Our immune system is supposed to protect us from harm, but sometimes it can be a little bit…overprotective. Nothing demonstrates this better than an allergy, when our immune system causes a response to defend us from something we know isn’t going to hurt us. Common allergies include pollen (hay fever), dust mites, pet fur, detergents and certain food groups. Whatever the cause, few things are as uncomfortable or as irritating as an allergy.
One product however, is standing out as the go to supplement for fighting allergies. With documented benefits, more than 200 published trials and contented users around the world, many sufferers are turning to Pycnogenol for reliable relief from allergies.
So what is Pycnogenol?
Pycnogenol is a unique plant extract from the bark of the maritime pine trees (grown in sustainable French forests). Key to many of its benefits, Pycnogenol is a source of antioxidant plant compounds known as proanthrocyanadins which have been shown to help protect cells from free radical damage amongst other benefits.
What happens during allergies?
To understand how Pycnogenol can benefit, it helps to understand what happens during hay fever first. All allergies occur when the body’s immune system has an exaggerated response to foreign particles which it perceives as dangerous. Let’s take hay fever as an example. Simply put, hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. Pollen counts are on the rise and specifically, the pollen season separates into three smaller seasons:
- Tree pollen: late March to mid-May.
- Grass pollen: mid-May to July.
- Weed pollen: end of June to September.
This is important, as individuals typically react more to a specific type of pollen. In Britain, hay fever is caused by grass pollen in around 95% of sufferers for instance.
Once in contact with the allergen (such as pollen), our mast cells (a type of white blood cell) release the hormone histamine throughout the body, triggering allergic responses involving inflammation of delicate tissues (such as the nose, mouth, airways and skin). This inflammation can make breathing difficult through constricting the airways. Histamines also encourage the membranes of the nose to produce mucus, leading to the iconic runny nose and irritated throat.
Free radical exposure (reactive molecules produced by pollution and intense exercise) can further increase the amount of histamine produced by the mast cells, so this should be addressed also.
How can Pycnogenol help?
Pycnogenol has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects that may counter many allergy symptoms such as blocked sinuses, red irritated nostrils and constricted breathing, common to most sufferers.
In one study, a significant reduction in inflammation was found in subjects consuming Pycnogenol. The proposed mechanism is that Pycnogenol controls NF-Kappa B, which is a protein complex found in our cells that sends out compounds (such as cytokines) into the body that trigger inflammation (1). The benefits of these anti-inflammatory effects can be wide reaching, and Pycnogenol has been indicated in improving rheumatoid symptoms! Pycnogenol also supports the production of nitric oxide, a compound that widens the diameter of the blood vessels, supporting a range of circulatory conditions. Just this year, a study showed that Pycnogenol may even normalise cardiovascular risk factors in perimenopausal women (4).
Various trials have shown Pycnogenol to have an anti-histamine effect, also combating the allergic response. The antioxidant compounds in Pycnogenol are able to neutralise free radicals, reducing the amount of histamine that’s initially released from the mast cells when an allergic ‘attack’ happens. Pycnogenol also increases the uptake of histamine into the storage component of the mast cells, rather than releasing them throughout the body where they would trigger inflammation (3).
In a particular lab study, this antihistamine effect was demonstrated to be more favourable than sodium cromoglycate, an antihistamine normally found in pharmaceutical hay fever medications, demonstrating Pycnogenol’s efficacy (2).
Trying it out
Pycnogenol is a well researched and unique plant extract that is proving to be a successful solution for allergy sufferers all over the world. Not only have studies shown its anti-histamine actions, but other mechanisms such as anti-inflammation associate Pycnogenol with many other health benefits. There is a range of Pycnogenol products on the market, one of which is Bio-Pycnogenol from Pharma Nord. Produced to pharmaceutical standards, Bio-Pycnogenol was developed with efficacy, absorption and scientific evidence in mind.
1. Grimm T, Chovanová Z, Muchová J, Sumegová K, Liptáková A, Duracková Z, Högger P. Inhibition of NF-kappaB activation and MMP-9 secretion by plasma of human volunteers after ingestion of maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol). Journal of inflammation (London, England). 2006 Jan 31 [cited 2017 Feb 8];3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16441890.
2. Choi Y, Yan G. Pycnogenol inhibits immunoglobulin e-mediated allergic response in mast cells. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2009 May 15 [cited 2017 Feb 8];23(12):1691–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19441014.
3. Sharma S, Sharma S, Gulati O. Pycnogenol inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2003 Jan 31 [cited 2017 Feb 8];17(1):66–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12557250.
4. Normalization of cardiovascular risk factors in peri-menopausal women with Pycnogenol® – Minerva Ginecologica 2017 February;69(1):29-34 – Minerva Medica – Journals [Internet]. Minervamedica.it. 2017. Available from: http://www.minervamedica.it/en/journals/minerva-ginecologica/article.php?cod=R09Y2017N01A0029