderate consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon attenuates Abeta neuropathology in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. FASEB J. 20(13):2313–2320
- Ho L, Chen L, Wang J, Zhao W, Talcott S, Ono K, Teplow D, Humala N, Cheng A, Percival S, Ferruzzi M, Janle E, Dickstein D, Pasinetti G. 2009. Heterogeneity in Red Wine Polyphenolic Contents Differentially Influence Alzheimer’s Disease-Type Neuropathology and Cognitive Deterioration. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 16(1):59-72.
- Assuncao M, Freitas V. 2007. Grape seed flavanols, but not port wine, prevent ethanol-induced neuronal lipofuscin formation. Brain Research. 1129(1):72-80.
- Marambaud P, Zhao H, Davies P. 2005. Resveratrol promotes clearance of Alzheimer’s disease amyloid-beta peptides. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 280(45):37377–37382
- Witte A, Kerti L, Marguilies D, Floel A. 2014. Effects of Resveratrol on memory performance, hippocampal functional connectivity, and glucose metabolism in healthy older adults. Journal of Neuroscience. 34(23):7862-7870.
- Turner S, Thomas R, Craft S, Van Dyck C. Mintzer J, Reynolds B, Brewer J, Rissman R, Raman R, Aisen P. 2015. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of resveratrol for Alzheimer Disease. Neurology. 85(16): 1383-1391.
- Moussa C, Hebron M, Huang X, Ahn J, Rissman R, Aisen P, Turner S. 2017. Resveratrol regulates neuro-inflammation and induces adaptive immunity in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neuroinflammation. 14(1):1