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Can You Prevent Dementia With Grape Seed Extract?

Rodent research shows that grape seed extract can slow cognitive decline and the development of dementia. How well will it work for humans?
Can You Prevent Dementia With Grape Seed Extract?
Grape seed oil in a small bottle. Selective focus. nature.

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.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Abhijit S et al, "Grape seed proanthocyanidin and swimming exercise protects against cognitive decline: A study on M1 acetylcholine receptors in aging male rat brain." Neurochemical Research, Dec. 2017. DOI: 10.1007/s11064-017-2406-6
  • Ardid-Ruiz A et al, "The effects of Vitis Vinifera L. phenolic compounds on a blood-brain barrier culture model: Expression of leptin receptors and protection against cytokine-induced damage." Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jan. 30, 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2019.112253
  • Liu P et al, "Grape seed polyphenolic extract specifically decreases Aβ*56 in the brains of Tg2576 mice." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, Oct. 4, 2011. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-2011-110383
  • Azam S et al, "Regulation of Toll-Like Receptor (TLR) Signaling Pathway by Polyphenols in the Treatment of Age-Linked Neurodegenerative Diseases: Focus on TLR4 Signaling." Frontiers in Immunology, May 10, 2019. DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.01000
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