The three top health worries are heart disease, cancer and dementia. Heart disease and cancer are certainly worrisome, but let’s focus for now on dementia. We have written about the possibility that common medicines might contribute to your chance of developing dementia. On the other hand, there is evidence that exercise may be helpful to ward off cognitive decline. Many people take supplements with the goal of preventing confusion and memory loss. However, scientists have not produced good evidence supporting a number of supplements, and the FDA has warned companies not to make unfounded claims. Still, some substances may help us stay sharp. Might grape seed extract be useful?
Could a Supplement Help Memory?
Q. I have been taking grape seed extract for about five years to improve memory and stave off dementia. As you might suspect, there is limited research on this supplement, but it seems to be helping me. I am now 80 and doing well. I found a study on rats in a maze, and the results were impressive. Do you have anything further on this product?
A. We too found quite a bit of research on grape seed extract improving cognitive function in rodents. Exercise (swimming, which they may not like) and grape seed proanthocyanidin supplements improved working memory in middle-aged rats (Neurochemical Research, Dec. 2017). Both treatments increase the effectiveness of the brain chemical acetylcholine. Cell culture research shows that grape-derived compounds have protective anti-inflammatory activity in the brain (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jan. 30, 2020).
Previous Research on Grape Seed Extract Suggested Benefits:
These are not the first studies to point to the possibility that the proanthocyanidin compounds in grape seeds might benefit the brain. Some years ago, scientists studied these compounds in mice genetically engineered to develop brain pathology like Alzheimer disease (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Oct. 4, 2011). They found that the mice who received grape-derived polyphenols were less likely to accumulate beta amyloid, a substance linked to Alzheimer disease.
Apparently, grape seed extract dampens inflammation in the brain. The compounds it contains also activate signaling through toll-like receptors (TLR), which seems to have protective power (Frontiers in Immunology, May 10, 2019). We’d love to see a clinical trial in humans, but we haven’t found such research yet.