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Editor’s note: Diabetes Health encourages every person with diabetes to see an eye doctor at least once per year. A treatment like the one featured here should never replace professional care, and you should always notify your doctors when you take a nonprescription treatment. Only a professional has the tools to assess the health of your eye blood vessels.
"I was shocked."
Tom Petersen had just found out about a treatment for his retinopathy, not from his physician, but on his own.
"It's the number one prescription for retinopathy in France, and my doctor had never heard of it."
Americans are missing out on a seemingly powerful weapon against diabetes complications, Pycnogenol.
When French people with diabetes see their doctors about retinopathy, they are frequently prescribed Pycnogenol, according to several sources. But it is practically unheard of in the United States. French doctors swear by its antioxidant powers but most American doctors cannot pronounce it.
Antioxidants are known to rid the body of free radicals, the harmful molecules that lead to vascular and other problems, and Pycnogenol appears to be the supreme antioxidant.
What Is It?
Pycnogenol is the name for the patented pill form of the French Maritime pine tree bark, one of many pine tree species that contains bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoids, also found in fruits, help vitamin C to function.
Pycnogenol is comprised of a particularly helpful group of bioflavonoids, called the proanthocyanidins. Proanthocyanidins have been shown to improve the elasticity of the capillaries, which are small blood vessels.
Thus, besides the antioxidant abilities of the bioflavonoids, Pycnogenol is also said to improve circulation, a particular concern in diabetes.
Complete Remission of Retinopathy
Petersen, a school psychologist from San Francisco, is passionate about Pycnogenol. He credits the product with curing his retinopathy.
Petersen has had type 1 diabetes for 45 years, during which his control has been "pretty good."
"I'm not a fanatic, but my health is good," he says.
Yet in 1982 his right eye required laser surgery and his left would be next, doctors told him. Realizing that retinopathy could take his sight one day, he researched treatments on his own. What he came up with was Pycnogenol.
His opthalmologist had never heard of it and didn't seem very interested in researching it, even after Petersen described its popularity in France. So he began taking it on his own.
After four months of taking Pycnogenol, says Petersen, his opthalmologist reported that his retinopathy seemed to be regressing. After another four months, Petersen says, he experienced "complete remission." After one year of Pycnogenol, he only requires a yearly eye exam and his opthalmologist says Pycnogenol is the only thing to which he can attribute the improvement.
Petersen recommended it to two friends with retinopathy. They too had complete regression of retinopathy.
"I'm not a researcher or a medical expert," he says, "but I am sure about these three cases."
Many European studies have proven Pycnogenol's success as an antioxidant, and other studies have linked a depletion of antioxidant vitamins to the onset of diabetes complications.
One study, published in the journal Ophthalmic Research in 1996, proved Pycnogenol's beneficial effects in cow and pig retinas. Performed at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the study looked at antioxidants and flavonoids in treating lipid peroxidation of the retina. The study states, "Lipid peroxidation is considered a prominent feature of diabetic retinopathy."
Lipid peroxidation occurs when the oxygen in the environment attacks the lipids (fats) of the body. When the body has a good supply of antioxidants, no damage is caused. But without antioxidants to fight off the oxygen, free radicals are created. These are the harmful substances that cause vascular problems and advance the aging process.
The researchers induced lipid peroxidation and compared different antioxidants and flavonoids in fighting it. They concluded that they were successful in varying degrees. Pycnogenol had one of the greatest percentages in fighting lipid peroxidation.
Getting It Here
Petersen wants American doctors and people with diabetes to be informed about Pycnogenol. It is available in the United States as a dietary supplement.
Mar 1, 1999
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.