Pine bark extract shown to treat early diabetic retinopathy

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Results of a new study show that pine bark extract can treat diabetic retinopathy in the early stages. Retinopathy is a major cause of blindness for diabetics. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by leaky blood vessels and eventual damage to the retina of the eye.

Pycnogenol®, an antioxidant plant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree is shown to improve circulation in the small blood vessels, reduce swelling, and improve vision for patients experiencing early signs of diabetic retinopathy.

The findings come from a small randomized controlled study that included 46 patients given pine bark extract (Pycnogenol®) for a period of three months, who reported improvements in symptoms of decreased visual acuity from diabetic retinopathy. The results are published in the Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Dr. Robert Steigerwalt, a lead researcher of the study said, "Previous research has shown that Pycnogenol® may reduce the progressing advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy. While previous studies focused on the latent stages of diabetic retinopathy, the aim of this new study was to show the protective effects of Pycnogenol® in the early stages of this growing diabetic complication."

The participants were divided into two groups - 22 were given placebo, and 24 individuals were given 150 mg. of the pine bark extract Pycnogenol®, after their morning meal. After two months the group given the pine bark extract reported improved vision, also measureable by visual acuity exam. No changes were seen in the group given placebo.

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Ultrasound imaging also showed that treatment with pine bark extract reduced swelling in the macula of the eye, an indication of reduce swelling of the retina. Blood flow velocity was also improved. Pycnogenol® is believed to stop capillary leakage, accounting for the improvement in diabetic retinopathy.

"Our study suggests that Pycnogenol® taken in the early stages of retinopathy may enhance retinal blood circulation accompanied by a regression of edema, which favorably improves vision of patients. Pycnogenol® may be particularly beneficial for preventing this complication in diabetic patients, based on the large number of individuals who were diagnosed when the disease had already significantly progressed."

Individuals in the study given the pine bark extract for diabetic retinopathy had been diagnosed with diabetes for at least four years. None were insulin dependent, and all had well controlled blood glucose levels.

The researchers say Pycnogenol® can prevent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. Past studies have shown the benefits for halting the progression of the disease. The new study shows pink bark extract may protect diabetics from developing diabetic retinopathy when treated early.

Abstract: doi:10.1089/jop.2009.0023

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