Q. I have read in your column that Pycnogenol may be helpful for hot flashes. Now a major warehouse club is selling it as a powerful antioxidant that is supposed to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, osteoarthritis, skin care, asthma and allergy relief and diabetes. Has any of this been proven? Are there any health risks associated with its use? I love your columns and cut them out weekly to give to friends, family and co-workers.
A. To our surprise, there are studies suggesting that Pycnogenol, extracted from French maritime pine bark, is better than placebo in making blood vessels more flexible (Hypertension Research, Sept. 2007), improving blood sugar control and reducing cardiovascular risk factors (Nutrition Research, May 2008) and reducing knee pain from osteoarthritis (Phytotherapy Research, August 2008). Any uses it may have for skin care or asthma and allergy relief still seem fairly speculative. Side effects are uncommon, but it may interact with important immune-suppressant drugs such as cyclosporine, CellCept, tacrolimus, sirolimus or prednisone.
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