Pine Bark Extract May Prevent Leg Clots

Study Shows Pycnogenol May Reduce Swelling on Airplane Flights That Leads to DVTs

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 12, 2005 -- A supplement derived from French maritime pine bark may help reduce the risk of developing leg clots during long air flights.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs as a result of the blood's circulation being restricted. Long periods of inactivity or immobility, dehydration, and low humidity and low cabin pressure that occur during air flights also cause DVTs. Because leg room and seating on airplanes is cramped DVT is frequently called economy-class syndrome.

Researchers show that the French maritime pine bark extract called Pycnogenol reduces leg swelling (edema) caused by lack of movement, which can increase the risk of DVTs during airplane flights lasting seven to 12 hours.

"Pycnogenol showed effectiveness in improving circulation and helping to prevent leg and ankle swelling," says researcher Peter Rohdewald, PhD, in a news release. "Most people will notice the effects of in-flight swelling if they take their shoes off during the flight and have difficulty getting back into them at the end of the flight. Leg and ankle swelling can lead to dangerous conditions such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT)."

Pycnogenol is a natural plant extract that originates from the bark of the Maritime pine that grows along the coast of southwest France.

Risk of DVT

Small clots from a DVT can break off and travel to the lungs with the potential to cause life- threatening pulmonary embolisms -- lung clots that interfere with breathing.

Of the 2 million Americans who develop DVT each year, about 200,000 die, according to the American Heart Association.

Fortunately, a clot in most cases will dissolve on its own before it can affect blood flow and people are never aware they were even in danger.

Some people are at greater risk for developing DVT. Those with a history of heart disease or those who have developed blood clots in the past are especially vulnerable. That's not to say they're the only ones who can be affected. Younger people, and even athletes, are also at risk.


Reducing Risks of DVT

In the study, which involved 169 participants, researchers show that oral Pycnogenol was effective not only in improving circulation but also in preventing leg and ankle swelling that frequently follows long airline flights.

Before the flight, ankle size was measured and assigned a score. Similar scores were found among participants given Pycnogenol and a comparison group before the flights.

After the flight those not treated with Pycnogenol had almost double the ankle-swelling score of those who received Pycnogenol.

"Our study shows that Pycnogenol prevents swellings by strengthening the venous walls," says Rohdewald.

Preventative Measures

According to researchers, the veins' compression on the edge of the airplane seat may contribute to leg and ankle swelling and DVT. The risk is compounded by long periods of immobility, decreased fluid intake, and water loss in the airplane cabins, which are dry and compressed, they say.

There are certain preventative measures that can be taken during long flights. The idea is to get your circulation faster during flights to prevent the blood from becoming stagnant. Avoid excess alcohol during flights. Every hour, get up and walk the aisle or stand next to your seat. Perform knee and leg lifts, pointing your toes down and up. Also, make sure to stay well hydrated.

According to the American Heart Association, these steps aren't scientifically proven to prevent blood clots during long flights but they're common sense.

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SOURCES: Cesarone, M.R. Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis, July 2005; vol 11: pp T1-T3. American Heart Association. Peter Rohdewald, PhD, Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Muenster.
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