News & Perspectives

French Pine Bark Eases Leg Pain and Swelling

What the Study Showed
How It Was Done
Why It's Important

What the Study Showed
An herbal remedy from Europe containing pine bark extract has proved successful in reducing the swelling, pain, and other discomforts of chronic venous insufficiency, a vein circulation disorder closely related to varicose veins. Results of the placebo-controlled study were published in the Italian journal Fitoterapia in early 2000.

How It Was Done
The 40 participants were men and women between the ages of 30 and 74. They were randomly assigned to take 100 mg of the herbal extract known as Pycnogenol (French maritime pine bark extract) or an identical-looking dummy pill (a placebo) three times daily for two months.

The effectiveness of the herbal remedy was measured in two ways. First, a hand-held Doppler ultrasound was used to measure blood flow through the leg veins. Second, the participants were asked to respond to a symptom questionnaire. Both the ultrasound and the questionnaire were done at the beginning of the study, at the midway point (30 days) and at the end (60 days).

To eliminate bias, neither the participants nor the investigators knew which participants were taking the extract or the placebo.

Although the ultrasound showed that the flow of blood through the leg veins of the participants did not change, troublesome symptoms did improve significantly in the group being treated with Pycnogenol. Edema (fluid retention), which leads to swelling, lessened quickly in this group, with approximately 60% experiencing its complete disappearance . By the end of the study, pain and leg heaviness had lessened dramatically in many of these participants.

In contrast, the participants assigned to take a placebo experienced no notable changes in their condition.

Why It's Important
Based on recent findings, pine bark extract represents a worthy prevention and treatment option for controlling the pain and discomforts of vein-related circulation problems. Not only does it work quickly, it appears to be safe. None of the participants in this study reported side effects.

Pine bark extract is already widely recognized as a valuable blood vessel healer in Europe. Pycnogenol (with a capital "P") is the trademark for the specific type of French maritime pine bark extract used in the present study.

High in flavonoid antioxidants, the extract is believed to protect cells from damage by unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals. This antioxidant action may largely explain how the pine bark extract helps to reduce fluid retention in the legs, as well as stabilize blood vessels (it slows the leakage from tiny blood vessels) and reduce pain and feelings of heaviness and aching.

A popular dietary supplement called grape seed extract also contains the antioxidants that pine bark extract features. In fact, these compounds were once called pycnogenols with a lower-case "p" but are now widely known as procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs).

Source: Arcangeli P. Pycnogenol in chronic venous insufficiency. Fitoterapia 2000;71:236-244.

Date Published: 06/26/2001
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