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Health News Archive 67 - Hypertension
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Pycnogenol® May Reduce Dosage of Antihypertensive Drug, Nifedipine

Pycnogenol®  is a standardized extract of French maritime pine bark. It contains a variety of flavonoid compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Previous animal and human studies suggest that Pycnogenol may have an impact on blood pressure. The purpose of this study was to determine if Pycnogenol use could reduce the dosage of blood pressure medication in people with high blood pressure.

The authors conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial among 58 subjects (33 male, 25 female; average age: 57 years) with hypertension who were receiving treatment at 3 hospitals in China. They were randomly assigned to receive either 100 mg Pycnogenol per day or a placebo in addition to nifedipine, an antihypertensive drug in the class known as calcium channel blockers, often sold under the trade names Adalat® (Bayer) and Procardia® (Pfizer). The goal of this study was to determine whether taking Pycnogenol would allow patients to reduce prescribed dosages of nifedipine. The individual dosage of nifedipine was adjusted every 2 weeks over a period of 12 weeks until each participant achieved a stable blood pressure (no higher than 130 mm Hg). The researchers also measured several components in the blood to evaluate a potential mechanism of action for Pycnogenol.

At the end of the 12-week trial, those in the Pycnogenol group needed approximately 40% less nifedipine medication to control their blood pressure than those in the placebo group (P<0.001). In the Pycnogenol group, 22 out of 28 subjects were able to reduce their nifedipine regimen, 16 of them cutting the dosage by half. The Pycnogenol group had significantly higher blood levels of a particular prostaglandin (6-ketoprostaglandin F1) that promotes vasodilation (relaxation of blood vessels) and leads to lower blood pressure (P<0.05). The Pycnogenol group also had significantly lower (about 20 %) blood concentrations of endothelin-1 at 4 weeks (P<0.01) and 8 weeks (P<0.05), but not at 12 weeks, than the placebo group. Endothelin-1 is a highly potent compound that triggers vasoconstriction (constriction of the blood vessels) and increases blood pressure. Side effects reported for both groups were mild and transient  gastrointestinal problems, nausea, dizziness, headache, sleepiness.  These are the side effects reported for nifedipine, and there was no statistically significant difference in adverse side effects between the two groups (39% in the Pycnogenol + nifedipine group vs. 27% in the placebo + nifedipine group).

Nifedipine is considered a relatively safe drug, with a relatively low level of adverse side effects reported. These can include headache, upset stomach, dizziness or lightheadedness, excessive tiredness, flushing (feeling of warmth), heartburn, fast heartbeat, muscle cramps, enlargement of gum tissue around teeth, constipation, nasal congestion, cough, and decreased sexual ability, according to the National Library of Medicine’s Medline database.1

The researchers believe that Pycnogenol may lower blood pressure by shifting the balance between vasodilation and vasoconstriction in the direction of vasodilation. This study demonstrates that Pycnogenol improves the function of the endothelium (lining of the blood vessels). The authors suggest that Pycnogenol offers a broad spectrum of protection for people with high blood pressure.

Source: : Liu X, Wei J, Tan F, Zhou S, Wurthwein G, Rohdewald P. Pycnogenol®, French maritime pine bark extract, improves endothelial function of hypertensive patients. Life Sciences. 2004;74:855-862.

1. U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Medline Plus, Drug Information, Nifedipine. Available at:

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