Trading places: daily NSAID use goes out, as an herbal extract comes in

Twice Told Tale

Are your joints on fire? Do your knees feel like they’ve turned into pools of molten lava? I’m no doctor, but I believe you may be suffering from osteoarthritis.

The French have something for that.

Heavy toll

If you could trade daily NSAID use for an effective herbal extract, why wouldn’t you?

That’s a question only you and your doctor can answer. But consider this: More than 100,000 hospitalizations per year are attributed to adverse gastrointestinal events linked to long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. About 15 percent of those patients die – approximately 16,500 deaths per year.

Now consider this…

Researchers at the Comenius University School of Medicine in Bratislava, Slovakia, enrolled 100 patients with mild to moderate osteoarthritis. Subjects were randomly divided into two groups to take 150 mg of Pycnogenol daily, or a placebo. Subjects were also free to continue taking any pain relievers they felt they needed.

Pycnogenol isn’t new to e-Alert readers, of course. This much-studied anti-inflammatory botanical is extracted from the inner bark of pine trees that grow in a French maritime forest.

The Comenius team reports that after three months of intervention, subjects in the Pycnogenol group reported “significant alleviation of pain” while “the placebo had no effect” on pain measurements.

Results also showed that about 40 percent of subjects in the Pycnogenol group cut back on pain medications, but no one in the group stepped up their medication use. In the placebo group, 10 percent increased their use of medications to control pain.

From Slovakia to Arizona

The Comenius study may ring a bell because it closely mirrors a study I told you about last year.

As detailed in the e-Alert “By the Sea, By the Sea…” (1/23/08), researchers at the University of Arizona reported that physical function was improved by more than 50 percent among knee osteoarthritis patients who took 150 mg of Pycnogenol daily for three months. Subjects in the Pycnogenol group reduced self-reported pain by 43 percent, and stiffness by 35 percent compared to placebo.

In that e-Alert, HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., noted that grape seed extract (GSE) might work just as well as Pycnogenol, and would probably cost considerably less.

The active ingredient of both GSE and Pycnogenol is a compound called Oligomeric Proanthocyanidin (OPC), an antioxidant that contains a variety of polyphenols with anti- inflammatory properties.

Dr. Spreen recommends 200 mg per day of GSE, under the care of a doctor. And he cautions that “GSE” is also sometimes used as an acronym for grapefruit seed extract.

You can read about another natural anti-inflammatory botanical that relieves osteoarthritis pain in the e-Alert “Night and Day” (2/3/09).

“Effect of Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol) on Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis” Phytotherapy Research, Vol. 22, No. 8, August 2008,
“Pycnogenol Supplementation Reduces Pain and Stiffness and Improves Physical Function in Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis” Nutrition Research, Vol. 27, No. 11, November 2007,