New Supplement May Prevent and Stop Progression of Diabetic Retinopathy

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by patient expert Andrew Berry.

This past December, researchers discovered pycnogenol, a pine bark extract, that can stop and decrease risk of diabetic retinopathy.

Researchers at G D'Annunzio University in Italy may have found a cure for diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients alike and if left untreated can lead to blindness. A recent research study, published in the Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics evaluated the benefits of taking pycnogenol, a supplemental form of pine bark, and revealed that people with diabetes can avoid developing diabetic retinopathy and halt its progression.

Diabetic retinopathy is the damage that is caused to the blood vessels in the eye and is prevalent in up to 80% of all patients who suffer from diabetes for 10 years or more.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused when either blood vessels swell and leak fluid into the retina or when abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. The retina is an important light-sensitive tissue that is necessary for health eye function and good vision. Eventually, if left untreated, diabetic retinopathy leads to blindness. Over the past 20 years, there had been research into the effectiveness of natural and unnatural compounds alike to combat this condition.

The study, conducted by Dr. Robert Steigerwalt and colleagues, included a total of 46 diabetic patients. Twenty-four of these patients were treated with pine bark extract once a day for three months while the other 22 participants received a placebo. All of the patients in the study had had diabetes for at least four years and all were complaining of symptoms related to retinopathy. When the study was done, 75% of the patients in the pycnogenol supplement group experienced improvement in their vision, whole no one in the placebo group did. The patients receiving the pycnogenol had a dose of 150 mg in the form of three 50 mg tablets in the morning with breakfast.

Pycnogenol is a natural plant extract that comes from the bark of the maritime pine tree which grows exclusively along the coast of southwest France in Les Landes de Gascogne.

The pine bark is a great source for procyanidins, bioflavonoids, and organic acids.   The pycnogenol extract has four beneficial properties. It is a powerful antioxidant, it is a natural anti-inflammatory, it selectively binds to collagen and elastin fibers and it also aids in the production of endothelial nitric oxide production which helps to dilate blood vessels. To halt the progression of diabetic retinopathy, pycnogenol can help seal the leaky blood vessels of the eye that lead to the disease. This allows the macular edema (fluid buildup) to subside, leading to a clearer vision.

The study of pycnogenol as a supplement to help cure patients already suffering from advanced staged of diabetic retinopathy is nothing new- it has been going on for many years. As Dr. Steigerwalt explains, his goal was to examine if it can completely stop or undo the damage done to the retina in patients with early stages of diabetic retinopathy, "Previous research has shown that pycnogenol may reduce the progressing advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy. While previous studies focused on the latent stages of diabetic retinopathy, the aim of this new study was to show the protective effects of pycnogenol in the early stages of this growing diabetic complication."

He further goes on to sum up the positive results of the study, "Our study suggests that pycnogenol taken in the early stages of retinopathy may enhance retinal blood circulation accompanied by a regression of edema, which favorably improves vision of patients. Pycnogenol may be particularly beneficial for preventing this complication in diabetic patients, based on the large number of individuals who were diagnosed when the disease had already significantly progressed."

The full text article on this study can be found at EurekAlert at http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-12/mg-ssp113009.php