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Welch’s 100% Grape Juice: Super Juice or Super Hype?

Mary Lamar Washburne

October 2, 2009

 

 

http://www.mensjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/welchs.jpg

 

Introduction

 

As humans grow older, cognitive function gradually, or in some cases, quickly declines. This loss of memory and awareness can be debilitating to those whose lives are affected by the loss of such an important element of day-to-day living. For some, mental health may decline in their later years is a natural process of memory loss and general cognitive decline but for some this may be the result of Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association website states that “as many as 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease” (“What is Alzheimer’s,” 2009). This, then, is a very serious health concern to millions of Americans. As someone who has a family member who has been personally affected by this devastating disease, I know that any and all advances towards curing or at least diminishing the effects of Alzheimer’s are critical. Therefore, I chose to focus this research paper on the claims that a popular company that produces grape juice is making in relation to cognitive health and Alzheimer’s.

      Welch’s, the company famous for its deep purple grape juice, is currently running a marketing campaign based on the potential health benefits of their product formally known as Welch’s 100% Grape Juice. Touting the potential positive effects Concord grapes may have on cognitive function and memory decline, Welch’s has gone so far as to call their product “The Original Superjuice” (“The concord grape”). Indeed, Welch’s 100% Grape Juice is made with Concord grapes which have been proven in multiple studies to contain important nutrients that have shown promise in the maintenance of mental health and in the prevention of memory loss. This paper will examine and explore research related to Welch’s claims and seek to relate the honesty and consistency of these claims as well as provide further evidence through scholastic journal articles.

http://www.qsauce.net/images/recpies/concord-grape-pie.jpg

Concord Grapes

 

Welch’s Side of the Story

      Throughout their website, Welch’s promotes their Welch’s 100% Grape Juice by highlighting the benefits of the polyphenols found in Concord grapes. For example, Welch’s claims that “Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord grapes helps…support a health mind” (“Health benefits”). This statement is qualified in a later section saying that polyphenols are “a particular sub-group of phytonutrients found in such foods as onions, apples, tea, red wine, grapes, grape juice, blueberries, cranberries, and certain nuts. They naturally protect the plant against pathogens, parasites and predators, and they often contribute to the flavor and color of fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols are found within the skins and seeds of Concord grapes” (“The science”). This same section notes also that “Welch’s 100% Grape Juice is made from the entire Concord grape, including the skins and seeds which are pressed to release natural polyphenol antioxidants, similar to those found in red wine. A polyphenol antioxidant is a natural compound which appears to promote good health and help protect healthy cells from the damaging effects of unstable molecules called free radicals. These free radicals may play a part in cancer, heart disease, stroke and other diseases of aging”. But Welch’s seeks to promote the health benefits of their product while also making sure that the consumer knows to “consume juice in moderation and be sure to get the majority of your daily fruit intake from whole fruit” (“Part of a healthy lifestyle”).  

      To support the claims of potential polyphenol health benefits in relation to cognitive decline, Welch’s cites a number of studies on their website. One such claim states that “A recent pilot study found that drinking Concord grape juice may provide benefit for older adults with early memory decline, and this indicates there is a potential for Concord grape juice to help maintain a healthy mind” (“Health benefits”). The study Welch’s cites, however, refers to a presentation at the 37th Annual American Aging Association Meeting in Boulder, Colorado by Krikorian R, Nash TA, Shidler MD, Shukitt-Hale B and Joseph JA. Upon researching this association and this meeting on the Internet, the American Aging Association (AGE)’s website reveals that the meeting at which this information was presented was the 37th annual and not the 38th annual as Welch’s website cites. Also, the agenda for the meeting does not list any of these presenters except “Joseph JA” whose real identity is James Joseph PhD, USDA, Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University who presented a twenty-minute speech titled “Signaling Mechanisms Involved in the Beneficial Effects of Polyphenols” (Johnson, 2008). Additionally, Welch’s provides an article in a section on their website titled “Research News” that supposedly covers this research. The article, however, states that this information was presented at the “38th annual scientific meeting of the American Aging Society in Boulder, CO” (Hollywood, 2008). So not only does Welch’s website provide information leading the reader to believe that it was the 38th annual meeting but it also contradicts itself by providing information that the group is actually named the American Aging Society rather than the American Aging Association. Research on the Internet proved that no such group exists. Further research proved that this “article” is actually a press release produced by Darlene Hollywood Public Relations specifically for Welch’s who is listed as one of their clients on their website (“Clients”).

      In another press release produced by Darlene Hollywood Public Relations, but not found on Welch’s website, the study presented at the AGE meeting is described more fully. The article states that “The study…included 12 adults with early memory decline. Participants drank a total of 15 to 21 ounces, depending on body weight, of either Concord grape juice or placebo daily, divided among meals, for a 12-week period” (Hollywood, 2008). It is very important to note that this study included only twelve participants. Presumably the study would have then divided the participants into a control group and an experimental group so that would mean that only six participants were exposed to the Concord grape juice. The article goes on to say that “Participants who drank the Concord grape juice showed significant improvement in list learning and trends suggested improved short-term retention and spatial memory”. While this is certainly encouraging there is simply no way to trust the data based on such a small sample size. Because this study has nowhere near a representative sample size the statistics are rendered insignificant. In order for this study to be more reliable there would need to be a much larger testing pool and tested on a grander scale.

What Are the Benefits of Polyphenols?

      In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. James A. Joseph co-authors a review with Drs. Barbara Shukitt-Hale and Gemma Casadesus on the effects of fruit polyphenolic compounds on neurological aging. This review states that “Antioxidants have been studied for their effectiveness in reducing the deleterious effects of brain aging and behavior in many studies. Although many of those experiments yielded mixed results, research from our laboratory suggested that the combinations of antioxidant/antiinflammatory [sic] polyphenolic compounds found in fruits and vegetables may show efficacy in aging” (Joseph, Shukitt-Hale, & Casadesus, 2005). This, however, is all that the review offers on the topic of polyphenols. The reader is left wondering what kind of “mixed results” the experiments yielded and why. This, again, is the same doctor that Welch’s website used as a resource to prove the benefits of polyphenols in cognitive health. Perhaps the “research from our laboratory” refers to the study in which only twelve participants were tested. It is impossible to know, then, what kind of “efficacy in aging” was found and how reliable those findings are since there is no specific data in this review.

      In the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, however, a more detailed article co-authored by Drs. Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Francis C. Lau and James A. Joseph reviews studies of the benefits of polyphenols more in depth. In the abstract, the review clearly states how polyphenols may affect and aid mental health saying “Research suggests that the polyphenolic compounds found in berry fruits, such as blueberries and strawberries, may exert their beneficial effects either through their ability to lower oxidative stress and inflammation or directly by altering the signaling involved in neuronal communication, calcium buffering ability, neuroprotective stress shock proteins, plasticity, and stress signaling pathways. These interventions, in turn, may exert protection against age-related deficits in cognitive and motor function”. The review further states that “epidemiological studies have shown that nutritional antioxidants may forestall the onset of dementia”. This review then elaborates on a study which involves aged rats and describes the findings of the study which suggest that polyphenols act to lower oxidative stress and inflammation and may be beneficial to the maintenance of memory. The review concludes by affirming that “nutritional interventions containing polyphenolics, such as berry fruits, may prove to be a valuable asset in strengthening the brain against the ravages of time as they could retard or prevent the development of age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Early nutritional interventions may even prevent or delay the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, because they can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation superimposed upon a stress-vulnerable aging brain” (Shukitt-Hale, Lau, & Joseph, 2008). This review, then, provides scientific support for the potential benefits of polyphenols which may help prevent or delay cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps Welch’s should cite this scientific review which was published in a legitimate journal to back up their claims of health benefits in their marketing campaign.

      In the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Drs. William Mullen, Serena C. Marks, and Alan Crozie published an article titled “Evaluation of Phenolic Compounds in Commercial Fruit Juices and Fruit Drinks”. Their findings indicate that Welch’s 100% Grape Juice does indeed contain high levels of polyphenols as indicated in the following chart.


juice

hydroxy- cinnamates

flavonols

flavan-3-ols

antho- cyanins

flavanones and flavones

hydroxy- chalcones

Ocean Spray Classic Cranberry

33 (20)

130 (100)

134 (30)

28 (9)

nd (0)

nd (0)

Welch's Purple Grape

162 (99)

76 (58)

434 (98)

296 (100)

nd (0)

nd (0)

Tesco Pure Pressed Red Grape

33 (20)

18 (14)

10 (2)

30 (10)

nd (0)

nd (0)

Pomegreat Pomegranate

130 (80)

48 (37)

172 (39)

75 (25)

nd (0)

11 (23)

Tesco Pure apple (clear)

143 (88)

14 (11)

56b (13)

nd (0)

nd (0)

47 (100)

Copella Apple (cloudy)

163 (100)

23 (18)

445 (100)

1.2 (0.4)

nd (0)

43 (91)

Tesco Pure Grapefruit

39 (24)

2.1 (2)

nd (0)

nd (0)

242 (100)

19 (40)

Tesco Value Pure Orange (concentrate)

nd (0)

6.2 (5)

nd (0)

nd (0)

52 (21)

22 (47)

Tropicana Pure Premium Smooth Orange (squeezed)

nd (0)

4.1 (3)

nd (0)

nd (0)

64 (26)

21 (45)

Tropicana Pure Premium Tropical Fruit

44 (27)

2.7 (2)

11 (2)

nd (0)

53 (22)

4.7 (10)

Tesco Pure Pressed White Grape

53 (33)

nd (0)

nd (0)

nd (0)

nd (0)

nd (0)

Tesco Pure Pineapple

51 (31)

nd (0)

nd (0)

nd (0)

nd (0)

nd (0)

Del Monte Premium Tomato

38 (23)

19 (15)

nd (0)

nd (0)

nd (0)

nd (0)

 Table 5.  Summary of the Concentration of the Different Types of Flavonoids and Phenolics in 13 Commercial Fruit Juicesa


The article also states “purple grape juice contained the largest number of individual phenolic compounds and also the highest concentration of total phenolics”. The article cites an important study called the Kame Project which “was carried out with Japanese-Americans between 1992 and 2001 [and] found that subjects with a higher intake of fruit and vegetable juices had a substantially reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease” (Mullen, Marks, & Crozier, 2007). The Kame Project, published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2006, is a “population-based prospective study of 1836 Japanese Americans in King County, Washington, who were dementia-free at baseline (1992-1994) and were followed through 2001”. The participants “were interviewed by trained interviewers using highly structured questionnaires” to collect data (Dai, Borenstein, Wu, Jackson, & Larson, 2006). In fact, Welch’s international website includes a reference to this study saying “Study participants who reported drinking juices at least three times weekly were 76% less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who drank juice less than once a week” (“Health benefits of purple grape juice”). The reference to the Kame Project is important in that it presents a real-life example of the potential health benefits of drinking fruit juice.

Recently, Dr. James A Joseph, along with Drs. Barbara Shukitt-Hale and Lauren M. Willis, published a review article titled “Grape Juice, Berries, and Walnuts Affect Brain Aging and Behavior” in the scientific journal Nutrition. The article states “collaborative findings indicate that blueberry or Concord grape juice supplementation in humans with mild cognitive impairment increased verbal memory performance, thus translating our animal findings to humans”. The article references a study carried out on rats in which they “investigated the beneficial effects of 2 concentrations of Concord grape juice (10 and 50%) compared with an energy-matched placebo for their effectiveness in reversing age-related deficits in behavioral and neuronal function in aged Fischer 344 rats” and found that “the 50% grape juice produced improvements in motor function”. This review article then references “a preliminary investigation conducted by Krikorian et al. of the cognitive benefits of grape juice in aged humans has shown that older adults with memory declines, but not dementia, had significant improvements in several measures of cognitive function when supplemented with Concord grape juice for 12 wk compared with the placebo”. This is the same study which Welch’s website incorrectly cites as being presented at the AGE annual meeting. In fact, this is the same study that included only twelve participants. So while the findings are important and posit the potential benefits of Concord grape juice it is important to note that the sample size is not large enough to draw any conclusions.

So Should I Drink Grape Juice or Not?

Drinking grape juice made with Concord grapes can definitely have positive effects on one’s health—both physically and mentally as proven by the numerous studies and examples of research presented in this paper. The polyphenols found in Concord grapes contribute to cognitive health and delay memory loss. Welch’s 100% Grape Juice, since it is composed of the entire Concord grape and has been proven to contain a high level of polyphenols, is definitely a beverage that when consumed in moderate amounts will most likely provide mental health benefits. Unfortunately, the research cited on Welch’s website is a bit faulty in that one of the main studies referenced only had twelve participants, which is not a representative sample size. Also, some of the links Welch’s provided to “articles” about the potential health benefits of Concord grapes contained contradictory information regarding technicalities of where, when, and with whom the research was presented. Through research of varying scientific journals, however, it may be reasoned that drinking Welch’s 100% Grape Juice can indeed be a very good thing and may even a “super juice”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Alzheimer’s Association (2008, September 14). What is Alzheimer’s. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp

Darlene Hollywood Public Relations (n.d.). Clients. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from http://www.dhollywoodpr.com/clients.html

Dai, Q., Borenstein, A.B., Wu, Y., Jackson, J.C., & Larson, E.B. (2006, March 22). Fruit and vegetable juices and Alzheimer’s disease: the kame project. The American Journal of Medicine, 119 (9).

Hollywood, D. (2008, June 2). Drinking polyphenol-rich concord grape juice may improve memory in older adults. Retrieved from

http://www.welchs.com/about-welchs/news/drinking-polyphenol-rich-concord-grape-juice-may-improve-memory-in-older-adults?alttemplate=researchNewsArticle

Hollywood, D. (2008, June 2). Drinking polyphenol-rich concord grape juice may improve memory in older adults. Retrieved from

   http://www.bio-medicine.org/medicine-news-1/Drinking-polyphenol-rich-Concord-grape-juice-may-improve-memory-in-older-adults-20857-1/  

Johnson, T. (Chair) (2008, May 31). The role of genes, environment and chance in determining aging at the 37th annual meeting of the American Age Association (AGE). Retrieved from http://americanaging.org/2008Program2-18.pdf

Joseph, JA., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Casadesus, G. (2005, January). Reversing the deleterious effects of aging on neuronal communication and behavior: beneficial properties of fruit polyphenolic compounds. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81 (1), 313S-316S.

Joseph, J.A., Shukitt-Hale, B., &Willis, L.M. (2009, July 29). Grape Juice, Berries, and Walnuts Affect Brain Aging and Behavior. The Journal of Nutrition, 139 (9), 1813S-1817S.

Mullen, W., Marks, S.C., & Crozier, A. (2007). Evaluation of phenolic compounds in commercial fruit juices and fruit drinks. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 55 (8), 3148-3157.

Shukitt-Hale, B., Lau, F.C., & Joseph, J.A. (2008). Berry fruit supplementation and the aging brain. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56 (3), 636-641.

Welch’s (n.d.). The concord grape. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from http://www.welchs.com/superfruit/concord-grape

Welch’s (n.d.). Health benefits. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from http://www.welchs.com/superfruit/health-benefits.aspx

Welch’s (2008). Health benefits of purple grape juice. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from http://www.welchsinternational.com/health/purple.shtml

Welch’s (n.d.). Part of a healthy lifestyle. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from http://www.welchs.com/media/139750/welchs%20to%20health%20healthcare%20professional%20presentation%20march%202009.pdf

Welch’s (n.d.). The science. Retrieved from http://www.welchs.com/healthprofessionals/the-science

 

 

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