According to lead researcher of the study, Dr. Gianni Belcaro, from the G D'annunzio University in Italy, more than 35 per cent of patients taking antihypertensive medications are believed to suffer from edema as a side-effect. This happens because the antihypertensive medications cause blood vessels to dilate, which allows easier blood flow and thus lowers blood pressure.
"The larger the blood vessel diameter, the easier blood will flow with less pressure," said Dr. Belcaro. "In order to avoid blood pooling in the lower legs and feet (edema), blood vessel diameters must adjust when a person changes positions from laying down to standing up."
Pyconogenol supplements have previously been shown to boost circulation, and Dr. Belcaro said that the new study, published in the October issue of the Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis (Vol. 12, pp. 440-444), appears to show the pine bark extract does improve blood circulation, and therefore avoids blood pooling and edema.
Such conclusions are based on results from 53 hypertensive patients suffering from edema of their ankles and feet as a result of antihypertensive medications. Twenty-three patients were being treated with angiotensin-I converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (brand names Mavik, Altace) and 30 patients were being treated with nifedipine (calcium channel blockers) (brand names Adalat, Procardia).
The researchers divided the patients into two groups and supplemented one group (27 patients) with 150 mg Pycnogenol per day or an equivalent dosage of placebo (26 patients).
After eight-weeks of supplementation, Belcaro and his co-workers report that the patients treated with ACE inhibitors and receiving the pine bark extract supplement experienced a 35 per cent decrease in ankle swelling while patients being treated with nifedipine experienced a 36 per cent decrease of ankle swelling. No effect was reported for the placebo group.
"Pycnogenol controls this type of edema, it helps to prevent and limit long-term damage in the microcirculation in hypertensive patients, and allows the dose of anti-hypertensive drugs to be reduced in most patients," concluded the researchers.
More research is needed to support these effects, with larger and longer interventions desirable.
Horphag Research, manufacturers of Pycnogenol, 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 recently 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.