O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”
A new study shows that feeding colorectal cancer-stricken mice with grape seed extract (that’s right – grape seeds, not a bottle of the good stuff from the back of the wine cellar, so don’t get any ideas) shrank their tumors by an average of 44%. This will undoubtedly lead to banner headlines in the murine press, but can these results be extrapolated to humans? [Editor's note: the narrator wishes to announce that he does not have any financial ties to the grape seed commodities market, curse the luck.] As always with these new breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer cell lines and rodents, the authors ask the public to remain calm – all is well.
“With these results, we are not suggesting that people run out and buy and use grape seed extract. That could be dangerous since so little is known about doses and side effects,” said Rajesh Agarwal of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.
Who knew that so many natural products had the ability to destroy or prevent the development of malignant tumors? To me this is one of the most exciting avenues of modern laboratory research, not because we are likely to find a miracle cure for cancer growing in the backyard victory garden, but because these natural compounds might be combined with chemotherapy drugs or biological agents to form a superhero team able to wipe out tumors faster than they can figure out how to put up an effective resistance (or obtain a stash of green kryptonite).
For the novice like me the hard part is understanding how we get from point A to point B, if you know what I mean. For example, the mechanism of action of grape seed extract on cancer cells is about as easy to explain as the Nimzo-Indian defense. Just check out this excerpt from a paper discussing how grape seed extract promotes apoptosis in prostate cancer cells:
The internally encoded cell suicide program can be induced by several factors, which then converge to a common biochemical caspase pathway leading to execution of apoptosis. Activation of caspases (a family of cysteine protease) and PARP cleavage are regarded as relevant biomarkers in apoptosis induction. Mitochondria, perhaps key regulators of apoptosis, have shown to be involved in integrating different pro-apoptotic pathways via release of cytochrome c into the cytosol. The released cytochrome c is complexed with Apaf-1 and pro-caspase 9 in a dATP-dependent manner to form the `apoptosome’ from which the release of activated caspase 9 further initiates the activation of caspase cascade leading to biochemical and morphological changes associated with apoptosis. Consistent with these reports, GSE increases cleavage of pro-caspases accompanied with an increase in caspase 3-like and caspase 9 protease activities.
Isn’t science amazing! Why, the little grape seed extract may go down in history as a panacea for humans, if the truth, as suggested by this abstract, ever comes out. Listen to some of the benefits of the seeds:
-cytotoxic to breast, lung and gastric adenocarcinoma cell lines
-enhances growth of healthy gastric cells
-reverses oxidative tissue damage
-protects against hepatic damage from acetominophen overdose
-protects against “myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury and myocardial infarction in rats.” (I wish I knew who the rats bribed to solve all their health woes)
Who would blame me now if I spend my nights sitting by the radio, a cold wind thumping against the windows, a cozy fire popping in the fireplace, waiting for a mellifluous voice to materialize and announce that it is time to rush to the nearest supermarket and pick up a bag of grape seed extract? I only hope I’ll have enough strength left to arise from the chair and walk to my car without collapsing. Wish me luck.