Health: It's All In The Bark

When explorer Jacques Cartier was stranded in Canada in the winter of 1535, many of his crew members developed bleeding gums and skin lesions from scurvy. But a local Indian gave them a remedy: a tea brewed from the bark and needles of a pine tree. Just maybe, there was some wisdom in that folk remedy. Today a French maritime-pine-bark extract called Pycnogenol--a mix of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds--is a fast-growing supplement on the U.S. market, with sales up 25 percent this year to date.

Unlike most supplements, which have very little research behind them, Pycnogenol (pic-NOJ-en-ol) has 36 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. The strongest evidence relates to heart health--helping to reduce unwanted clotting, lower "bad" cholesterol and bring down mild hypertension. But the latest studies suggest benefits for diabetes, too. Diabetic patients eventually tend to develop leaky capillaries, which can lead to vision loss, leg ulcers and even amputation of toes or feet. A small study in September found that 150mg of Pycnogenol a day for four weeks helped repair blood vessels and improve capillary blood flow by 34 percent--versus 5 percent for those receiving a placebo.

For general health, 25mg to 50mg a day will do. But it won't come cheap (think $30 to $50 a bottle). For more information, check