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Could grape seed extract hold the key to longevity?

A new study has shown promising results for treating a common cause of aging with grape seed extract. Researchers studied natural products with anti-aging claims, looking for evidence they worked. A polyphenolic component of grape seed extract known as procyanidin C1 (PCC1) produced some promising results.

What signs of aging were the researchers studying?

grape and grape seed

Researchers at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai focused on cellular senescence. This is the stage of a cell lifecycle when it stops replicating, but it isn’t dead. Our cells have a natural lifecycle and when one cell is worn out, it divides to create a new one. Senescent cells stop doing this, but because they’re still living, our bodies don’t remove them. They hang around not functioning properly, and prevent healthier cells from taking their place.

Senescence is incurable, and just one senescent cell can send out signals to surrounding cells to also enter senescence. This often leads to visible signs of aging such as wrinkles.

Other studies have found that removing senescent cells can make tissues healthier and extend longevity. This suggests that cellular senescence isn’t just a symptom of aging. It could actually be what triggers the aging process.

What does grape seed extract do for longevity?

scientist using microscope

Scientists treated senescent cells with the compound procyanidin C1 (PCC1), which comes from grape seed extract. They discovered that when PCC1 is applied in low concentrations, it stops cells from sending out signals to other cells. This signal is called the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). It’s what triggers other cells to enter senescence as well.

That means using just a small amount of PCC1 from grape seed extract can stop one senescence cell from becoming a whole cluster. This keeps the surrounding tissues healthier, delaying signs of aging.

When PCC1 is used in high concentrations, the results were even more exciting. It actively killed the senescent cells — and only the senescent cells. This means it doesn’t hurt active cells. And with the senescent cells gone, healthier cells can take their place.

How exactly PCC1 works on our cells is still unclear. The researchers believe it’s likely that PCC1 increases the number of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in those cells. These oxidants are very damaging for cells. In high enough numbers, they can cause mitochondrial dysfunction. Because cells need mitochondria to provide the energy they need to live, this starves the cells and they die.

How can grape seed extract help us to live longer?

chemotherapy treatment

Researchers studied the effects of PCC1 in rodents. They confirmed that PCC1 can kill senescent cells around tumors. This is especially important because the signal that senescent cells send out can promote tumor growth.

That might seem strange, because cellular senescence is one of the body’s ways of preventing tumors. When a cell becomes old or damaged, it can mutate and become cancerous. Senescence is a way of hitting the pause button on this process, stopping a cell from mutating. 

However, the SASP signal that senescent cells send out promotes inflammation in the surrounding area. This inflammation leads to the release of growth factors that make tumors spread faster. Immune cells flooding to the area to clean up the damage can also make this situation worse. They leave behind more resistant tumor cells that become harder to treat.

In the rodent studies, researchers found that PCC1 reduces the number of senescent cells around tumors. This means that the tumors can’t grow stronger using the SASP signal. PCC1 can also make chemotherapy more effective. They found that administering PCC1 alongside chemotherapy can “alleviate physical dysfunction and prolong survival.”

What does this mean for us?

old age couple embracing

Human studies are still a long way off, but this promising early research suggests that a component of grape seed extract has real benefits for combating cellular senescence and improving cancer outcomes. On average, the PCC1 treatment prolonged the lives of mice by 9%.

Healthy mice that were given a regular dose of PCC1 were also faster, stronger, and had better endurance than mice in a control group. Finally, mice implanted with cells from human prostate tumors and treated with PCC1 responded better to treatment than those given chemotherapy alone. And because PCC1 doesn’t seem to affect healthy cells, it could be an exciting new therapy for treating cancer and extending longevity.

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