A cluster of symptoms experienced by women are associated with the onset of the menopause, that signals the end of the reproductive years, including hot flashes, depression, panic attacks and higher cholesterol levels. The new study, involving 155 perimenopausal women at Ham-Ming hospital in Taiwan and published in the Scandinavian Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, could prove pivotal in positioning the natural product as an alternative to oestrogen replacement therapy. Although hormone replacement is the most common remedy proffered for the symptoms, the approach has had a bad rap due to side effects, which can include breast tenderness, nausea, headaches, leg cramps, irregular bleeding, weight gain and bloating. Moreover, the hormone replacement marketed took a hit in 2002, when the Women's Health Initiate study reported an association with increased breast cancer and cardiovascular disease risk. According to Datamonitor the market size peaked in 2001 at US$3.5bn across seven major markets, but this figure seriously declined following the study. The women were randomised to receive either 200mg of Pycnogenol or a placebo each day. They self-reported their symptoms using the Women's Health Questionnaire, which asked questions on somatic symptoms, depressed mood, vasomotoric symptoms, memory and concentration, attractiveness, anxiety, sexual behaviour, sleep problems and menstrual symptoms. The women also visited the clinic one month into the trial, and at three and six months, where their body mass index, blood pressure, lipid profile and antioxidant status were measured. After six months LDL cholesterol levels were seen to have reduced by 10 per cent in the women taking the Pycnogenol, compared to those on the placebo. The Pycnogenol women's antioxidant levels also increased. While the WHQ of the women in the placebo group showed no significant changes in symptoms, the Pycnogenol group reported improvement of all symptoms compared to the start of the treatment, with no side effects. Rapid improvement was reported after the one-month mark. Lead researcher Dr Peter Rohdewald of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Munster, Germany, said that the study was conducted using Pycnogenol because it has previously shown promise in a variety of related areas, including skin elasticity, free radical scavenging, antioxidant activity, cognitive function and skin elasticity. "Achieving these health benefits is key to treating perimenopausal symptoms," he said. Pycnogenol has also been studies for benefits in other areas of women's health, including endometriosis and menstrual pain - in the latter case thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Pycnogenol, the sole and branded ingredient of Horphag Research is derived from the bark of French maritime pine trees that grow along the cost of South West France. It is contract manufactured in situ by Biolandes. Horphag's chief operating officer and executive vice president Victor Ferrari told NutraIngredients.com that expanding applications through science is key to the business, which continues to report growth on an annual basis. He added that Horphag ploughs $1.5m - "most of its profits" - into research each year. Reference Journal: Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologia 2007; 86:978-985 DOI: 10.1080/00016340701446108 Title: "A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on the effect of Pycnogenol on the climacteric syndrome in peri-menopausal women" Authors: Han-Ming Yang, Mei-Fen Liao, Shu-Yuan Zhu, Mei-Nan Liao, Peter Rohdewald.