Could grape seed extract be a worthy addition to your mental health arsenal? Read on to find out!
History’s Sexiest Fruit
The small but mighty grape has long been a symbol of youth, beauty, wealth, and sex. Would a Rennassaince painting be complete without bunches of grapes draped artfully over a bowl or body part, or pouring from a feast table? The Hebrew Bible constantly references grapes and vineyards in reference to blessings and wealth, and the Greeks and Romans had a major god dedicated to the fruit (Bacchus/Dionysus). They were a luscious, juicy fruit, with thick, bitter skins and tiny hard seeds.
Now, fallen from their former glory, the antioxidant-rich skins and seeds have been mostly bred out to make them more palatable to the delicate sensitivities of the general public. You find them not on the feast tables of demi-gods (unless we’re talking about Chris Hemsworth, amirite?), but rotting in the back of the crisper drawer or as a half-assed addition to a fruit platter in the grocery store. Let’s be honest, we mostly enjoy them in the fermented form at the end of a stressful day.
However, I’m going to tell you that the part of grapes everyone dislikes the most, the seed, is an incredible source of powerful antioxidants and brain healing compounds that we should definitely stop ignoring.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract, a supplement in pill form, is the extracted polyphenolic compounds and antioxidants found in the grape seed. We’re not talking about grapeseed oil, which is a culinary and cosmetic oil with a different method of extraction and its own set of uses and benefits. Grape seed extract includes OPCs (oligomeric proanthocyanidin compounds) catechins, vitamin E, flavonoids, and polyphenols, all of which are powerful antioxidants. The benefits of these seeds are mainly attributed to these anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.
Inflammation and oxidative stress
Depression, anxiety, ADHD, the aging process, and even symptoms of schizophrenia and autism can be tied to levels of inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Both of those things are going to get their own post in the near future, but I’ll give a quick overview:
Inflammation, which gets a bad rap, is actually your body trying to protect itself from something harmful in your body. However, when we have chronic, low-grade inflammation, we start experiencing negative symptoms like pain and depression. Oxidative stress is essentially what happens when you have too many free radicals roaming around your body damaging cells, and not enough antioxidants to neutralize them.
There is a huge need for more treatments for inflammation and oxidative stress-induced mental and physical illnesses that are cheap, widely available, and don’t have terrible side effects. As you will find out, grape seed extract is another great option to add to the arsenal!
Cognitive Benefits of Grape Seed Extract
While a lot of the reported benefits of taking grape seed extract for mental focus are anecdotal, the actual studies that have been done have been overwhelmingly positive. The main benefits of grape seed extract have to do with enhancing cognitive function by encouraging brain cell growth in the hippocampus and protecting against neurodegenerative diseases.
Memory and Focus
The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and behavioral inhibition. According to this study, grape seed extract has been shown to increase brain cell growth and plasticity in this area of the brain in particular. In this one, grape seed extract protected the hippocampus from trauma induced oxidative stress. This could explain why taking a grape seed extract supplement has been known anecdotally in alternative medicine circles to improve ADHD. In a preliminary study, the OPCs found in grape seed extract and pine bark were actually just as effective as Ritalin in treating ADHD, but without any side effects at all.
Protection against neurodegeneration
Another major benefit of grape seed extract is it’s amazing ability to protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. According to several high-quality studies (read them here, here, and here) the antioxidant compounds in grape seed extract interfered with both the aggregation of harmful proteins and the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, both of which are major hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-associated neurodegenerative diseases. The studies all concluded that taking grape seed extract would be a viable option as part of a treatment plan for patients with these diseases, and as a preventative measure.
Prevention of Cognitive Impairment
Grape seed extract has also been shown to protect the brain against trauma. In this study, “grape seed polyphenol extract may reverse the hippocampal dysfunction induced by chronic seizures, by reducing oxidative stress and preserving mitochondrial function.” In another, it was shown to have neuroprotective effects by inhibiting DNA damage in the brain.
Improved blood flow
When your brain has good blood flow, more nutrients can be delivered, waste products can be cleared out more efficiently, and you feel better and think more clearly. This is part of the reason exercise is so great for your mental health. Grape seed extract actually helps improve blood flow and increases nitric oxide production, which according to Livestrong.com “acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and is especially important in learning and memory tasks that take place specifically in the hypothalamus.” It seems to act as a vasodilator, which means that it opens up your blood vessels allowing for more blood flow. So, not only does it help your brain function, but it helps improve your athletic abilities, blood pressure, and sexual performance (And according to the studies cited in this article, grape seed extract even helps boost testosterone levels). No wonder grapes are the most romantic fruit!
The potent antioxidants in both grape seed extract and the skin of the grape (the resveratrol and quercetin in red wine are the most well-known antioxidants found in grapes) are great anti-aging compounds, and have positive effects on the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure and improving the LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio. The OPCs and other antioxidants reduce free radical damage and the catechins help reduce histamine in the body. Grape seed extract also has reported benefits for hair growth, wrinkle reduction, and vision improvement.
No supplement is a cure-all for the ills we face in this life. However, there are things we can add to our toolkit that have a significant positive impact, are easy for anyone to get, and don’t have any side effects. Grape seed extract appears to be one of them! However, before you go out and start taking it, you should know how to get the most bang for your buck.
According to the research, you should take grape seed extract every day on an empty stomach with vitamin C. The antioxidants in the seeds and the vitamin C have a synergistic effect on each other, rendering each more effective. This is the brand that I use, and I take it in the morning either with elderberry syrup or this vitamin C.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the cool things grape seed extract can do for you! When you consider the synergistic effect of the antioxidants and polyphenols in the skin, fruit, and seeds of the grape, it’s no shocker that they have been such a prized fruit throughout history. Currently on my bucket list is trying to find grapes that closest resemble the ancient version depicted in classical art and literature. I suppose that involves another trip to Europe!
If you’ve had a great experience with grape seed extract or eating delicious seeded grapes, I would love to hear from you! And don’t forget to subscribe!