The seeds and skins of grapes are exceptionally rich in proanthocyanidins, members of the family of phytochemicals called flavonoids. Proanthocyanidins are particularly powerful antioxidants when they are bound together. In their bound form, they have come to be known as oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes, or OPC’s. A French biochemist patented a process for extracting these compounds from pine bark in 1951, then from grape seeds in 1970.
OPC’s can also be found in lemon tree bark, cranberries, citrus peel and tea, but grape seeds appear to contain the highest concentration. In France, OPC’s from grape seed and pine bark have been marketed for decades for medicinal purposes. In the U.S., grape seed extract ranks among the top 10 best-selling herbs, but pine bark extract and Pycnogenol, a patented extract of OPC’s from the bark of the European coastal pine, are bigger sellers.
What It Might Do: Grape seed extract is used for the treatment of vein and capillary disorders, including varicose veins, capillary fragility, and disorders of the retina, such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. As an antioxidant, it may also protect against heart disease and cancer.
How It Works: OPC’s are potent antioxidants. In a recent laboratory study at Creighton University in Omaha, grape seed extract was found to be a more potent scavenger of free radicals than vitamins C or E. (Free radical damage has been linked to the aging process, as well as to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and arthritis.) OPC’s also purportedly help strengthen collagen by inhibiting the damaging effects of enzymes that degrade this connective tissue.
If You Take: Commercial preparations of grape seed extract are usually standardized to contain 92% to 95% OPC’s. A typical daily dose for general health is 50 to 100 milligrams a day, while a dose to treat illness may be as much as 150 to 300 milligrams daily.
EN Weighs In: OPCs? effects on the body do not seem related to the original source, for example, grapes vs. pine bark. If you decide to supplement with an OPC antioxidant, however, grape seed extract has the advantage of a slightly higher OPC content and a price tag that’s half that of pine bark.
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