"Grape juice can have a similar effect as red wine but without the alcohol," said lead researcher Dr. Valeri Schini-Kerth.
According to the FDA, drinking one to two glasses of red wine each day may lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer. However, the alcohol in wine can cause bodily damage if taken in excess.
One of the hypothesized reasons for the benefits of both red wine and grape juice is the high content of chemicals called polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. Research suggests that antioxidants remove molecules called free radicals, which can cause cell damage linked to heart disease and cancer. In addition, researchers believe that polyphenols block the production of a protein linked to cardiovascular disease.
"Many people don't realize that the positive effects on heart health from red wine actually come from the natural medicines found in red grapes," explained Mike Adams, author of "The Seven Laws of Nutrition."
"You can get the same benefits be eating both red grape skins, which contain resveratrol, and red grape seeds, which contain proanthocyanidins, another powerful heart medicine with miraculous cardiovascular benefits. Grape seed extract supplements are also another way to experience the benefits of this natural medicine derived from food."
The grape juice study was funded by Welch Foods Inc., a major grape juice producer. Welch Foods is also the marketing and food production branch of the National Grape Cooperative Association.
Researchers from the Universite Louis Pasteur de Strasbourg in France examined the effect of concord grape juice on the endothelial cells of pigs. The data suggest that the polyphenols found in certain types of grapes cause these cells to produce nitric oxide, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure and blood vessel function.
Blood vessels are made up of endothelial cells, and heart problems often occur due to their malfunctioning.
Schini-Kerth cautioned that not all grape juices offer the same benefit. "It has to have a high level of polyphenols," she said.