Thursday, 15 September 2011

Pycnogenol: the bark with a bite?

I start this post on pycnogenol (pic-noj-en-all) repeating my well-trodden caveats on me not being a medical physician, not giving medical advice and pleading that any interest in pycnogenol be first discussed with the appropriate health care practitioner. This last point is particularly relevant given the not-so-long-ago post on fatty acids and chemotherapeutics. I must also credit my interest in pycnogenol to Frances and her very informative emails (thank you).

A good description of what pycnogenol is and its various uses is here. A brief summary in less than 25 words: derived from the bark of the maritime pine tree, pycnogenol is a patented extract which has suggested uses for various different conditions. Indeed to give full credit to the patent holding organisation (Horphag Research), a comprehensive list of research covering its medicinal use can be found here.

Why am I talking about pycnogenol? Well because its an interesting compound and because amongst its very interesting effects, there are a few modes of action and conditions implicated which might tie into some of the other things discussed on this blog. The kind of effects I am talking about are things like it being quite a potent antioxidant, improving blood flow and possibly some effects on the immune system. All of these effects might tie into some cases of autism spectrum conditions and beyond as evidenced here, here and here (he says cautiously).

It is with Attention-Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADHD) in mind that I found some interesting scientific duelling over pycnogenol. It all seemed to have started in the late 1990s with a few reports suggestive of some beneficial effects on symptoms, particularly concentration. This review covers some of them (alongside a few other snippets of research on its 'favourable pharmacological properties'). This was followed by several trials, double-blind, placebo-controlled, etc. which seemed to suggest a rather mixed profile in terms of effectiveness. So in this trial, neither pycnogenol nor methylphenidate outperformed the placebo. This trial said no, pycnogenol did significantly better than placebo. And so on and so on (accepting gender and age group differences between the studies). The mode of action in ADHD I hear you ask? Well, still under investigation but according to this paper (thanks Frances) by Dvorakova and colleagues, dopamine might be a primary target alongside other catecholamines.

When it comes to pycnogenol and autism, PubMed returns a big, fat zero for published articles; same goes with schizophrenia also. There are some anecdotes and discussion threads on it use but nothing experimentally concrete. This either implies that nobody is interested in looking at pycnogenol experimentally in such cases or no one is interested in looking at pycnogenol experimentally in such cases! Given the fairly often reported autism and ADHD comorbidity, and the fact that concentration problems can sometimes be an issue in some cases of autism, could we move things along and see if pycnogenol is truly the bark with a bite? After all remember the lessons from the willow bark...