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Delving into nature to tackle allergies

Friday March 29, 2019
Delving into nature to tackle allergies

Do you suffer each year with allergies?  

Allergies are energy sapping, uncomfortable and downright frustrating.  Yet, over the counter and prescription medications often cause drowsiness.  However, have you considered alternative options?

Nature is a wonderful thing, where commonly botanical ‘antidotes’ can be found close to a botanical ‘poison’.  

Similar can be said of pine trees.  


During spring, pollen is often the trigger of seasonal allergies.  Yet, pine bark contains unique and beneficial compounds, including procyanidins (OPCs) that are reported to have anti-allergenic properties.  

OPCs belong to the flavonoid family; a 1000-strong compound family that give pigment, flavour, colour and aroma to the plants and fruits they belong.  Both bioflavonoids and flavonoids are the most common group of polyphenolic compounds in the human diet[1].


This group of polyphenolics is recognised in academia; Professor Jeffrey Blumberg PhD, Tuft’s University, stated: 

 “Understanding how polyphenols like the bioflavonoids reduce oxidative stress and inflammation to impact the pathogenesis of chronic disease presents opportunities for health promotion and alternative therapeutic modalities for an ageing population”[2]


While catechin, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, taxifolin and the metabolite M1 too are compounds abundant in pine bark that exert benefits to human health. 


An inside job

An allergy is characterised by an immune response to an allergen.  Allergens are generally harmless compounds that the body perceives as harmful and so, responds in a hypersensitive manner.  

For example; those with hay fever (allergy to pollen) may experience one or more symptoms; increased mucus production, itchy eyes and inflammation of the inner ear, nose and throat, besides hives and sneezing.  The immune system generates adverse symptoms, firstly, to denature and dissolve the allergen but also the symptoms are memorable, and we learn from the reaction to avoid the allergen.  

Allergies are termed ‘IgE mediated’ meaning that the immune system responds with a protein called immunoglobulin E.  This triggers the production of histamine and other immune factors to get rid of the allergen[3].  


Anti-histamines, decongestants and immunosuppressants are prescribed as directed by the NHS according to the type of allergy[4].  Anti-histamines interrupt the cycle of symptoms by stopping the production of histamine by the immune system.  


Unfortunately, they are not without some undesirable side effects, that may include; dry mouth, bladder retention, headache, nausea and drowsiness[5].  As a result, it is not recommended to drive or operate machinery which can impact on jobs, responsibilities and daily life.  

Seasonal allergies: Nip them in the bud

The use of pine bark to reduce inflammation can be traced back to Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine” (400 BC)[6].  Likewise, traditional use of pine bark extract for allergies has been reported in Turkey, Europe and Canada.  

Prevention is better than cure; by the same token it has been shown that starting pine bark extract supplementation prior to the hay fever season can be beneficial.  In the same way a study in Ontario, Canada, gave pine bark extract or a placebo to a group of individuals allergic to birch tree pollen.  

The supplementation started 3 weeks before the trees produced pollen and the pine bark group reported improved eye and nasal symptoms.

Subsequently the following year the study was repeated on a larger group of hay fever sufferers, however the administration of pine bark extract or placebo was started even earlier at 5-8 weeks prior to the birch pollen season.  

This time, an even greater reduction in eye and nasal symptoms was reported, of which the best results were reported from those who started the pine bark extract seven or eight weeks before the birch pollen season[7].


Author: Jenny Carson is a Nutritional Practitioner and Technical Supervisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Nutritional Science and is currently studying for MRES in Public Health.

[1] Passwater & Rohdewald, 2015, The Pycnogenol Phenomenon.  Ponte Press Verlags-GmbH, Bochum, Germany.

[2] Professor Jeffrey Blumberg PhD,

[3] Taylor, S.L & Lehrer, S.B.,1996, Principles and characteristics of food allergens. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 36:S91-S118.

[4] NHS Choices, 2016, Allergies. [Online] [Accessed: 16.03.2018]

[5] NHS Choices, 2017, Antihistamines. [Online] [Accessed: 8 March 2018].

[6] Packer, L., et al, 1999, From ancient Bark uses to Pycnogenol. Antioxidant Food Supplements in Human Health. Academic Press, chapter 20:311-22

[7] Wilson, D., et al, 2010, A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled exploratory study to evaluate the potential of pycnogenol® for improving allergic rhinitis symptoms. Phytother. Res., 24: 1115–19.

[8] Sharma, S.C. et al, 2003, Pycnogenol as an adjunct in the management of childhood Asthma. Phytother Res 17:66-9.

The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.

Related articles:

Allergies - a 21st Century Phenomenon
A-Z of Natural Allergy Relief 

Black Seed Oil: The Ultimate Hay Fever Hack


TAGS: Nutrition News and ViewsAllergy, Allergies, Pycnogenol


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