A new study has shown that pycnogenol, an antioxidant plant extract derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, substantially reduces the symptoms of hay fever.
Hay fever is an allergic inflammation of the nasal airways that causes itching, swelling, mucus production, hives and rashes.
Allergic rhinitis is often mistakenly believed to be a trivial health problem, while people suffering from hay fever may disagree as they experience a dramatic impairment to their quality of life," said Dr. Malkanthi Evans Scientific Director KGK Synergize Inc., a lead researcher on the study.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted by KGK Synergize, Inc., 60 subjects between the ages of 18 and 65 began treatment three to eight weeks prior to the onset of birch allergy season in Ontario, Canada. All subjects tested positive for birch pollen allergies, a seasonal trigger of hay fever, as determined by skin prick tests.
Patients were assigned to a Pycnogenol group or placebo group according to a computer-generated, randomized schedule. Neither the patient, the investigator nor research staff was informed to which test order the subjects were assigned. Subjects were instructed to take either one 50 mg Pycnogenol tablet or one placebo tablet twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening throughout the allergy season. Patients were allowed to use non-prescription antihistamines as needed and recorded usage and dosage in treatment journals.
Blood was collected before and after treatment throughout the entire birch pollen season for the measurement of birch specific IgE antibodies. Upon recognition of a specific allergen the IgE class of antibodies stimulates the release of histamine, an inflammatory mediator responsible for the hay-fever symptoms.
During exposure to pollen allergic people develop higher levels of the corresponding IgE antibody, which goes along with increasing hay-fever symptoms. Comparison of birch specific IgE levels from the start of the trial and the end of allergy season showed an increase of 31.9 percent in the placebo group but only 19.4 percent in the Pycnogenol group.
Subjects were instructed to rate nasal and eye symptoms daily by means of a self-administered questionnaire, recording values in their treatment journals. These resemble problems well known to people affected by hay-fever: burning, itchy, watering or tearing eyes, redness, sneezing and stuffy, runny or itchy nose. All nasal and eye symptoms were scored with values ranging from "zero" (symptoms absent) to a maximum of "three" (severe, symptoms completely preventing normal activity).
Throughout the birch pollen seasons around mid of April until end of May, the total average nasal and eye symptom score was lower in the Pycnogenol group than in the placebo group. A detailed analysis showed that Pycnogenol was more effective the earlier patients began taking the product prior to the onset of the exposure to birch pollen.
The researchers speculate that a lag-time of at least five weeks prior to pollen exposure is required for Pycnogenol to defy hay-fever symptoms.
Subjects taking Pycnogenol seven weeks before onset of the birch season required very little non-prescription antihistamine medication (12.5pc) compared with subjects taking the placebo (50pc).
"For the many people seeking alternatives to conventional treatment for allergic rhinitis Pycnogenol may represent an effective and completely natural solution, void of any side-effects" said Evans.
The study has been published in the June 14, 2010 issue of Phytotherapy Research.