New research suggests that snacking on grapes might combat the effects of consuming a junk food diet—flushing out the refined fats and sugars of processed food.
Eating the grapes led to “unique gene expression patterns, reduced fatty liver, and extension of lifespan” for animals consuming the high-fat diet, said Dr. John Pezzuto who led the team at Western New England University.
Pezzuto, who has authored over 600 studies, called it “truly remarkable.”
“It adds an entirely new dimension to the old saying ‘you are what you eat.’”
In a series of experiments, mice gorged on a high fat diet, similar to those consumed in western countries.
They also received over a cup of daily powdered grape supplement. These lab rodents had less fatty liver—and lived longer than those who didn’t.
The effect was an alteration of gene expression. As shown in this paper, fatty liver—which affects around 25% of humans and can eventually lead to liver cancer—is prevented or delayed. The genes responsible for the development of fatty liver were altered in a beneficial way by feeding grapes.
In addition to genes related to fatty liver, the researchers found increased levels of antioxidant genes after the grape-supplemented diets.
“Many people think about taking dietary supplements that boast high antioxidant activity,” explained Pezzuto. “In actual fact, though, you cannot consume enough of an antioxidant to make a big difference. But if you change the level of antioxidant gene expression, as we observed with grapes added to the diet, the result is a catalytic response that can make a real difference.”
Precisely how this relates to humans remains to be seen, but it is clear that the grapes actually change the expression of genes—in more places than the liver, too, explained the professor of pharmaceutics.
In a separate study recently published in the journal Antioxidants by Pezzuto and his team, it was found that grape consumption alters gene expression in the brain. It also had positive effects on behavior and cognition that were impaired by a high-fat diet, suggesting the alteration of gene expression produced this beneficial response.
More studies are required, but it is notable that a team led by Silverman at UCLA reported that the daily administration of grapes had a protective effect on brain metabolism. It now may be suggested this is due to alteration of gene expression.
Although it is not an exact science to translate years of lifespan from a mouse to a human, Pezzuto’s best estimate is the change observed in the study would correspond to an additional 4-5 years in the life of a junk-food-eating human.
“These data illustrate the extraordinary influence of nutrigenomics, a burgeoning field of investigation that will augment our appreciation of diet and health.”
The research, which was partly funded by the California Table Grape Commission, was published in the journal Foods.