Pycnogenol, the Immune System and Toxic Stress

Increased oxidative stress, production of free radicals and lack of antioxidants are known to drive the over-reaction of the immune system resulting in autoimmune diseases. This heightened oxidation also deprives the immune system of the ability to counteract infections efficiently.

We are continuously surrounded by myriads of microorganisms, most of which are quite harmless unless they are allowed to enter our body as a result of injuries. Other microorganisms, on the contrary, gain access inside of our bodies and live as parasites. Our immune system consists of a multitude of different immune cells which act as specialists for various tasks to fight infections. It requires intelligent strategies to distinguish body-own tissue from microorganisms which are often equipped with camouflage techniques to escape detection.

Unfortunately our immune system is not perfect. Sometimes our system mistakenly perceives body-own tissue as foreign and attacks it. These autoimmune diseases are quite common nowadays: multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematosus and diabetes type I are typical examples. There is increasing epidemiological evidence that children who are raised in a rural environment are less prone to develop autoimmune diseases. It appears that keeping the immune system "busy" fighting off minor infections prevents it from over-reacting against body-own tissue.

Pharmacological as well as clinical studies show that nutritional approaches allow improvement of immune functions. Dr. Ronald Watson at the University of Arizona, Tucson, has researched the effect of supplementation with Pycnogenol® (pic-noj-en-all), French maritime pine bark extract, on the immune system. He illustrates that mice infected with a virus showed a more potent immune response when they had been fed Pycnogenol, which is known as one of the most powerful antioxidants.

It is common knowledge that the immune system progressively gets weaker with increasing age. The vast majority of immune cells originate from the bone marrow where stem cells divide and give rise to the many subsets of immune cells. These cells lose the ability to produce new immune cells as a result of cumulative damage caused by free radicals.

Dr. Benjamin Lau of Loma Linda University in California, measured the output of new immune cells from the bone marrow in a special strain of mice aging very quickly. These mice produced less immune cells already within a couple of months. He discovered that feeding mice with Pycnogenol for two months dramatically increased the number of immune cells generated in their bone marrow as compared to their non-treated littermates.

Allergies such as hay fever and asthma are over reactions of the immune system to harmless foreign material like pollen or animal hair. Dr. Watson has carried out a double-blind clinical study with asthmatics. His study showed that asthmatics taking Pycnogenol could breathe more easily while the placebo group did not experience an improvement. He searched for inflammatory markers in the blood of his patients and found that these were significantly reduced in the group taking Pycnogenol.

These studies show that powerful superantioxidants like Pycnogenol have a profound effect on normalizing functions of the immune system and alleviating toxic stress in the body caused by environmental factors. Incorporating antioxidants into your daily routine provides health benefits, makes you feel good and can help you maintain a healthy immune system.

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By Frank Schonlau, Ph.D.

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