A New Wrinkle on an Old Remedy

For many years, naturopaths and health-conscious individuals have recommended the consumption of grape seed extracts. Chemical analyses of grape seeds have provided a treasure trove of active ingredients including resveratrol, anthocyanins, pro-anthocyanins, and numerous terpenes. Many of these substances are potent antioxidants and there is reason to believe that they may have meaningful health benefits.

As one of the editors of the Journal of Medicinal Food, I was asked to review an article on the chemical activities of grape seed extracts. I then wrote an editorial describing the interesting findings in this study and their biological relevance. The most interesting aspect of this well-conducted analysis was the description of a wholly new mechanism of action for the substances found in grape seeds. What the authors found was that the chemical species in grape seed extracts influence gene expression through a process knows as histone acetylation. What makes this so interesting is the fact the histone acetylation is one of the fundamental regulators of genetic expression and a critical part of the new field of science known as epigenetics.

Epigenetics is the field of study that examines heritable attributes that are not incorporated into DNA sequence. These epi-phenomena take existing genes and determine whether or not they will actually be expressed. The reason that this is so important is that it shines a very bright light on the limitations of genomic analyses (studies that examine the DNA sequence in tissues). Clearly, if the consumption of foodstuffs (like grape seed) can alter gene expression then the use of genomic profiles to predict cellular behavior can only be viewed as highly simplistic.

We are continually impressed by the complexity of biology and are humbled when we consider the intersecting pathways that take us from gene to function.

Garlic, Wine and Chocolate – The Effects of Nutrition on Cancer

One of my most popular lectures is titled: Garlic, Wine and Chocolate. Not surprisingly, almost everyone likes to have a medical reason to eat fine food, drink fine wine and eat dessert. As an editor of the Journal of Medicinal Food, our mission is to examine the scientific basis of foods as medicinal substances.

In our inaugural issue in 1998, I authored the lead article on garlic as a medicinal. Garlic contains more than a dozen active chemical substances, many of which have been shown to have antiviral, antibacterial, blood pressure and cholesterol lowering, as well as anti-cancer benefits. We have also published definitive studies on wine and grape extracts, with a focus on resveratrol, proanthocyanins and other polyphenols; as well as an entire issue on chocolate (the extract of cacao), which examined the potent antioxidants and immune modulatory compounds found therein.

With this background, lectures on these topics have been a natural direction for our public education series through our affiliated hospitals and educational institutions. For readers in the Southern California area, you are invited to attend lectures of this type open to the public. Please leave a comment if you are interested in more information or copies of the above-mentioned articles.