—by Jeff Jurmain, MA
Allergic rhinitis strikes an estimated 60 million people in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. It is known more commonly as hay fever.
When hay fever strikes, it causes an allergic inflammation of the nasal airways that brings on itching, swelling, mucus production, hives, and rashes. A new study has found that an antioxidant plant extract derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree could substantially improve those nagging symptoms most of us know so well.
In a good-quality study, 60 people between the ages of 18 and 65 began treatment three to eight weeks before allergy season set in. Everyone tested positive for birch pollen allergies, a seasonal trigger of hay fever. Patients received either 50 mg pine bark (twice daily) or placebo, and neither researcher nor patient knew who received which. They were permitted to use over-the-counter antihistamines if needed.
Blood tests measured antibodies specific to birch. When the body recognizes those antibodies, it triggers the release of histamine to combat it. This, in turn, causes hay fever symptoms. When they are exposed to pollen, allergic people develop higher levels of the antibody, which means more and more allergic symptoms.
This is all to say that that from the start to the end of allergy season, the pine bark group experienced a 19% increase in those antibodies compared to 32% in the placebo group. This means that the placebo folks had about 70% worse allergy symptoms.
People were told to rate their nose and eye symptoms each day in a questionnaire. These irritations included burning, itchy, watering or tearing eyes, redness, sneezing, and stuffy, runny or itchy nose. Throughout the birch pollen seasons around mid-April until the end of May, the total average nasal and eye symptom score was lower in the pine bark group. A detailed analysis showed that pine bark was more effective the earlier the patients began taking the product prior to the onset of the exposure to birch pollen. Researchers believe you should take pine bark five weeks before allergy season to deflect symptoms.
This builds on two previous studies that found pine bark to improve symptoms and breathing ability of asthma patients. Asthma is likewise triggered by airborne allergens.
In any case, for those wishing to try a natural solution to hay fever that could dramatically reduce quality of life for a month or two, pine bark may be worth a shot. The brand used in the study was called “Pycnogenol.” Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before using for dosing information and possible side effects or drug/supplement interactions. Do not take pine bark supplements if you are allergic to pine.