It’s not completely convincing, this Italian study on the preventive effect of the supplement Pycnogenol on muscle cramp and muscular pain. But still: if muscle cramp is bugging your life and your training sessions, it may be worth trying. Pycnogenol is not expensive, and what’s more the stuff is completely safe.
Pycnogenol is a patented extract from the bark of the pine tree Pinus pinaster. It consists of phenols that are built up of the molecules shown above.
In 2006 Italian and German researchers published the results of what was a pretty sloppy study, in which they gave 200 mg Pycnogenol a day for four weeks to several dozen men and women who were severely bothered by muscle cramps. The researchers did not give any of the subjects a placebo and there were no control groups.
Among the subjects were 22 healthy non-athletes [Normals], 21 diabetics with chronic venous insufficiency [CVI] and 23 athletes who were severely troubled by muscle cramps [Athletes].
The subjects were asked to report how much trouble they were having from muscle cramps and pain before supplementation started, four weeks after supplementation had ceased and another week after that. The list below was used to score their pain.
The maximum score was 40. The total score – which at the start of the study was surprisingly high – decreased considerably as a result of supplementation, as the figure below shows. Click on the figure for a larger version.
Even more noticeable was the effect of the supplementation on the number of times that the subjects were troubled by muscle cramps. Click on the figure for a larger version.
The researchers did not look at how Pycnogenol prevents muscle cramps, but they suspect that the blood vessel widening effect of the supplement has something to do with it. Another possibility is that Pycnogenol is capable of reducing the formation of blood clots.
The study was sponsored by Horphag Research, the manufacturer of Pycnogenol.
Cramps and muscular pain: prevention with pycnogenol in normal subjects, venous patients, athletes, claudicants and in diabetic microangiopathy.
The aim of this study was to assess the preventive action of Pycnogenol (Horphag Research Ltd, UK) on cramps and muscular pain in different groups of subjects and patients. The study included a 5-week observation period (4 weeks treatment and one follow-up week after the suspension of treatment) to evaluate the efficacy of Pycnogenol after its withdrawal. Four 50 mg capsules (total dose 200 mg/day) were prescribed with suggestion to drink at least 1.5 liters of water every day. In the first part of the study 66 healthy subjects completed a 5-week follow-up period. The difference between number of cramps attacks recorded within the 2 weeks before inclusion and the number of episodes during the fourth (p <0.05) and fifth (p <0.05) week were statistically significant. In normal subjects the average number of episodes was reduced from 4.8 (1.2) events per week to 1.3 (1.1) at 4 weeks (p <0.05). In venous patients the decrease in events was from 6.3 (1.1) to 2.6 (0.4) per week (p <0.05). In athletes the number of episodes decreased from 8.6 (2) to 2.4 (0.5) (p <0.05). The decrease was still present at 5 weeks in the 3 groups, to levels significantly lower than inclusion values (p <0.05). In the second part of the study, patients with intermittent claudication and diabetic microangiopathy were evaluated and treated (4 weeks). The groups treated with Pycnogenol and the control, placebo groups were comparable. There was a significant decrease in the number of cramps episodes (p <0.05) and in the score concerning muscular pain (p <0.05) in claudicants and diabetics. No significant effects were observed in the placebo groups. In conclusion, cramps and muscular pain, common in these 2 types of patients, were decreased by the use of Pycnogenol. Globally, these results suggest that the use of Pycnogenol prevents cramps, muscular pain at rest, and pain after/during exercise in normals, in athletes prone to cramps, in patients with venous disease, in claudicants, and in diabetics with microangiopathy. The difference is statistically significant considering objective observations (cramps episodes) and evaluating more subjective aspects (score). This indicates that Pycnogenol is effective in reducing pain and cramps during retraining and rehabilitation increasing its efficiency. In starting any physical rehabilitation program, particularly in vascular subjects, the limitation in mobility associated with muscular pain and with cramps tends to be relevant, and controlling these symptoms is useful to speed up the retraining process.
PMID: 16703193 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]