According to Jean Carper, it may cure many ills,
but there's nothing like it for strengthening blood vessels and fighting varicose
your lifeline—that intricate network of blood vessels, from tiny
capillaries to large arteries and veins, that feeds blood to every bit of
tissue from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. The integrity and
strength of these blood vessels, combined with the proper functioning of your
heart, are unquestionably paramount factors in your health and survival. If
blood vessels grow old or diseased, fragile, thin, and leaky, your health is
compromised. If blood-carrying oxygen doesn't flow through properly, your heart
muscle can be damaged, your brain cells may die or malfunction, your leg
muscles may cramp and cause pain, your vision may diminish. If a blood vessel
leaks or bursts, you may suffer a brain hemorrhage or bleeding stroke, or
tiny spider veins may appear on the surface of your skin. Your gums and nose
may bleed; varicose veins may bulge in your legs. Fluid may leak through
permeable blood vessels, causing swelling or edema. Nothing is more critical
than the vitality of those miles of capillaries, veins, and arteries that make
up your circulatory system.
Yet has anyone ever told you of a medicine that can
actually strengthen fragile and weakened blood vessels, restoring them to
normal health, reversing and preventing circulatory disasters?
There is such a unique natural remedy—a drug
extensively used in Europe with amazing success. There's no other medicine like
it anywhere. Derived commercially from grape seeds and the bark of the pine
tree, it is a mixture of antioxidant molecules, variously called
proanthocyanidins, procyanidins, proanthocyanidolic oligomers (PCO), oligomeric
procyanidins (OPC), pycnogenols (generic), PycnogenolTM (pronounced
pik-NOD-ja-nol), or just plain grape seed extract. And you can easily get it.
OPC, as it's commonly called in scientific circles,
is expert at treating vascular diseases because it actually increases the
structural strength of weakened blood vessels. It also has other biological
activity and is one of the most potent antioxidants known—fifty times as powerful
as vitamin E, according to some tests. Antioxidants can help neutralize the
underlying chemical cause (free radicals) that promotes most diseases.
Research on OPC is just beginning in the United
States, so there are few scientific data in American medical journals or
textbooks to back up therapeutic claims. But there are four decades of proven
use in Europe, especially France, to be excited about. Many Americans are
already raving about the wondrous relief they have experienced from taking OPC,
and its popularity is sure to soar as its benefits become even better known.
Some experts call OPC a superstar among botanical supplements, the one with the
most potential of all for benefiting human health.
What Is OPC?
In 1947 the
renowned French chemist Jack Masquelier, professor emeritus of medicine at the
University of Bordeaux, isolated the first OPC, a colorless substance, from the
red skin of the peanut. He tells how he gave it to the wife of the dean of his
faculty, who had severe edema from pregnancy; her swollen legs got so tired she
could barely walk. Well, the dean's wife was cured in forty eight hours, says
Dr. Masquelier. So there had to be something special about my extract. In
1950 the peanut skin OPC became the first vasculo-protective medicine, known as
Resivit and sold in France. About a quarter of a century later another drug
based on Dr. Masquelier's grape seed OPC, called Endotelon, made its debut in
France. By 1979 Masquelier had also christened his brainchild pycnogenols, a
generic word describing in Greek its multifaceted chemistry. (Later the term
Pycnogenol became a patented registered trademark of a British company, brphag
Research Limited.) Dr. Masquelier has also detected OPC in virtually all
plants, red wine, and the peanut kernel itself. The current concentrated
commercial sources are grape seeds and the bark of the French maritime pine
tree. Dr. Masquelier also says OPC primarily accounts for the antioxidant,
artery-protecting activity of red wine and tea.
What's the Evidence?
If you lived
in France, you would probably know OPC best as a foremost drug to treat
varicose veins, a potentially disfiguring, painful condition in which veins
tend to sag and stretch, become inflamed, and appear as purplish, elongated
bulges beneath the skin. Taking OPC, studies show, can actually strengthen the
veins, firming them up and restoring their resilience so they retract back into
the skin. Dr. Masquelier and colleagues have done nine studies confirming OPC's
efficacy for varicose veins. Another primary use of OPC is to reduce fluid buildup, or edema. When vascular
walls become weakened, fluids transported inside the veins leak out, leading to
swelling. By strengthening capillary walls and performing other biological
maneuvers, OPC reduces edema and swelling, which may be important in fighting
high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and sports injuries involving
swelling. Additionally, OPC has been used to treat eye problems—glare,
night blindness, macular degeneration—arthritis, hay fever and allergies,
If you regularly take OPC, your vascular walls will
be reinforced, says Dr. Masquelier. He cites ways to tell if you need OPC: In
the morning you brush your teeth and discover that your gums are bleeding. Or
you notice a speck of blood on the cornea of the eye. Or at night you feel
tired, your calves are swollen, you notice edema. In that case you're suffering
from vascular fragility, and OPC fights all these pathological mechanisms.
DECADES OF EUROPEAN RESEARCH
forty years have benefited from OPC treatment to relieve capillary and
circulatory disorders, primarily varicose veins. And the research, much of it
done by Dr. Masquelier and colleagues, is compelling. In 1995 a major review of
the research by Italian investigators concluded that OPC indeed worked,
sometimes better than other potent human-made pharmaceutical drugs. One 1981
well-conducted (double-blind) study of fifty patients with varicose veins found
that 150 milligrams of grape seed OPC (Endotelon) a day worked faster and
longer than a commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drug (Diosmine) in reducing
pain, sensations of burning and tingling, and the degree of distention of the
veins. All symptoms improved within thirty days. In another study, giving patients
with widespread varicose veins just a single 150-milligram dose of OPC improved
the tone of their veins, as meticulously measured by a standard test. Another
1985 double-blind controlled study of ninety-two French patients with venous
insufficiency, or varicose veins, showed that 300 milligrams of grape seed OPC
daily for twenty-eight days reduced pain, tingling, night leg cramps, and
swelling by more than 50 percent. Seventy-five percent of the patients improved
on the grape seed medication, making it twice as effective as the dummy pill.
also proved good medicine for eyes. It helps eyes recover from the glare of
bright lights, important in night vision. Two separate French studies of 100
subjects found that taking a 200-milligram dose of grape seed OPC for five weeks dramatically
increased the recovery of visual acuity after being subjected to bright lights.
In other tests the grape seed product also worked to relieve eye stress caused
by working at a computer monitor and improved the function and sensitivity of
the retina in nearsighted people. Several studies have found that OPC was
successful in treating retinopathy that causes deteriorating eyesight,
particularly in diabetics. The usual doses:
100 to 150 milligrams of OPC daily.
antioxidant activity may also make it ideal treatment for age-related macular
degeneration, a serious eye disease, observes Dr. Denham Harman, antioxidant
authority at the University of Nebraska. That's because OPCs tend to localize
in the small vasculature of the eyes, he says. Other weaker antioxidants have
delayed progression of macular degeneration.
DR. DIXON'S MIRACLE
It Stopped My Eye Disease
Madison Dixon, age
seventy-six, an optometrist in a small town in southern Georgia, had been using
antioxidants, mainly vitamin C and beta-carotene, to retard two serious
age-related eye problems— cataracts and macular degeneration_for nearly
forty years. So when he heard about a new super-potent antioxidant from France
called Pycnogenol, he was excited, thinking it might work even better to save
sight. In particular he was worried about the diminishing vision in his own
right eye, due to macular degeneration, in which the macula, the tiny center of
the retina, disintegrates, sometimes eventually causing blindness. There is no
medical or surgical cure for the condition, although studies have shown that
antioxidants can slow its progression.
started taking Pycnogenol in 1993. He was elated. His macular degeneration did
not continue to worsen, nor did his cataracts. My vision uncorrected is still
20/30, he says. I credit the slowdown of disease to first Pycnogenol and then
grape seed extract. Initially he took eight capsules of Pycnogen l a day,
dropping to two after four months. Then he switched to less expensive grape
seed extract, which he finds just as effective for his eyes and even more
therapeutic for his osteoarthritis. A big plus: The grape seed extract costs
about half as much.
recent retirement he also recommended OPC grape seed extract and Pycnogenol to
his patients, whose eyes, he says, invariably improved. I do not know a single
patient who did not benefit, he says.
grape. seed antioxidant performed another miracle for Dixon's wife, Jane, who
has advanced rheumatoid arthritis, he says. She has had two knee replacements
and one hip replacement, and was facing replacement of the other hip. The
doctor looked at an X-ray of the other hip and said, In about six months to a
year we'll be doing that one, recalls Dixon. That was about four years ago.
The doctor is surprised, but we're not even thinking about surgery now. To tell
the truth, since taking the grape seed extract, that hip gives her fewer
problems than the one that was operated on.
DEFUSES HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
OPC may help reverse high blood pressure and its
consequences. People with high blood pressure commonly have weakened
capillaries with high permeability, boosting their chances of hemorrhagic
stroke and ruptured blood vessels in the retina of the eye, research shows. In
animals prone to high blood pressure, OPC has strengthened capillaries,
according to extensive studies by one of Hungary's most distinguished
scientists, Dr. Mikios Gabor. In human terms this means OPC might keep blood
vessels in the brain and eyes from weakening enough to burst, he says. Indeed,
French researchers have found that grape seed OPC increased capillary resistance by 25 percent in
patients with high blood pressure and/or diabetes, compared with those taking a
placebo sugar pill. Exciting new research by Professor Peter Rohdewald, a
leading pharmaceutical researcher at the University of MUnster in Germany,
shows that pine bark OPC reduces adrenaline stress reactions that trigger high
blood pressure. In animals, brain damage from strokes was much less in those
first given OPC.
particularly convincing demonstration of OPC's ability to increase capillary
resistance or strength, Dr. Rohdewald and colleagues applied a vacuum to the
skin of elderly people, which readily produced microbleedings within the skin.
But after the subjects took a single dose of 100 milligrams of pine bark OPC
(Pycnogenol), the vacuum power had to be increased markedly to produce the
microbleeding. This means the OPC strengthened the capillaries so they don't leak' or bleed as easily, said Professor Rohdewald.
is well known that inflammation and diabetes abnormally increase the
permeability of blood vessels. Giving animals OPC blocked such detrimental
increased permeability of brain capillaries, the aorta of the heart, and
cardiac muscle capillaries, according to French scientists at the University of
It Cured My Allergies
have also shown that OPC extracts suppress release of histamine. The implications
are evident for those suffering from respiratory allergic reactions, notably
hay fever. OPC can act as an antihistamine. Indeed, Marian HoltanJensen,
director of new products at a major U.S. supplement company, was quite
astonished to find that OPC stopped her pollen allergies of thirteen years
after only three days. She had heard that OPC relieved allergies, but she
didn't believe it. I discounted it. I am a
natural skeptic, she says. But when she was reviewing the scientific evidence
for the French OPC drug Endotelon, now called Dr. Jack Masquelier's Tru-OPCs in
this country, she saw research on its effectiveness as an antihistamine. She
said, Well, okay, I'll try it. She had taken many anti allergy drugs, but hated
them. I took all kinds of prescriptions, such as Seldane, and everything I
took left me feeling kind of dopey and semi functional. She took the
French-recommended 300 milligrams a day of Dr. Masquelier's OPC as an
antihistamine. Within three days, what had been a terrific case of blocked
sinuses, runny eyes, and scratchy throat was gone. I was just amazed. She
continues to take 150 milligrams of the OPC every day and has never had
another flare-up—even in the worst allergy seasons.
How Does It Work?
OPC's main claim to
fame is its unique ability to strengthen the walls of blood vessels weakened by
age and disease. OPC thus reverses the fragility of blood vessels, making them
more intact and supple so blood flows through easily and doesn't leak out. OPC
accomplishes this by actually creating tougher, thicker, more tightly knit
blood vessel walls that are less apt to stretch, leak, or burst. As Dr.
Masquelier explains, two proteins in the vessel wall, collagen and elastin,
greatly determine the elasticity and permeability of the vascular wall, whether
the wall is solid, strong, and flexible, or fragile and leaky. OPC attaches to
these two building block proteins, preventing their degradation by destructive
enzymes and encouraging their synthesis and maturation. In short, OPC reinforces
the structure of the connective tissue that makes blood vessels strong and
Part of OPC's power in protecting blood
vessels is its anti-inflammatory activity; inflammation is increasingly
recognized as contributing greatly to the degradation of arteries and veins.
OPC also acts as an antihistamine by blocking the activation of enzymes that
regulate histamine release. Although OPC was never released as a
pharmaceutical antihistamine, it performs just as well, says Dr. Masquelier.
How Much Do You Need?
Recommended therapeutic doses of OPC are between 150
and 300 milligrams daily to treat illnesses and between 50 and 100 milligrams
to maintain good vascular health.
The Safety Factor
OPCs are expected to be safe because they are
widespread in the food supply; however, they have been tested for toxicity in
laboratory mice, rats, guinea pigs, and dogs and have been declared nontoxic,
nonmutagenic, noncarcinogenic, and free of side effects, according to a review
of the evidence by German researcher Professor Peter Rohdewald. Additionally,
in tests of OPC on humans, doctors have not reported adverse effects, say
GRAPE SEED EXTRACT
Commercially, you can get OPC as a grape seed extract or a pine bark extract
(known as Pycnogenol, a brand name) or a combination of the two. There has been
much controversy over which is better. It's well known which is less
expensive—grape seed extract. Even the highest-quality grape seed extract
is from one-third to one-half the cost of Pycnogenol. Moreover, nearly all the
research in Europe has been done on
grape seed extract, mainly Dr. Masque-her's formula, not pine bark or
Pycnogenol. Although new studies are now being done in both Europe and the
United States using Pycnogenol, most of the claims for it actually stem from
research on grape seed extract.
question among many practitioners is which to use and recommend. Seattle's Dr.
Michael Murray, author of several books on the medicinal value of plant
chemicals, argues that grape seed extract is generally superior to pine bark
extract in proven efficacy and price. He points out that OPC from grape seed is
recommended as the preferred form by health care practitioners in France, where
it outsells Pycnogenol by 400 percent. The fact that Pycnogenol currently
outsells grape seed extract in the United States, Dr. Murray says, is due to
aggressive marketing and misinformation.
The quality of OPC
products varies greatly. And it's often impossible for consumers to know how much
OPC most contain. Many reputable companies are now turning out grape seed
extract with varying concentrations of OPC and other constituents. Yet
standardized testing on OPC is rarely done to determine the amount, potency,
and all-important bioavailabihity (how your body absorbs it). But there is good
news for consumers about both pine bark and grape seed extracts. The Henkel
Corporation, a well-respected U.S. supplement maker, has assumed marketing of
Pycnogenol in this country (it is made in England) and is expected to upgrade
the scientific testing and marketing of the supplement. However, Pycnogenol is
still expected to cost much more than the highest-quality grape seed extract.
can now easily get Dr. Masquelier's original French OPC remedy, which has been
so thoroughly tested in Europe, notably as a treatment for varicose veins and
other vascular diseases. The grape-seed pharmaceutical quality extract, known
as Endotelon in Europe, is being sold by Nature's Way as Dr. Jack Masquelier's
Tru-OPCs and by NaturaLife as Dr. Jack Masquelier's Authentic OPCs. Dr.
Masquelier's brand name pine-bark OPC and a combination of grape seed and pine bark, known as OPC-85, which
was found effective in recent research on attention deficit disorder, are also
available through the company Primary Source by calling 800-667-1538.
Should You Try It?
If you think
your blood vessels need help—undeniably blood vessels weaken with age and
disease—taking OPC could be a smart idea, especially if you are older or
concerned about varicose veins, spider veins, age-related deterioration in
vision, swelling and edema, allergies, high blood pressure, a tendency to bleed
and bruise easily, or a family or personal history of a bleeding stroke or
diabetes (a disorder in which blood vessels are more permeable). There is no
safe alternative, nothing comparable among other natural remedies,
over-the-counter drugs, or even prescription drugs. OPC is safe and relatively
inexpensive and could add a whole new dimension of health to a body with a poor
and deteriorating circulatory system. Just think, if OPC reinforces the walls
of any blood vessel, it does the same for all arteries, veins, and capillaries.
It is not selective. The potential payoff is enormous in fighting vascular
disease in all its destructive guises.
What Else Is It Good For?
Since OPC is an
antioxidant, research shows it fights cholesterol by discouraging deposits from
forming on artery
anti-inflammatory activity may help relieve inflammatory conditions, including
arthritis, allergies, bronchitis, and asthma. OPC also corrects dangerous blood
clotting tendencies that trigger heart attacks and strokes. Dr. Ronald Watson,
a researcher at the University of Arizona, recently confirmed that OPC
(Pycnogenol) normalizes platelet aggregation blood stickiness leading to
hazardous blood clots. He showed that when people smoked, their platelets
clumped together in a tendency to form clots. But about twenty minutes after
taking OPC, their platelets returned to normal.
IS IT ALSO BRAIN MEDICINE?
A surprising use of
OPC has arisen among people suffering from that bewildering disorder in
concentration and attention known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), or
attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is said to have begun
quite accidentally when people with ADD took OPC for another purpose, such as
allergies, and noticed an improvement in concentration and mental focus,
classic symptoms of attention deficit. Others started using it. Word spread,
and the ADD remedy has achieved high visibility on the Internet and at natural
products trade shows.
The use of
OPC for this purpose has not been widely studied. But a preliminary study by
Marion Sigurdson, Ph.D., a psychologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who specializes in treating
attention deficit disorder, has found striking benefits from OPC. Using a blend
of grape seed and pine bark (Dr. Masquelier's OPC—85 product), Dr.
Sigurdson found that it worked just as well as the commonly prescribed
stimulant medications, including Ritalin, on thirty children and adults
diagnosed with ADD. The subjects were given a battery of computerized and
behavior tests to judge their attention, concentration, and other
important factors in ADD under various circumstances: when they were either on
or off their usual stimulant medications, or on the OPC alone. When they were off their medications, their
ADD deteriorated. On their medications, they were much improved. But when they
took daily doses of the OPC grape
seed—pine bark mixture, their scores and behavior were just as improved
as when they took stimulant drugs. In other words, the OPC equaled the drugs in
most subjects. Generally, children fared better on a lower dose (20 milligrams
of OPC per 20 pounds of body weight daily), and adults did better with a higher
dose of 40 milligrams per 20 pounds of body weight daily. (Many of the subjects
also had other positive effects: decreased heartbeat, disappearance of tennis
elbow, relief of acne, improved sleep and mood.)
Scientifically, how could this possibly be
true? How could mundane grape seed and pine bark chemicals have a profound
influence on the brain comparable to that of a powerful pharmaceutical drug?
According to Marcia Zimmerman, a California consultant who specializes in
research on OPCs, there is some underpinning in the scientific literature,
suggesting possible mechanisms of action. A fascinating way OPCs might affect
brain cells, as shown by studies in cell cultures, she says, is by regulating
enzymes that help control two crucial neurotransmitters—dopamine and
norepinephrine, chemicals that carry messages among brain cells and are
involved in excitatory responses. OPCs also help deliver nutrients to the
brain, such as zinc, manganese, selenium, and copper, that are helpful in ADHD,
according to recent research. Additionally OPCs' remarkable antioxidant
activity may help stabilize brain cells and improve their functioning by
neutralizing damage from free radicals.
Can Now Finish What I Start
Looking back, clinical psychologist Steven
Tenenbaum realizes he has always had problems concentrating, paying attention,
and focusing. He did poorly in school, especially in math. On my report card,
it said, "Has no Sitzfleisch' will
not sit still," he recalls. He was hyperactive-impulsive and had problems with
attention. But not until 1984, at age twenty-five when he was getting his
doctorate at St. Louis's Washington University to become a psychologist, did he
understand he had a neurological condition called attention deficit hyperactive
disorder or ADHD, characterized by a short attention span, impulsivity, and
sometimes hyperactivity. The condition is said to affect 4 to 7 percent of the
population, both youngsters and adults.
Under ordinary circumstances, Dr. Tenenbaum
would have relied on stimulant drugs, such as Ritalin, Dexedrine, or cylert,
widely prescribed for ADHD. But he had learned to fly recreationally, and if he
took such drugs he could not keep his pilot's license under Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) regulations. So he toughed it out for many years without medication. After getting
his doctorate, he set up the Attention Deficit Center in St. Louis, which
specializes in counseling and developing coping abilities in children with
ADHD. In 1995 he began to hear about alternative
treatments for ADHD from patients, parents, and people on the Internet. The
buzz on one such substance, Pycnogenol, was particularly fascinating to
Tenenbaum. He tried it and was thrilled. My effectiveness has increased by about 40 or 50 percent in the year and a half
I've been on it. I can now finish what I start, he raves. Without his
three-times-daily regimen of the pine bark extract, he becomes mentally
scattered and unable to focus. When that happens, I'll run to take the
medicine (Pycnogenol), and fifteen minutes later I'll be calm, cool, and
collected for about three and a half hours. He compares it to the stimulant
drug cylert. It functions like a stimulant in that it produces the increase in
attention, the increase in focus, the decrease in emotional reactivity. He
also feels it elevates his mood.
notes that like prescription stimulants, the OPC seems to work for some but not
others. It does not eliminate the problem, of course, but only helps control
it. It just dampens some of the intensity of the disorder, he asserts.