Pine bark extract may improve menopause symptoms

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Pine-bark extract might offer a hormone-free alternative for women with hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, a study suggests.

Researchers found that an extract of pine-tree bark -- under the brand-name Pycnogenol -- seemed to ease symptoms of women starting menopause. Fatigue, headache, vaginal dryness and menstrual problems were among the most common symptoms at the study’s start.

However, all symptoms tended to improve over six months of Pycnogenol treatment, the study authors, led by Dr. Han-Ming Yang of Ham-Ming Hospital in Taiwan, report. The complete findings will appear in an upcoming issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

In contrast, women who took placebo capsules generally showed no change, or sometimes worsening symptoms, according to the researchers. Pycnogenol is an extract of the bark of the French maritime pine tree (Pinus pinaster), which contains a high concentration of antioxidant compounds that help prevent cell damage.

Research also suggests that the extract acts as an anti-inflammatory and may improve blood flow by enhancing blood vessel dilation. Yang’s team hypothesized that all of these attributes of the extract might ease the common symptoms of menopause.

To investigate, they recruited 155 women between the ages of 45 and 55. Roughly half were randomly assigned to take 100 mg of Pycnogenol, twice a day for six months; the rest took placebo capsules.

The Pycnogenol capsules were supplied by the product manufacturer, Switzerland-based Horphag Research.

The study participants completed questionnaires on their symptoms at the outset, then again three and six months later. Overall, Yang’s team found, women in the Pycnogenol group reported improvements in symptoms ranging from hot flashes and sexual dysfunction to fatigue and depression.

In addition, blood tests showed that the women’s antioxidant levels climbed, while their cholesterol levels improved slightly.

The findings are “encouraging,” according to the researchers, especially given that many women suffering from menopausal symptoms want an alternative to hormone replacement therapy, which is linked with heart risks.

Pycnogenol, they conclude, may offer such an alternative.

SOURCE: Scandinavian Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2007.