Heart Disease Protection Dr.’s Q&A
Explain some of the findings of the pycnogenol study.
Dr. Watson: One of the basic problems and risk factors for heart disease is clumping of red blood cells in an excessive manner. One of the major causes is smoking. First we measured how much clumping there was. There was clumping that would clog an artery or potentially do so. We gave the pycnogenol pill or aspirin. Both of them were effective at reducing the clumping so that the blood would flow well, even though the people were smoking.
Not all the participants were smokers, were they?
Dr. Watson: The study that was recently published included only smokers. In the follow-up study, some were non-smokers. Smokers have the increased clumping, and the pycnogenol was more effective at reducing that and bringing it back down closer to normal range.
Do you think the pine bark supplement will one day take the place of heart medicine?
Dr. Watson: No. It will function as a preventive or risk factor-reducing agent just like aspirin does, but it seems to have fewer side effects and maybe a broader application than aspirin.
What are some of the side effects of aspirin?
Dr. Watson: With aspirin you have side effects. A significant percentage of people get bleeding or other problems when they take large doses of aspirin necessary to reduce clumping from activities like smoking. There tends to be increased bleeding time. In other words, it takes longer for a cut to clot over and keep you from bleeding. Both of those events did not occur with the people taking pycnogenol.
Who would benefit from taking this?
Dr. Watson: For this particular study, we showed clear benefits for people that were smokers. Some of this may be useful to non-smokers, but we were not studying that yet.
What about for people who just want to take pycnogenol as an antioxidant or to help prevent heart disease?
Dr. Watson: Based on our study, you can extrapolate that there would be potential benefits for those people who have no known risk factors that want to have an antioxidant. This seems to be very safe, and it’s similar to things that are found in the diet. Other people have shown that it does have antioxidant activity.
Why did you study this in smokers?
Dr. Watson: We studied smokers because they have substantially increased clotting. We had a better chance of seeing an effect. Their clumping or aggregation of these platelets puts them at greater risk of clogging and a constricted artery, causing a heart attack or heart damage. Because they dramatically increased their aggregation of platelets, we were able to have a better chance of seeing the effects of pycnogenol.
How is pycnogenol taken?
Dr. Watson: It’s a supplement that can be taken in a pill form.
Are there different dosages?
Dr. Watson: Pycnogenol acted very rapidly in the smokers — within a couple of hours. The effect appeared to last up to several days. If a person took one or two or three pills, 50, 100, 150 milligrams of pycnogenol, they would only need to take it once a day. It seems to persist for up to four or five days in some individuals.
What about non-smokers?
Dr. Watson: In non-smokers, we were not able to detect a substantial change with the particular assay we were using.
Is this something you would recommend smokers go out and buy to help them in the long run?
Dr. Watson: Yes. I think this is something that would benefit smokers. However, the most important thing a smoker can do is stop smoking.
How early did you notice a difference in the body?
Dr. Watson: You draw the blood, and you see how much clumping there is. Let’s say you have a value of 100, and then you smoke, and your value will go up to 150 or 120 — a 15 or 20 percent increase. You can see that a couple hours after smoking. If you repeat it the next day, you get a value of 100. Then as the individual gets ready to smoke he has to take the pycnogenol. Then they smoke and instead of going up to 115 or 120, it may go up to 105 or 106 or something. These occur within a couple of hours. We were very surprised by that.