Japanese scientists have found that Pycnogenol, a natural plant extract from the bark of the maritime pine that grows along the coast of southwest France, helps people by enhancing healthy nitric oxide (NO) production, which leads to an increase in blood flow and oxygen supply to muscles.
As the muscles gain more nutrients and oxygen as a result of increased blood flow, their ability to cope with increased physical activity and build when subjected to regular elevated labour also improves, say the researchers.
"This study suggests that when taking Pycnogenol, more NO is provided in response to neurotransmitters allowing for better expansion of arteries to carry more blood. This process serves to meet the enhanced oxygen demand of the performing muscle and avoid anaerobic metabolism," said Dr. Yukihito Higashi, lead researcher of the study that appeared in the journal Hypertension Research.
"These results also lead me to determine that Pycnogenol will be a useful natural alternative therapy in various diseases in which oxidative stress is involved in the pathogenesis," added the researcher from the Hiroshima University Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
During the course of study, young healthy men either took 180 mg Pycnogenol or a placebo everyday. For testing Pycnogenol's effect on the release of NO, an inhibitor of the amino acid L-arginine was infused in patients, which restricts the expansion of arteries in response to the neurotransmitter acytelcholine.
After two weeks, it was found that blood flow had increased in response to acetylcholine stimulation by 42 per cent among the subjects who were administered Pycnogenol. On the other hand, the placebo group did not show a pronounced blood flow increase in response to neurotransmitter stimulation.
"Acetylcholine stimulates the cells of arteries to produce NO from L-arginine faster. In turn, the NO causes the muscle surrounding arteries to relax, which results in an increase of blood vessel diameters. When subjects had taken Pycnogenol the relaxation of arteries was increased by 42 per cent as compared to the group taking placebo tablets," Dr. Higashi said.
Dr. Frank Schonlau, director of scientific communications of Horphag Research, worldwide distributors of Pycnogenol, believes that the new findings may particularly be of some interest to athletes.
"While more research is warranted, this is an encouraging breakthrough especially to athletes as Pycnogenol seems to allow people to move faster when exercising by satisfying the enhanced muscle oxygen demand and increasing the blood flow to active muscles. When people are performing heavy physical activity, nerves release neurotransmitter acetylcholine to arteries supplying muscles, which makes them expand, a process that requires enhanced production of NO," he said.
A year ago, Pycnogenol was shown to improve blood circulation and support a lasting aerobic muscle activity during any kind of activity.
The researchers then concluded that Pycnogenol enhanced and prolonged muscle performance during any sport activity, supported muscle adaptation to higher workload, and allowed for faster physical recovery.