A Handful of Grapes Could Help Fight Diabetes Complications

According to an article in ScienceDaily, a compound found in grape skin can protect blood vessels from the cellular damage that occurs when blood sugar levels are elevated. Resveratrol, the ingredient that makes red wine heart-healthy, stops the damage by actually helping the cells form protective enzymes. These enzymes can stop the production of toxic free radicals.

When diabetics have high blood sugar levels over time, this hyperglycemia can cause complications by hurting mitochondria, the small power plants in cells that generate energy. Once damaged, they produce free radicals and leak electrons. In a diabetic, this scenario can cause not just heart disease, but kidney disease and retinopathy (which can cause blindness of not treated.)  Resveratrol appears to stop the damage.

Peninsula Medical School Institute of Biomedical and Clinical Science principal investigator and senior lecturer Dr. Matt Whiteman told ScienceDaily that ""Resveratrol's antioxidant effects in the test tube are well documented.  But our research shows the link between high levels of glucose, its damaging effect on cell structure, and the ability of resveratrol to protect against and mend that damage."

Complications from diabetes frequently are vascular in nature, explains Susan Kasik-Miller, MS, RD, of Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  

"Plaque builds up in the arterial wall, and free radicals cause inflammation in the arteries. There is a loss of elasticity in the blood vessels which is very damaging. But resveratrol appears to decrease the free radicals. Preliminary findings show that the resveratrol reduces inflammation and makes the arteries more elastic."

Where to find resveratrol:

  • Grape skins are a rich source, but you'll also get resveratrol by consuming grape juice, Kasik-Miller explains.

  • Besides being present in grape skins, resveratrol is contained in peanuts, seeds and in red wine, according to Kasik-Miller.

  • While it's unclear just how much resveratrol you need to reap the health benefits, Kasik-Miller says it's best to get it from foods and not from pills. "Make grapes a part of your diet," she advises. "Like other fruit, grapes are part of a healthy diet and you should be focusing on eating not just more of grapes but more of fruits and vegetables in general."

  • When shopping for grapes, always look for plump, full-colored fruit. Dark grapes should have a deep color with no tinges of green and green grapes are at their best when they have a slightly pale yellow color.

  • Store grapes in the refrigerator for up to a week. For the best flavor, remove from the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to serve them. Some people like to freeze grapes and eat them like candy. Consider grapes a sweet reward at the end of the meal—in addition to a heart-healthy part of your diet.