When first diagnosed with chronic venous insufficiency, a condition in which blood pools in the veins of the lower legs, people may see it as a minor annoyance. But make no mistake. It can cause serious health issues, from leg and ankle swelling, to pain, skin ulcers, and infections. And since it affects 2 to 5% of the adult population in the US, research that an over-the-counter dietary supplement may be able to alleviate symptoms is generating some buzz.
Pining for better circulation
Pycnogenol, an extract of the bark of the French maritime pine, contains a mixture of many substances belonging to the flavonoid family, primarily proanthocyanidins and phenolic acids. Test tube, animal, and preliminary human research has shown Pycnogenol to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity through several biological mechanisms, as well as blood thinning, blood vessel relaxing, and connective tissue– strengthening effects.
This study included 98 people with severe chronic venous insufficiency symptoms, such as leg swelling, pain, and elevated leg vein pressure when standing and walking. Participants were randomly selected for one of the following groups:
150 mg of a standardized Pycnogenol (pick-nah-gin-ol) dietary supplement per day
Use of compression stockings only
150 mg Pycnogenol supplement per day plus compression stockings
Compared with the compression stockings only group, after eight weeks of treatment, ankle swelling (edema) and clinical symptoms such as pain and leg heaviness significantly decreased in the people using the Pycnogenol supplement plus compression stockings and in the Pycnogenol-only groups. Markers of lower leg blood circulation also significantly improved in the Pycnogenol groups.
Putting Pycnogenol to work and beyond
This research suggests that even after severe chronic venous insufficiency has developed, a standardized, 150 mg Pycnogenol dietary supplement can improve symptoms and clinical signs of the disease. This should improve quality of life, and over the long term it may slow down the worsening of symptoms. Use the following tips on safe use of Pycnogenol, plus other steps you can take to better manage chronic venous insufficiency:
Ask your doctor if you should add Pycnogenol to your management plan. Pycnogenol is generally considered safe, but may not mix well medications that are intended to decrease immune system function.
If you do supplement Pycnogenol, go with a standardized extract so you know you’re getting the right amount.
If your doctor has prescribed compression stockings, continue to use these, even if you start taking pycnogenol.
Make sure your compression stockings fit properly, with no bunching, because improperly fitting compression stockings can do more harm than good.
Leading causes of chronic venous insufficiency include inactivity and obesity. If you are able to exercise, even a little, this can help improve symptoms—but check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program. This is especially important if you have chronic venous insufficiency, which may indicate you have more widespread cardiovascular disease too.
If you are nervous about beginning an exercise plan, ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist or exercise physiologist who specializes in working with people who have chronic venous insufficiency.
If you are overweight or obese, make your health a priority and aim to lose a few pounds. Any weight loss can help lessen symptoms, even if you don’t reach your “ideal” weight.
Add some dark red and purple berries into your eating plan. Some studies show these foods improve circulation too.
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.