The result, described by the lead research as "clinically remarkable", adds to an ever growing list of potential health benefits for the extract, which already includes hypertension, asthma, chronic venous insufficiency, osteoarthtitis, deep vein thrombosis, diabetes management, diabetic leg ulcers and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The new study is important because diabetic microangiopathy (DM) is said to affect practically every person with diabetes, which currently stands at about 19 million people in the EU 25, and is projected to increase to 26 million by 2030.
"Diabetic microangiopathy is not a rare phenomenon and essentially affects every diabetic person. The condition may result in vision loss in diabetic retinopathy, kidney problems and ischemic tissue necrosis causing leg ulcers which may lead to amputation," explained lead researcher Dr. Gianni Belcaro, from the Chieti-Pescara University in Italy.
"With DM, the walls of very small blood vessels (capillaries) become so weak, bleeding and protein leaks occur, which ultimately slows down blood flow, resulting in blood clots and swelling of the limbs (edema)," he said.
The study, published in the September issue of the journal Angiology (Vol. 57, pp. 431-436), tested the effectiveness of the pine bark extract on this condition by dividing 60 diabetic patients on insulin with severe microangiopathy (36 men, average age 59) into two groups, with one receiving a daily supplement of French maritime park bark extract (150 mg, Pycnogenol) or no supplement (control).
Blood flow measurements by laser Doppler were taken when patients were lying down and standing up. For people with DM, the ability of blood capillaries to adapt to increased pressure from lying down to standing is impaired.
When patients were lying down, supplementation with Pycnogenol is reported to have improved capillary blood flow by 34 per cent, compared to 4.7 per cent in the placebo group. When patient's blood flow was measured in a standing position, supplementation is said to have improved capillary blood flow by 68 per cent, compared to 8 per cent in the placebo group.
By measuring swelling in the ankle of the participants it was also possible to assess the degree of 'capillary leakage', which develops ten minutes after passing from lying down to standing up. Comparison of Pycnogenol supplementation and the placebo showed that sthe pine bark extract reduce swelling by 14.5 per cent.
"The rapid improvement of micro-vessel complication with Pycnogenol in just four weeks is clinically remarkable," said Belcaro.
More research is needed to support these effects, with larger and longer interventions desirable. It is also remains to be seen how the French maritime pine bark extract would produce similar results in diabetics with mild microangiopathy.
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.