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Grape Compound Scores High for Lower Lipids

By Luis Pons
August 23, 2004

A grape compound called pterostilbene, already shown to have cancer-fighting properties, may be as effective as a widely used synthetic drug in reducing lipids.

Those are the findings of a study conducted on rat liver cells by Agricultural Research Service chemist Agnes Rimando and colleagues Rangaswamy Nagmani and Dennis R. Feller of the University of Mississippi's School of Pharmacy. Rimando presented her findings today as part of the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.

Lipids, along with proteins and carbohydrates, are vital components of living cells. Compounds considered lipids include fats, oils, fatty acids, triglycerides and steroids-- including cholesterol. Lipid-lowering compounds can help people battle heart disease and alleviate some of the health problems associated with obesity.

The study, led by Rimando at the ARS Natural Products Utilization Research Unit in Oxford, Miss., found that the lipid-lowering property of pterostilbene (pronounced TAIR-oh- STILL-bean) is superior to that of resveratrol and rivals that of the commercial hypolipidemic drug ciprofibrate.

Pterostilbene is similar in chemical structure to resveratrol, another grape compound credited with helping fight illnesses including cancer and heart disease.

The study [view technical abstract] was novel in that it demonstrated, at the cellular and molecular levels, how resveratrol and similar compounds activate a biological receptor that regulates fatty acid metabolism and plasma lipoproteins, and thus may help treat heart disease caused by plaque deposition in arteries.

The focus of the study was the compounds' ability to spur activation of the "peroxisome proliferator activated receptor alpha" (PPARa), which leads to reductions in blood triglyceride levels. In this, resveratrol--which is known to have hypolipidemic properties--did not match the performance of pterostilbene, which was as effective as ciprofibrate in activating PPARa.

Rimando and other colleagues recently completed a separate study in which, for the first time, pterostilbene was detected in some berries of Vaccinium, a genus of shrubs that includes cranberries, blueberries, lingonberries, bilberries and huckleberries.