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Posted: November 04, 2008

Grapes Might Help Manage Blood Pressure, Improve Heart Health

Could the fruit of the vine help fight high blood pressure related to a salty diet? And could eating grapes calm other factors that are also related to heart diseases such as heart failure? A new study conducted by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center suggests the answer to both questions is yes.

The study, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, gives tantalizing clues to the potential of grapes in reducing cardiovascular risk. The effect is thought to be due to the high level of phytochemicals -- naturally occurring antioxidants -- which grapes contain.

 

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The study was performed in laboratory rats. The researchers noted that while these study results are extremely encouraging, more research needs to be done.

 

The researchers studied the effect of regular table grapes -- a blend of green, red, and black grapes -- that were mixed into the rat diet in a powdered form, as part of either a high- or low-salt diet. They performed many comparisons between the rats consuming the test diet and the control rats receiving no grape powder -- including some that received a mild dose of a common blood-pressure drug. All the rats were from a research breed that develops high blood pressure when fed a salty diet.

 

After 18 weeks, the rats that received the grape-enriched diet powder had lower blood pressure, better heart function, reduced inflammation throughout their bodies, and fewer signs of heart muscle damage than the rats that ate the same salty diet but didn't receive grapes. The rats that received the blood-pressure medicine, hydrazine, along with a salty diet also had lower blood pressure, but their hearts were not protected from damage as they were in the grape-fed group.

 

"These findings support our theory that something within the grapes themselves has a direct impact on cardiovascular risk, beyond the simple blood pressure-lowering impact that we already know can come from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables," said Mitchell Seymour, M.S., who led the research as part of his doctoral work in nutrition science at Michigan State University.

 

Seymour now manages the UM Cardioprotection Research Laboratory, which is headed by UM heart surgeon Dr. Steven Bolling. Bolling, who is a professor of cardiac surgery at the UM Medical School, notes that the animals in the study were in a similar situation to millions of Americans, who have high blood pressure related to diet, and who develop heart failure over time because of prolonged hypertension.

 

"The inevitable downhill sequence to hypertension and heart failure was changed by the addition of grape powder to a high-salt diet," Bolling said. "Although there are many natural compounds in the grape powder itself that may have an effect, the things that we think are having an effect against the hypertension may be the flavanoids -- either by direct antioxidant effects, by indirect effects on cell function, or both. These flavanoids are rich in all parts of the grape -- skin, flesh and seed, all of which were in our powder."

 

Such naturally occurring chemicals have already been shown in other research to reduce other potentially harmful molecular and cellular activity in the body.

 

It's worth noting that the study was supported, in part, by the California Table Grape Commission, but the authors insist the commission played no role in the study's design, conduct, analysis or the preparation of the journal article for publication. Seymour also receives funding from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, through a National Research Service Award.

 

"Though it's true that your mom told you to eat all your fruits and your vegetables, and that we are learning a lot about what fruits, including grapes, can do in this particular model of hypertension and heart failure, we would not directly tell patients to throw all their pills away and just eat grapes," said Bolling.

 

However, research on grapes and other fruits containing high levels of antioxidant phytochemicals continues to show promise. So does research on the impact of red wine on heart health, though that issue is also far from settled, he said.

 

(Article courtesy of ConsumerAffairs.com)

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