You might ward off and reduce allergy and hay fever symptoms if you take a pine bark supplement known as Pycnogenol® several weeks before allergy season starts, according to a study published in Phytotherapy Research. Pycnogenol appears to reduce hay fever symptoms such as itchy eyes and nasal congestion.
About 60 million people in the United States experience symptoms of hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Symptoms typically include inflamed nasal passages, sneezing, mucus production, rash, hives, itchy mouth, and itching, burning, watering eyes as well as facial pain and decreased sense of smell and taste.
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted by KGK Synergize, Inc., which recruited 60 individuals ages 18 to 65 who had all tested positive for birch pollen allergies. The participants began treatment three to eight weeks before onset of the birch allergy season in Ontario, Canada. Subjects were given instructions to take either one 50-mg Pycnogenol tablet or one placebo tablet twice daily throughout the allergy season (mid April to end of May). They were also allowed to take nonprescription antihistamines as needed, and they had to record use of these medications in treatment journals.
The participants were instructed to rate their nasal and eye symptoms each day using a questionnaire. All hay fever symptoms were rated on a scale ranging from zero (no symptoms) to three (severe symptoms completely prevented normal activities).
Throughout the entire allergy season, participants who took Pycnogenol scored lower on total average nasal and eye symptoms than those in the placebo group. A closer evaluation revealed that taking Pycnogenol was more effective the earlier the patients began taking it before allergy season started. The researchers speculated that for best results, individuals should begin taking Pycnogenol at least five weeks before pollen season starts.
In fact, only 12.5 percent of patients who began taking Pycnogenol seven weeks before the birch season began needed nonprescription antihistamines compared with 50 percent of patients who took placebo. Dr. Malkanthi Evans, scientific director of KGK Synergize Inc., noted that people with hay fever who want alternatives to medications that can cause side effects may find that Pycnogenol is “an effective and completely natural solution, void of any side-effects.”
Pycnogenol is an extract from the bark of the maritime pine tree that grows along the coast of southwest France. It contains a variety of phytochemicals, including procyanidins, bioflavonoids, and organic acids, which have been studied for their beneficial properties. Some studies have shown pycnogenol to be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, hemorrhoids, menopausal symptoms, and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
In an earlier study, researchers at Loma Linda University compared the use of Pycnogenol with placebo in a group of 60 individuals who had mild to moderate asthma. Subjects who took Pycnogenol experience a significant improvement in pulmonary function and asthma symptoms when compared with the placebo group. Pycnogenol users were also able to reduce or stop their use of rescue inhalers more often than those in the placebo group.
Although hay fever symptoms may seem trivial to people who do not suffer with this allergic condition, Dr. Evans notes that “people suffering from hay fever may disagree as they experience a dramatic impairment to their quality of life.” Pycnogenol offers an effective, natural alternative to medications to treat symptoms of hay fever.