Pycnogenol (pronounced pic-noj-en-all), an extract from the bark of the French maritime pine, is known to improve circulation, reduce swelling and ease asthma. Now Italian researchers have found another use for it-it helps patients with diabetes who are in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes in which the retina becomes damaged, resulting in vision impairment, including blurred vision, seeing dark spots, impaired night vision, reduced color perception and even blindness.

All people with diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy-and it's estimated that as many as 80% of people with diabetes for 10 years or more will have this complication.

Participants in the Italian study had been diagnosed with diabetes (the researchers did not specify whether the patients had type 1 or 2 diabetes) for four years, and their diabetes was well controlled by diet and oral medication. Study participants had early-stage retinopathy and moderately impaired vision. After two months of treatment, the patients given Pycnogenol had less retinal swelling as measured by ultrasound testing. Most important, their vision was significantly improved. This was especially noticeable because the vision of those in the control group did not improve.

My view: If you have type 1 or 2 diabetes, undergo a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. If retinopathy is detected, it would be wise to supplement with Pycnogenol (150 milligrams daily). Because retinopathy among diabetes patients is so prevalent, I recommend this amount to all my patients with diabetes to protect their vision. Pycnogenol has a blood thinning effect, so people who take blood thinning medication, such as warfarin, should use it only while being monitored by a doctor.

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