Long before the first Europeans stepped off the ship, Native Americans were making dumplings, raisins, drinks and poultices with the large, sweet bunches of grapes called “Cherokee muscadines.” In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano (a Florentine navigator who explored the Cape Fear River valley for France) first spotted muscadines in North Carolina. He wrote in his logbook that he saw “many vines growing naturally there.” Also known as “scuppernong,” muscadines are bronze or a purple black color and tend to be larger, stronger and have thicker skins than traditional grapes.
Found in Southeastern states from Texas to Georgia and up to North Carolina, muscadine grapes appear in all types of local recipes. Growing up outside Dallas, I remember eating muscadine jam and jelly and drinking muscadine juice many times as a young boy. But jams and jellies and juices don’t really offer the full health benefits of the muscadine grape, since it turns out that the juice and seeds and skin and pulp all have various health benefits. This being so, it’s really prudent to have eat the entire grape (including seeds) or take a supplement that utilizes the entire muscadine (skin, pulp, seeds, and juice).
Here’s something very interesting. Normal grapes have 19 pairs of chromosomes, but muscadines actually have an extra pair of chromosomes! That’s right…they have 20 pairs! While the fact that muscadines have more chromosomes makes for some interesting trivia, the real excitement comes from the change in phytochemicals and nutrients that those extra chromosomes facilitate. Muscadine grapes flourish in climates that would kill most European grapes, and as a result, they are chock full of more nutrients and antioxidants than any other grape. So, the old maxim, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” also applies to muscadines.
But that’s not all. Muscadines are unique in that they have a different phytochemical makeup than all other grapes. In addition to having 20 pairs of chromosomes (rather than 19), muscadines also have 6x the resveratrol content of typical red grapes. I’ve written a bunch about resveratrol, which belongs to a group of components called “phytoalexins.” Phytoalexins are produced by some plants to help protect it from attacks from bacteria, fungi, insects, harsh weather, and other types of environmental stress. Resveratrol is, in effect, a natural antibiotic that plants produce to help protect from infections. Real quick, just to define some terms, plants contain a broad class of “good stuff” that is referred to as “polyphenols” (there are over 10,000 different polyphenols in the plant kingdom). “Flavonoids” are actually a large group of components underneath the polyphenol class, while “proanthocyanidins” and “anthocyanins” and “phytoalexins” fall under the flavonoid group. OK, so back to muscadines. They also have 40x the antioxidants of red grapes and contain extremely high levels of quercetin (a healthy flavonoid) and more dietary fiber than oat bran or rice.
If you search PubMed.gov, you’ll see that there have been over 2,500 studies on red wine, over 800 studies on grape seeds, and over 600 studies on red grapes. Red wine and red grapes are incredibly healthy and the studies on heart health and longevity have been nothing short of amazing. But muscadines actually take all the health benefits of the red grape and “kick it up a notch.”
Another fascinating facet of muscadines is that they are the *ONLY* grape that contains ellagic acid, which has been the focus of a plethora of studies due to its anti-cancer and tumor fighting properties. Ellagic acid may assist in “chemoprevention” (i.e. preventing cancer). There is great interest in chemoprevention (not to be confused with chemotherapy) because it may be the best way to fight cancer: prevent it from growing before it reaches a level that causes problems.
On September 1, 2007 the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) published the results of their study on muscadine grape skins in the Cancer Research Journal. Rather than us telling you what the study found, let’s look at some direct quotes from the study. http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/aug2007/nci-31.htm
** “Laboratory experiments show that an extract of the skin of muscadine grapes can inhibit growth of prostate cancer cells in the laboratory.”
** “Using a series of human prostate cancer cells, representing different stages of prostate cancer progression, the researchers showed that Muscadine Skin Extract (MSKE) significantly inhibits the growth of cancerous, but not normal, prostate cells, primarily by inducing a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death.”
** “The fact that all of the cells studied, which cover the different stages of prostate cancer tumor progression, responded to MSKE suggests that the active compounds in this extract may inhibit tumor development at very early stages.”
** “Although MSKE has significant inhibitory effects on the prostate cancer cell lines, it did not alter the growth variables of normal human primary prostate cells. This strongly suggests that the effects of MSKE may be specific for transformed cells, even at early stages, and that MSKE may be potentially very useful as a chemopreventive agent.”
The above NIH Study shows that the ellagic acid in muscadines can inhibit the growth of cancer cells by inducing programmed cell death and resveratrol works by blocking the cell cycle. Both are important mechanisms to prevent the development of cancer. Muscadine grapes provide all the health benefits that have been associated with red wine and grapes… PLUS all the benefits that come from the ellagic acid!
The muscadine supplement that I endorse is called Nature’s Pearl and can be found HERE.