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Study pinpoints Pycnogenol’s pain-relieving potential

By Stephen Daniells , 21-Jul-2009

The anti-inflammatory and pain reducing effects of an extract from French maritime pine bark may work by stopping two enzymes linked to inflammation, says a new study.

Pycnogenol, extracted from the bark of the French maritime pine Pinus Pinaster, appears to inhibit the generation of the pro-inflammatory COX-2 and 5-LOX enzymes, according to results published in International Immunopharmacology.

The results appear to explain the positive results previously observed linking the pine bark extract to benefits in conditions as varied as asthma and osteoarthritis.

Chronic inflammation is brought about by an over-expression or lack of control of the normal protective mechanism. It has been linked to range of conditions linked to heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline and Alzheimer's, type-2 diabetes, and arthritis.

“This study reveals that Pycnogenol can actually decrease pain and reduce inflammatory conditions, as has been previously reported, by shutting down the production of specific enzymes involved with inflammation,” said Dr Raffaella Canali of the National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition in Rome, Italy.

Joint health

The study may eventually support claims made by supplement makers, particularly in the joint health market.

“It would be ideal to combine ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, which are more the ‘building block’-type of ingredients, with Pycnogenol to reduce inflammation,” said Frank Schonlau, PhD, Horphag Research (UK) Ltd.

Explaining the potential of a combined supplement, Dr Schonlau told NutraIngredients: “When your house is on fire, it is always best to extinguish the fire before starting to rebuild.” In the same way, combining the pine bark extract, which could reduce inflammation, would work with glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate as they rebuild the cartilage.

Study details

Dr Canali and her co-workers recruited six healthy volunteers aged between 35 and 50 consuming 150 milligrams per day of Pycnogenol. Blood samples were taken before and after the five days of supplementation, and the expression of certain genes in the white blood cells (leukocytes) was measured.

Looking at the main mediators of inflammation, namely cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX) enzymes, the researchers noted that the pine bark extract “blocked” the COX-2 and 5-LOX pathways.

By blocking both pathways, the formation of both prostaglandins and leucotrienes is inhibited. According to Horphag, Pycnogenol is not a COX-2-specific inhibitor, but rather a blocker of COX-2 enzyme production during inflammation only.

The mechanism of action of the pine bark extract is therefore different to that of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the pharmaceutical alternative to reduce inflammation.

“Standard NSAID medications reduce the production of prostaglandins by COX enzymes for lowering the pain,” explained Dr. Canali. “In contrast, Pycnogenol turns to the root of the problem, completely stopping the production of COX-2 in inflammation. Thus far, Pycnogenol seems to be a unique tool for modulating inflammatory processes.”

The study was supported by a grant from Horphag Research, the company behind the Pycnogenol ingredient.

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.

Source: International Immunopharmacology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2009.06.001
“The anti-inflammatory pharmacology of Pycnogenol in humans involves COX-2 and 5-LOX mRNA expression in leukocytes”
Authors: R. Canali, R. Comitato, F. Schonlau, F. Virgil

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