Some 20 years ago it was noted that the French had a lower incidence of coronary heart disease in spite of eating a diet relatively rich in saturated fats.
At that time it was speculated that their consumption of red wine was what had lowered the risk of heart disease. It has been reported that when this news got out in the U.S. the consumption of red wine increased by 44 percent.
Because of the presumed benefits of red wine in protecting against heart disease and concerns about promoting alcohol consumption some scientists have felt it necessary to study the potential benefits of using purple grape juice.
This article will look at a number of studies showing various benefits from the use of grape juice.
In 1999 it was reported purple grape juice was given to 15 patients who had been proven to have heart disease. The juice improved the dilatation of the brachial artery and reduced the oxidation of LDL -- the bad kind of cholesterol. (Circulation 1999)
In 2001 it was reported purple grape juice cut down on the aggregation or clumping of platelets, enhanced the production of nitrous oxide, and decreased the production of superoxide. These are all positive benefits for people with heart disease and could even help to prevent the development of heart disease. (Circulation 2001)
Another study reported in 2002 had similar results. (Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology)
It should be noted that in the 2001 and the 2002 studies with grape juice they reported decreased aggregation of clumping of platelets which is a good thing. There was no mention of any of the subjects being on aspirin to prevent clumping of platelets.
However in a 2004 study the juice was given to people who were already on aspirin. No significant change was seen in the platelet clumping. But platelet-dependent inflammatory markers significantly decreased and the HDL -- the good cholesterol -- significantly increased. (Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 2004)
Two other later studies identified other advantages for purple grape juice. In 12 older adults with mild memory decline but no dementia there was significant improvement in verbal learning. (British Journal of Nutrition 2010)
In the final study of juice to be considered there were 85 healthy middle-aged persons involved. They were given either purple grape juice or placebo for nine weeks. Those on the juice showed significant improvement in their immune function.
Over the years there have been many studies done on red wine. In the journal Coronary Artery Disease 2004 a study was reported in which 15 men with proven heart disease were given either red wine or red wine with the alcohol removed on two different days.
The red wine with the alcohol removed had a beneficial effect on arteries whereas the red wine itself had a harmful effect.
Another study done in 2010 and reported in Seminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis advised that in spite of all the studies that have been done supposedly showing the benefits of drinking red wine to benefit the heart, the evidence has not been good enough to advise people who prefer not to drink alcohol to start doing it.
In conclusion it has been shown that the daily use of purple grape juice gives as good protection as does red wine without the adverse potentials of drinking alcohol. And that there are other benefits from the grape juice besides the protection from heart disease.
The one question that no one has clearly answered is whether grape juice can be substituted for aspirin. I can only say that personally I have chosen to not use aspirin but only grape juice daily. However I cannot advise you to do this.
A note on Alzheimer's research
In last week's column, the role of diet in affecting the risk of Alzheimer's disease was discussed.
The column included mention of a study of people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment which has been considered an early symptom of the onset of Alzheimer's.
You may not have heard of amnestic mild cognitive impairment except by its acronym, however, which is aMCI.
Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 2 1/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.