standardized OPC extract of French Maritime Pinebark clinically useful in asthma management

A clinical trial done at the Chieti-Pescara University in Pescara Italy, published in the Sept 2011 issue of Panminerva Medica, showed that a surprisingly small amount of a standardized oliogmeric proanthocyanidin (OPC) extract of French Maritime Pinebark (Pycnogenol®, produced by Horphag Research), made a very significant difference to a group of chronic asthma sufferers, who were already being treated with inhaled corticosteroids. You can read the abstract here. One group received only 50 mg of the OPC concentrate twice daily, while continuing their inhaled corticosteroids, whereas the control group continued to receive only inhaled corticosteroids. It has previously been shown that OPCs decrease expression of an enzyme that produces highly inflammatory fatty acids called leukotrienes, which are known to mediate bronchial muscle inflammation in asthma. Over the 6 month period of the study, nearly 20% of the control group required an increase in the dose of inhaled steroids to keep their asthma under control, whereas none of the Pycnogenol group did. In fact, in the group taking the OPC supplement, 55% of them improved enough that they were able to lower their dose of inhaled steroids, vs only 6% of the control group that was able to lower their inhaled steroid dose.

To quote detailed results from the study: “The levels of asthma control in the 6 interventional months as compared to the same period in the previous year were compared. In the Pycnogenol® group, night-awakenings were less frequent, the number of days with PEF<80% were decreased, days with asthma score >1 were lower, requirement for salbutamol and additional asthma medication less frequent, and consultation of general practitioner and specialist required less commonly. All these parameters were statistical significantly improved in Pycnogenol® + ICS (inhaled corticosteroid) group versus the ICS control group where no considerable changes were observed. Various common signs and symptoms were evaluated by visual analog scale, (dry) cough, severity of chest symptoms, wheezing, dyspnea and daytime symptoms. In the ICS-only group values did not improve while they did improve significantly in the ICS + Pycnogenol® group (P<0.05 vs. ICS only group). A decrease by 15.2% of the specific IgE titer was found in the Pycnogenol® + ICS group, whereas the titer increased by 13.4% in the ICS-only group.”

All that means that the group that received 50 mg of OPC from pine bark supplement twice daily for 6 months experienced very significant clinical improvement in their asthma symptoms, and were able to decrease dependence on medication. That fact that the results were statistically significant with only 76 patients in the whole study indicate that this was a very large effect. Many clinical trials require thousands of patients to demonstrate a statistically significant improvement.

Having grown up with pretty severe asthma myself (I recall one of my professors in medical school telling me that I could expect to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, also known as emphysema), by the time I would be 60, which I am now well past)– I’ve learned that many nutritional factors can help to heal asthma. In addition to OPCs,  Fish oil (and keeping dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids low), Evening Primrose oil (or other source of gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that is actually anti-inflammatory) vitamin D (5000 IU per day), lipid extract of New Zealand Green lipped mussel,  recognition of food sensitivities (and avoiding those foods) all have helped to the point, that, except for several weeks after the occasional viral upper respiratory infection, I can exercise, even in cold air, without wheezing, be around cats without the asthma attacks that only 25 years ago were predictable after exposure to cats, and generally live an active and for the most part asthma free life. So the only surprise to me about this study, was how little Pine Bark OPC it took to make a very significant clinical difference in this group of people with moderately severe asthma. Personally I have experienced and also seen similar effects in other people with asthma, from supplementation with grape seed derived OPC, and with combinations of grape seed and pine bark OPC concentrates. The important thing is that they be high quality, high purity concentrates, as is the case with Pycnogenol®.

I’m also glad that my medical school professor (who was a specialist in pulmonology, ie study of lung diseases) turned out to be quite wrong about me!

Dean Ornish gets it right!!

I knew Dean Ornish when he was a medical student, doing studies on yoga and diet with heart disease patients. I suspected then he was destined for great things. This article he just wrote for Newsweek beautifully expresses what i like to call The Art of Growing Young.

What really works to make sustainable changes in diet and lifestyle? It’s probably not what you think. In over 30 years of conducting clinical research, I’ve learned that the real keys are pleasure, joy and freedom, not willpower, deprivation and austerity. Joy of living is sustainable; fear of dying is not.

Read the whole article, Heed what it says, and Enjoy the results!!–Dr. McKee

Grape seed extract kills leukemia cells

A new study from the University of Kentucky (where I graduated from medical school in 1975!) was published Jan 1st 2009 in Clinical Cancer Research.

An extract from grape seeds forces laboratory leukemia cells to commit cell suicide, according to researchers from the University of Kentucky. They found that within 24 hours, 76 percent of leukemia cells had died after being exposed to the extract.

This one is particularly dear to my heart, as I have seen (and experienced) first hand the amazing results of supplementation with high quality grape seed (and pine bark) proanthocyanodins (OPCs). One of the frequent comments/questions I receive is “I heard that OPCs were bad to take if you have leukemia or a high white blood cell count”. My answer has always been that I know of no reason for this. Now we have strong evidence,  even including the molecular mechanism (see full article) for the first time, to the contrary

vitamin D supposedly doesn’t protect against breast cancer

A study of 36,000 women, half of whom took a gram of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D for a period of 7 years was recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Instutute

The main findings do not support a causal relationship between calcium and vitamin D supplement use and reduced breast cancer incidence, despite the association observed in some epidemiological studies

Commentary:  When I see studies like this, its hard to know whether the authors are just uninformed, or actually malicious. OF COURSE there was no difference in breast cancer incidence from taking a gram of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D (the calcium is mostly irrelevant, its the vitamin D that is important in cancer prevention). There is a very rich scientific literature about vitamin D that has appeared over the past decade, which these authors apparently have not been reading.  Given that somewhere between 50 and 80% of adults in the US are vitamin D deficient or insufficient (levels below 30 ng/ml), and that during the wintertime, taking even 1000 IU of vitamin D a day will not raise the blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D above 30 ng/ml (recently published by Dr. Michael Holick), drawing conclusions from a study in which 18,000 women took 400 IU of vitamin D is ludicrous! Now if they had given these women 4,000 IU of vitamin D instead of 400, its very likely that they would have seen very different results. In fact, a study by Lappe et al reported that postmenopausal women who took 1100 IU of vitamin D3 a day for 4 years (along with calcium) showed a 60% reduced risk of developing all cancers compared to a group with similar cancer risk factors that took placebo. So just because a study is in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, don’t assume that its authors know what they’re talking about!

those with low vitamin D levels twice as likely to die

A recent study suggests that vitamin D may be one of our most crucial nutrients to health and long life continues to mount:

CHICAGO – New research linking low vitamin D levels with deaths from heart disease and other causes bolsters mounting evidence about the “sunshine” vitamin’s role in good health.

Patients with the lowest blood levels of vitamin D were about two times more likely to die from any cause during the next eight years than those with the highest levels, the study found. The link with heart-related deaths was particularly strong in those with low vitamin D levels.

Science used to believe that vitamin D was simply needed to prevent rickets, a disease of soft bones, and that people needed only 200-400 international units (IUs) for this. In the past decade we’ve learned that vitamin D is crucial to the health of every cell in the body, and that heart health, brain health, immune system health, and cancer prevention all rely heavily on robust levels of this vitamin in our bodies. Not only that, we’re learning that nutrition scientists were off by a factor of 10 in how much is optimal. In other words, we need 2,000 to 4,000 (and in some cases 6,000) IU of vitamin D daily for optimal blood levels (above 50 ng/ml). What wasn’t known for a long time is that a healthy human exposed to summer (or tropical winter) sun for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how dark or light skinned we are, will make between 10 and 10 THOUSAND IUs of vitamin D. When we started subtracting sun exposure (or using sunscreen) from our lives some 30 years ago, we shut off the tap of the “sunshine vitamin”, and our food “fortifications” and multivitamin pills had far too little vitamin D to make up for it. I recommend to everybody to take at least 2,000 IU daily, and after a few months, to ask their doctor to order a 25-hydroxy vitamin D level–this number may be more important to your health than knowing your cholesterol level or your blood pressure–and for optimal health, you want it to be between 50 and 100 ng/ml, even though 30 is considered “adequate”–and you wouldn’t believe how many millions of people are well below 30!

Broccoli nudges genes to fight cancer

Broccoli nudges genes to fight cancer

Just a few more portions of broccoli each week may protect men from prostate cancer, according to British researchers who examined the biology of the cruciferous veggie.

Read Full Article at Men’s health

This is another report from the front, telling us that our genes may have less to do with our health destiny than our diets and behaviors do. Clearly, what we eat has powerful impact on which genes get expressed and which ones don’t. Whether or not we get cancer, heart disease, or diabetes rests in which genes get expressed and which ones don’t–and  a good deal of this rests in what we choose to eat, and whether or not we choose to be physicaly active. i thinkI’m going to go eat some brocolli…..

Walnuts Slow Growth of Tumors in Mice

Here an interesting study I’ve come across:

Researcher W. Elaine Hardman, Ph.D., of Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards
School of Medicine said the study was designed to determine whether mice
that got part of their calories by eating walnuts had slower breast cancer
growth than a group eating a diet more typical of the American diet.

“When we fed the mice the walnuts, the growth rate of the tumors they
had was dramatically suppressed,” Hardman said.

To read the full news report, go to