Muscadine grapes don’t get much respect from the winemaking community. They’re often overlooked for winemaking outside of the southeastern United States, thanks to naturally low sugar levels, thick skins and musky flavors. But recent scientific study has proven muscadines could be something of a superfood for health-conscious consumers.
Muscadine grapes are abundant in polyphenols at the forefront of pharmaceutical and nutritional research, such as quercetin, ellagic acid and resveratrol. With one of the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit, this grape may finally be getting its moment in the sun.
“The muscadine grape has been found to have a unique polyphenolic profile in comparison to other red wine varieties,” wrote Dr. Lindsay Christman, in a recently published study that investigated the potential of ellagic acid in muscadine grapes to affect skin health in women between the ages of 40 to 67. Christman and her team gave two groups of patients either de-alcoholized muscadine wine or a placebo beverage over the course of six weeks while tracking their skin conditions.
Participants were instructed to imbibe two glasses a day of their assigned liquid. The researchers tracked markers for inflammation and oxidative stress, then analyzed the data to look at potential effects of muscadine polyphenols on skin aging and elasticity.
The study did find a decrease in oxidative stress within the skin cells of the women studied and better elasticity among those who consumed the muscadine wine. And while the sample size was small, rendering the results inconclusive, the limited evidence does strengthen recent research suggesting that the ellagic acid compounds available in concentrated extracts from the muscadine grape can have significantly positive effects on a molecular level in the body.
Muscadine, aka Vitis rotundifolia, is a different species than the Vitis vinifera varieties typically used in winemaking. Native to the southeastern United States and found from New Jersey to Texas, Muscadine varieties come in white and red shades, and can be used to make wine, jams and other foods. It’s naturally resistant to phylloxera and other pests native to North America, but it can be challenging to make wine with. However, it is high in levels of certain polyphenols, particularly ellagic acid.
Scientists have found an increasing number of therapeutic properties of ellagic acid. Researchers have begun Phase 1 trials for cancer treatments in several studies with concentrated extracts called MGE (muscadine grape extract) and MSKE (muscadine grape skin extract). The scientists are specifically looking at the ability of MGE to help increase physical wellbeing in triple-negative late-stage metastatic breast cancer patients, as well as the potential for MSKE to target cancer cell-cycle proliferation in patients with prostate cancer.
Both studies so far show positive progress, with scientists becoming increasingly interested in studying the anticancer actions of muscadine grape extracts. So while bottles of Muscadine may not be taking over wine lists anytime soon, the unique properties of this grape could be key to solving medical mysteries in the future.