Muscadine grape shows promise in fighting cancer

By on March 15, 2012


To some it is an invasive vine that threads its way into fences, shrubs, trees. If you live in the south long enough, you’ll eventually do battle with one of those vines and have the scratches and blood loss to prove it.

To others, it is the sweet fruit that southerners have been using to make wine, juice and jelly for centuries.

One variant of muscadine, the Scuppernong grape, was declared North Carolina’s official state fruit in 2008. Outer Bankers are familiar with the 400-year old “Mother Vine” on Roanoke Island, which continues to produce fruit.

Now, scientists from such prestigious venues as the Wake Forest School of Medicine are eagerly exploring the humble fruit as a potential weapon in the fight against cancer.

Thus, its only fitting that the largest producer of muscadine dietary supplements, Nature’s Pearl, is headquartered in North Carolina and using our universities and research facilities to further test the medical efficacy of muscadine-based products in both human and animal trials.

So, while muscadine does not fall into the classification of “noble” grape varieties that comprise the world’s greatest wines, it may turn out to serve a far more noble purpose.

The first time I encountered Nature’s Pearl was in the office of an Elizabeth City physician. I brought a friend there for an appointment, as the hours passed, I consumed every magazine and brochure in the waiting room.

One of those brochures was for Nature’s Pearl. I thought it unusual that a physician would be recommending a non-prescription product, but then I remembered my doctor had been recommending fish oil for years to combat cholesterol.

I made a mental note to follow up, especially since it was a North Carolina company using North Carolina agricultural products and conducting trials in a North Carolina university.

My next encounter came three months later when a colleague of mine at COA, Rodger Rossman, who told me about the product in this territory.
He is a colon cancer survivor and one of my best friends has stage-four colon cancer, which is how the conversation began.

And in the interest of full disclosure, Nature’s Pearl is now an advertiser, but we would be writing this story anyway.

The company’s home, Advance, is located in the Piedmont Triad area. Jerry Smith is the CEO of the company. Smith is also the president and CEO of another well-known North Carolina business, Le Bleu, a manufacturer of water products headquartered in Raleigh.

Nature’s Pearl chose the muscadine for its anti-oxidant properties. Purveyors of wine have been touting the anti-oxidant benefits of red wine for the last decade.
Muscadine trumps traditional wine grapes because it contains 40 times the amount of resveratrol, a natural component of certain plants- — considered to be both an antioxidant and an antiangiogenicgen (an inhibitor of blood vessel growth which feed cancer tumors).

Many manufacturers make claims that their products inhibit cancer cell growth.
Nature’s Pearl went one step further in commissioning a study at Wake Forest on the efficacy of their product.

Dr. Stephen Faber, a gastroenterologist in Elizabeth City, discovered Nature’s Pearl from the same COA colleague, Rodger Rossman, who told me about the drug. We contacted Faber to see why he was recommending the product to his patients and discovered he had followed up on the Wake Forest study.

Faber followed with a call to Dr. Patricia Gallagher of the Wake Forest Medical School. Here is how he described what he found out:

“She explained that the in-vitro study showed a significant inhibition of a diverse group of tumor cells. Even she was impressed and did not expect those results.
She said that the next step was to test Nature’s Pearl in mice with a gene that programs them to develop breast cancer against a control group.

“In summary, Nature’s Pearl appears to inhibit the growth of tumor cells of various types and although it is too early to predict results in future human trials, initial studies are promising.

“I plan to share this information with my many patients who have or had a history of colon, breast, prostate and other solid tumors.

“In addition the ORAC level (the anti-oxidant properties) of Nature’s Pearl is very high when compared to other natural antioxidants. For those of us that use antioxidants as supplements this would be a reasonable addition to our nutritional regimen. Only contraindication to use is allergy to grapes.”

In some tests, tumor growth rate was reduced using the extract was on the magnitude of 80 to 90 percent. Another recent study from the University of Colorado echoes the promise of grape seed. A study published in the journal Carcinogenesis shows that in both cell lines and mouse models, grape seed extract (GSE) kills head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cells, while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

“It’s a rather dramatic effect,” says Rajesh Agarwal, Ph.D., investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and professor at the Skaggs School of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Nature’s Pearl also sought and received the Food and Drug Administration’s “FDA 21 CRF 111” certification, which assures good manufacturing processes, packaging, labeling and holding operations for dietary supplements.

The company maintains a 120,000-square-foot facility in Advance and FDA inspections are required to maintain certification.

While more trials are necessary to discover the true efficacy of the drug, researchers appear encouraged by muscadine’s potential for colon, skin and other cancers where the supplement can come into direct contact with the tumor.

As a result, Nature’s Pearl offers both pill and cream supplements and continues to support studies from independent research facilities to help refine and define the health benefits of the product.

Perhaps the grape, a staple in the diets of North Carolina’s original inhabitants will prove to be more than just our official state fruit.

Nature’s Pearl is also sold at several local outlets now, including Tarheel Pharmacy and Todd’s in Elizabeth City, both Bear Drug locations in Dare County and Woodard’s in Hertford.

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