A Look at the Nutritive Role OPCs Play in Brain Health
When French scientist Jack Masquelier discovered Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPCs) in 1947, he could not know that the future held for him a lifetime of research on this powerful ingredient. In 1950, OPCs officially entered the field of preventative health as vascular protectors, as they were regarded for decades, without a full understanding of the mechanisms of action or range of uses.
It wasn’t until 1981 that Professor Masquelier presented for the first time his theory about the influence of OPCs on the essential factors that make up the vascular wall: collagen and elastin.
Professor Masquelier sums it up best here:
“OPC provides vascular protection because it has an affinity for one constituent of the vascular wall, collagen or elastin, i.e. proteins, whose task it is to form the walls of the small capillaries as well as the arteries, the veins and the lymphatic vessels. these proteins make the walls solid and supple, and it is because OPC has an affinity for these substances that they attach themselves to them, activate their metabolism, their synthesis, and prevent them from being destroyed too easily or pathologically. that is why OPC is, you could say, the vitamin of the vascular wall.”
It was then that researchers began to explore the ability of OPCs to support the brain. The blood-brain barrier is necessary to provide an optimal environment for proper cerebral function. Several layers of capillary endothelial calls and a base membrane of collagen are most of what constitutes the blood-brain barrier. Each of these layers cautiously restricts the diffusion of substances across the barrier from the circulating blood to the cerebrospinal fluid. Nutritive substances such as water, lipids, glucose, and amino acids are allowed passage as they are essential for proper brain function. Potential neurotoxins, most substances that are not lipid soluble, and protein antibodies are unable to cross because of the tight junctions that exist between the capillary membranes. Even friendly water soluble nutrients, such as the vitamin C complex, must pass through two sheaths of membrane before they can be utilized by the brain.
Cerebral capillary endothelial cells differ from capillaries in the res of the body; the have fewer cytoplasmic vesicles, more mitochondria, and more tight junctions between overlapping cells. It is the makeup of these unique endothelial cells that determines friends from foe. As Professor Masquelier explained, OPCs have an affinity to collagen and least, which help to maintain these tight junctions and prevent the diffusion of undesirable substances into brain tissue.
Another way OPCs can support the brain is by offering protection against enzymes. There is a rapid turnover of collagen, which requires collagenase for its degradation. The same holds true for elastin and elastase. However, OPCs have the ability to block collagenases from attaching to collagen microfibrils. It is important to know that the OPCs act by attaching and protecting the enzyme itself, not by neutralizing it. In traditional antioxidant activity/free radical scenarios, we are trained to think the antioxidant neutralizes the free radical. In this case, when OPCs attach themselves to the protein, the antioxidant activity keeps the enzyme from carrying out its behavior in what is called “substrate inhibition”. These are just a few of the unique characteristics that make OPCs stand out from most other ingredients with antioxidant activity.
After researching many plant sources of OPCs, Professor Masquelier selected what he thought to be the most industrially available of the sources, grape seed extract. He recognized that there were other equally qualified sources of OPCs, such as pine bark, red wine, or green tea, but that they were not easily grown for research and development or as available as a raw material in high quantities. The extract was consistent no matter what the source of the OPCs.
With decades of research from a man dedicated to his lifelong discovery, it’s no wonder that Standard Process selected Masquelier’s OPCs for the popular OPC Synergy supplement.
By Jennifer Franco, Clinical Nutritionist