Extracts from French maritime pine bark may protect against heart failure, if a new study with mice can be translated into humans.
The results of the new study, published on-line in the journal Cardiovascular Toxicology, add to a growing body of research reporting potential health benefits of the pine bark extract, Pycnogenol.
"We propose that a therapeutic effect of Pycnogenol may help to limit cardiac remodeling in patients predisposed to congestive heart failure - such as in the aged," wrote lead author Sherma Zibadi from the University of Arizona.
Hypertension, defined as when the sufferer has blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg, means that the heart is over-worked, resulting in weakening of the heart muscle and increasing of heart chamber volume. This process (known as cardiac remodeling) may eventually cause heart failure when the heart insufficiently supplies the body with oxygenated blood.
The researchers used elderly female mice (18 months old) and randomly divided them into four groups: control mice, mice receiving Pycnogenol only (30 mg/kg per day), mice receiving N-nitro-L-arginine-methyl-ester (L-NAME) only (a substance which causes arterial constriction), and mice receiving both Pycnogenol and L-NAME.
Two groups of hypertensive mice were assigned to receive either Pycnogenol in drinking water for four weeks or left unsupplemented. After five weeks, the researchers observed that the hearts of the latter control group had significantly increased in size as a result of hypertension. In the French maritime pine bark extract group, hypertension and heart function parameters resembled those found in healthy control mice with healthy blood pressure.
"This study provides evidence that oral administration of Pycnogenol reversed cardiovascular remodeling induced by L-NAME by blocking nitric oxide production, which leads to hypertension and finally cardiomyopathy," said co-research Ronald Watson.
After studying the heart tissue, the researchers found Pycnogenol supplementation to significantly enhance the connective collagen matrix of cardiac tissue. Whereas the chronic hypertension in mice led to a significant loss of connective collagen fibers, the French maritime pine bark extract was found to significantly increased the collagen presence, resulting in stronger cardiac chambers.
"Even so, a more thorough understanding of the underlying mechanisms Pycnogenol modulated is clearly needed," concluded the researchers.
"Alternatives such as Pycnogenol are crucial components in the fight against heart disease," said Watson. "The effectiveness of Pycnogenol supplementation is a great option for many people who want an alternative to prescription medications such as beta blockers or ACE inhibitors. This new study shows Pycnogenol administers a therapeutic effect to limit the degenerative process in patients predisposed to congestive heart failure, such as the aged."
Horphag Research, manufacturers of Pycnogenol, supported the study financially. The company has been very active in sponsoring and supporting studies into the potential health benefits of the pine bark extract. The first research was conducted on the ingredient 35 years ago. Victor Ferrari, research chief operating officer and executive vice president of Horphag Research, told NutraIngredients last year that the company ploughs $1.5m - "most of its profits" - into research each year.
The product is extracted from the bark of the Maritime pine that grows on the southern coast of France, and is currently used in over 400 dietary supplements, multi-vitamins and health products.
Source: Cardiovascular Toxicology
Published on-line ahead of print, doi: 10.1007/s12012-007-0001-9
"Impact of Pycnogenol on cardiac extracellular matrix remodeling induced by L-NAME administration to old mice"
Authors: S. Zibadi, Q. Yu, P.J. Rohdewald, D.F. Larson, R.R. Watson