Grape Seed Extract, which has been used as a potent anti-inflammatory for generations of men who suffer from prostate cancer, works in a startling way against the cancer cells by preventing them from reproducing at a genetic level. The effect is epigenetic, meaning it is an outside factor that can influence gene expression. One marker scientists use to identify tumor cells is a change in a process called histone acetylation, and special proteins that assist the process are called histone acetyltransferases (or HATs, for short). Grape Seed Extract was able to interrupt the activity of the HATs in prostate cancer cells by 30-80%, and slowed down the amount of hormone-sensitive growth within the cell by decreasing the number of protein messengers in it. So not only did the Grape Seed Extract slow down the tumor cells, it actually kept them from growing.
Unfortunately, if something like Grape Seed Extract can work on an epigenetic level to shut down cancer cells, that means there are plenty of chemicals out there that can switch them on the same way. But as the editors of Journal of Medicinal Food wrote in response to the findings, this study is a good case in point of the failure to make genotype (the set of genes you’re born with) automatically determine phenotype. Put another way- we’re more than just our genetic code, and we have the ability to alter what gets switched on or off through our interaction with the environment.
S.Y. Park, Y.-H. Lee, K.-C. Choi, A.-R. Seong, H.-K. Choi, O.-H. Lee, H.-J. Hwang, and H.-G. Yoon (2011). “Grape Seed Extract Regulates Androgen Receptor-Mediated Transcription in Prostate Cancer Cells Through Potent Anti–Histone Acetyltransferase Activity.” Journal of Medicinal Food 14 (1/2) 2011, 9–16.