Nutrient - Proanthocyanidin protection
We talk about them, we read about them, we eat them (hopefully!), but what are they? Read on…
Proanthocyanidins are a type of antioxidant, classed as flavonoids. They are also referred to as oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) or proanthocyanidolic oligomers (PCOs). These long-winded names basically refer to the fact that they have a long structure and are made up of many molecules.
The richest food sources of proanthocyanidins include cinnamon, red grapes, cocoa, hazelnuts, whole cranberries and Red Delicious apples. The highest concentration is found in the skin and seeds, so cranberry juice has a very low proanthocyanidin content. Similarly red wine, which is made with the whole grape, has a higher concentration of proanthocyanidins. This is one of the reasons why people talk about red wine being beneficial to health, due to its high antioxidant content. Plants like the maritime pine also have very high concentrations of proanthocyanidins but it is grape seed extract that has the highest content.
Antioxidants are becoming well known compounds, due to their potent protective actions on the body. Antioxidants have the ability to quench damaging free radicals that are released by the body during times of stress and during exercise. The environments we live and work in also contribute free radicals. These cause damage to body cells and have been linked to heart disease, cancer, premature ageing and other chronic conditions.
Proanthocyanidins have been shown to be far more protective than some of the more well known antioxidants. Studies show that their antioxidant capabilities are 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than vitamin E, so they certainly pack a punch!1.
Their powerful effects can be useful in many areas of the body, including the cardiovascular system. Proanthocyanidins have been shown to lower blood pressure by suppressing a protein, called endothelin-1, which is responsible for constricting blood vessels2. There is also evidence to show that they assist in keeping blood fluid and reduce the risk of blood clot formation3. They also support healthy blood vessel walls and may assist in capillary strength and peripheral circulation4. Proanthocyanidins play such a significant role in cardiovascular health that they are thought to be involved in the “French paradox”. The French have a love of red meats, cheeses and red wine. Although high fat diets have been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, the French seem to have a lower risk of developing a cardiovascular problem. This has been, for many years, attributed to the inclusion of red wine with a meal. Evidence now shows that the proanthocyanidin content, alongside other phenol compounds, is responsible for the lower risk5.
Proanthocyanidins may assist in reducing the breakdown of joint tissues and may also offer protection and support for joint tissues. The enzymes elastase and collagenase have been shown to be inhibited by proanthocyanidins6. These enzymes are responsible for the breakdown of connective tissues rich in elastin and collagen, such as cartilage and tendons in joints.
For those who participate in sports regularly, be that either competitively or just for pleasure, additional proanthocyanidins may not only offer protection of joint tissues but also cardiovascular support. Peripheral circulation and blood flow maintenance are both important for performance as blood carries vital oxygen and nutrients.
Proanthocyanidins are rapidly absorbed into virtually all tissues, including the brain, and seem to concentrate in tissues high in glycosaminoglycans, including connective tissue in the skin7. Skin is subject to damage through ultra-violet light, environmental toxins and chemicals. Proanthocyanidins may offer protection against premature breakdown of skin and help us to keep a healthy, youthful glow. They may also offer protection for the gut lining, as the gastro-intestinal system is made up of many layers of connective tissues and may be viewed as an extension of the skin.
Some more recent research shows interesting results in cancer and that proanthocyanidins may have an impact on tumour activity. A study performed on highly metastatic breast cancer cells concluded that grape seed extract, rich in proanthocyanidins, may increase tumour cell death and reduce the spread of tumour cells8. Further research is required in human trials but preliminary evidence is encouraging.
Proanthocyanidins have widespread potent actions throughout the whole body and are certainly compounds that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ensuring your diet contains proanthocyanidin-rich foods, as well as taking an appropriate supplement, is highly recommended and, given all the evidence, it begs the question “What am I waiting for?”
1. Shi, J; Yu, J; Pohorly, JE; Kakuda, Y. Polyphenolics in Grape Seeds Biochemistry and Functionality. Journal of Medicinal Food 2003;6 (4): 291–9. doi:10.1089/109662003772519831. PMID 14977436.
2. Corder, R; Mullen, W; Khan, NQ; Marks, SC; Wood, EG; Carrier, MJ; Crozier, A. Oenology: Red wine procyanidins and vascular health". Nature. 2006;444 (7119): 566. doi:10.1038/444566a. PMID 17136085.
3. Murphy, KJ; Chronopoulos, AK; Singh, I; Francis, MA; Moriarty, H; Pike, MJ et al. Dietary flavanols and procyanidin oligomers from cocoa (Theobroma cacao) inhibit platelet function. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003; June 77 (6): 1466–73.
4. Anne Marie Fine (2000) “Oligomeric Proanthocyanidin Complexes: History, Structure, and Phytopharmaceutical Applications. 2000; Altern Med Rev 5(2):144-151.
5. Corder, R; Mullen, W; Khan, NQ; Marks, SC; Wood, EG; Carrier, M.J; Crozier, A. Oenology: Red wine procyanidins and vascular health. Nature 2006; 444 (7119): 566. doi:10.1038/444566a. PMID 17136085.
6. Bombardelli E, Morazzoni P, Carini M, et al. Biological activity of procyanidins from Vitis vinifera L. BioFactors. 1997; 6:429-431.
7. Masquelier, Jack, Pycnogenols: Recent Advances in the Therapeutical Activity of Procyanidins, Natural Products as Medicinal Agents, Beal, JL and Reinhard, E, Eds., Supplement of Plant Medica, Journal of Medicinal Plant Research and Journal of Natural Products, LLoydia, July 1980, 243-55.
8. Mantenal SK, Baliga1, MS and Katiyar, SK. Grape Seed Proanthocyanidins Induce Apoptosis and Inhibit Metastasis of Highly Metastatic Breast Carcinoma Cells. Carcinogenesis. 2006; 27(8):1682–1691.