Pycnogenol and Developmental Delays

vt Kelly Dorfman, MS., LN., LD

"The most frequently noted improvement was in the fine motor skill area. Mothers reported children could control pencils and the computer mouse more precisely."

When people hear about pycnogenol for the first time, they usually say "pick what?" Pronounced "pickNOJ-en-ol," this odd sounding substance has shown some promise in helping those with developmental issues. Pycnogenol is a plant substance in a chemical family called flavonoids. Flavonoids have been in the news lately because many of them are being studied for their wide-ranging health benefits. Many of the cancer preventing, anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing properties associated with various fruits and vegetables are related, in part, to the type and amount of flavonoids they contain.

Pycnogenol is, in fact, a trade name for flavonoids that are better known in scientific circles as proanthocyanidins or procyanidolic oligomers (PCO). PCOs are abundant in red wine, grape seeds and pine bark. In France, where PCO was originally discovered, pycnogenol has been extracted and sold as a food supplement for decades. The research which has established PCO as safe and useful is published in French which may account for its relative obscurity until recently in the U.S.

PCO is an anti-oxidant very much like vitamins C and E but with much higher activity. Its higher potency is thought to come from the fact that it can be incorporated directly into cell membranes. This increases its ability to protect a cell from chemical damage from substances called free radicals. Because PCO is incorporated into the cell wall, one of its primary uses has been in the treatment of blood vessel disorders such as varicose veins, vascular disorders of the retina and easy bruising.

What do varicose veins have to do with developmental delays? Nothing directly. Yet somebody decided that a potent anti-oxidant that could more easily be incorporated into cell walls and reportedly the brain, might help the physiological and chemical brain changes that are now believed to be present in developmental problems. Stories of pycnogenol improving eye contact, fine motor skills and attending were so compelling that some practitioners began experimenting with PCO at the dose of 1 mg (milligram) per pound of body weight. Vitamin C was also added because it reportedly makes the PCO work better. The most frequently noted improvement was in the fine motor skill area. Mothers reported children could control pencils and the computer mouse more precisely. After the addition of PCO, children who were previously struggling in occupational or physical therapy would suddenly master skills.

Less dramatic, but also encouraging, was the possibility that PCO contributed to a number of children being weaned from Ritalin. Pycnogenol with another nutrient was used successfully in several situations which were resistant to other interventions. This anecdotal evidence has led to speculation concerning pycnogenol‘s effect on the body‘s regulatory systems, but no clinical studies have yet confirmed its possible role in this area.

There is plenty of clinical evidence supporting pycnogenol‘s safety. For a more extensive discussion of pycnogenol, see Dr. Richard Passwater‘s booklet, The New Superantioxidant-Plus : The Amazing Story of Pycnogenol, Free-Radical Antagonist and Vitamin C Potentiator (Good Health Guide Series)The New Superantioxidant-Plus.

(Kelly Dorfman is a nutritionist and health program planner, as well as a founding member of DDR.)

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume i, Number 1 - Summer, 1995]

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