Affecting more than 10 million Americans, Osteoarthritis of the knee (OA) is one of the five leading causes of disability among the elderly. While OA mainly affects most people over 45, it can occur at any age. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the journal Nutrition Research reveals Pycnogenol, (pic-noj-en-all), an antioxidant plant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, improved physical function by 52 percent in patients suffering from OA.
When OA develops, the cartilage gradually looses elasticity and begins to harden and crack, subsequently becoming more prone to damage and erosion by use or injury and often leads to pain, swelling, a decrease in motion at the joint, stiffness, or the formation of bone spurs (tiny growths of new bone). Current treatments include regular exercise and pain relievers such as NSAIDS and COX-2 inhibitor pills to help ease pain and stiffness. In more severe cases, cortisone shots can help decrease inflammation in the joint and extreme cases consist of joint replacement. There are currently no drugs that treat osteoarthritis directly.
Pycnogenol was chosen due to a history of studies of the extract to alleviate inflammation by inhibiting COX-1, COX-2 and the pro-inflammatory "master-switch" nuclear factor-kappa B,"said lead researcher Dr. Ronald Watson from the University of Arizona. Pycnogenol offers a safe nutritional approach to significantly reduce pain and improve physical function of arthritic joints. It controls inflammation and thus ideally complements existing strategies that comprise delivery of building blocks for replacement of degenerated cartilage.
The study was conducted at the rheumatology department of Mashhad Medical University, Iran. Thirty-five volunteers (average age 42) were randomly assigned a daily dose of Pycnogenol (50mg, 3 times a day) or placebo for three months. Patients were to report arthritic pain using the Western Ontario and McMasters Universities (WOMAC) Osteoarthritis Index after 30, 60 and 90 days. Participants also were instructed to indicate the frequency and dosage of NSAIDS and COX-2 inhibitor usage.
After two months of supplementation, physical function and pain scores improved in the Pycnogenol group. After three months in the Pycnogenol group, there was a reduction of 43 percent in pain, 35 percent in stiffness, 52 percent in physical function subscales and 49 percent composite WOMAC. The placebo group showed no significant scores throughout the entire study. Additionally, further reduction in the number of NSAIDS and COX-2 inhibitor pills and number of days taking medication was noted in the Pycnogenol group.
Pycnogenol's natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties were responsible for delivering these excellent results,"said Watson. This study shows that supplementing with Pycnogenol can fight joint inflammation and soothe the pain and stiffness, thus pave the path for cartilage renewal with substances such as glucosamine.
A previous study on Pycnogenol published in the Journal of Inflammation demonstrated that the ingredient effectively prevented inflammation disorders in patients by moderating the immune system response. While the wear and tear is responsible for the initial degeneration of cartilage, the more advanced stage of osteoarthritis involves inflammation. The cells of the cartilage (chondrocytes) respond to mechanical impact by generating pro-inflammatory molecules (cytokines). This process is initiated by the pro-inflammatory "master-switch" called NF-kappaB. Pycnogenol was shown to lower the sensitivity for NF-kappaB in humans last year.
The cytokines released from chondrocytes recruits immune cells (leukocytes) to the joints where they cause more harm than good. Leukocytes release harmful substances such as free radicals and enzymes that break down connective tissue and speed up the degeneration of cartilage. These processes alike are under control by NF-kappaB, and the effect of Pycnogenol to suppress NF-kappaB will help to limit the damage caused by leukocytes.
Researchers believe this study is the first randomized clinical trial to show Pycnogenol's effectiveness in alleviating the clinical symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. There are several more breakthrough studies on Pycnogenol and osteoarthritis expected to be published next year allowing for development of innovative, natural formulas for joint health.
Additionally, Horphag Research, the exclusive worldwide distributor of Pycnogenol has filed for several patents for Pycnogenol's application for COX-1, COX-2 and treating osteoarthritis.