Grape seed from the University of Maryland Medical Center
The medicinal and nutritional value of grapes (Vitis vinifera) has been heralded for thousands of years. Egyptians consumed this fruit at least 6,000 years ago, and several ancient Greek philosophers praised the healing power of grapes — usually in the form of wine. European folk healers developed an ointment from the sap of grapevines to cure skin and eye diseases. Grape leaves were used to stop bleeding, inflammation, and pain, such as the kind brought on by hemorrhoids. Unripe grapes were used to treat sore throats and dried grapes (raisins) were used to heal consumption, constipation, and thirst. The round, ripe, sweet grapes, were used to treat a range of health problems including cancer, cholera, smallpox, nausea, eye infections, and skin, kidney, and liver diseases.
Seedless varieties were developed to appeal to fickle consumers, but researchers are now discovering that many of the health properties of grapes may actually come from the seeds themselves.
Among other beneficial effects, the active compounds in grape seed are believed to have antioxidant properties. In fact, a recent study of healthy volunteers found that supplementation with grape seed extract substantially increased levels of antioxidants in the blood. Antioxidants are substances that destroy free radicals — damaging compounds in the body that alter cell membranes, tamper with DNA (genetic material), and even cause cell death. Free radicals occur naturally in the body, but environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, smoke, certain prescription and non-prescription drugs, and air pollution) can also increase the number of these damaging particles. Free radicals are believed to contribute to the aging process as well as the development of a number of health problems, including heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants found in grape seeds can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.