Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—ADHD--is a problem that affects as many as seven percent of children in the u.s. The medications, while highly effective, are fraught with side effects. And so many parents seek alternative treatments. “A lot of these interventions, while they appear safer so they’re prescription drugs, they’re not stimulant medications, they’re not controlled substances, they’re also substances that may not have quality control, we don’t have certainly long term information on safety,” says Dr. Andrew Adesman of North Shore/Long Island Jewish Medical Center.
He is a leading authority on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. One that has been a popular choice is pcynogenol. It comes from the extract of pine bark out of a forest in southwest France. That bark is purported to contain a variety of antioxidants which are believed to provide numerous health benefits, including the prevention of vascular disease and cancers. But in the past pcynogenol has been the focus of the federal trade commission.
The marketer of a product containing pycnogenol, J and R Research, settled an FTC suit in 2000 without a penalty by agreeing not to advertise pycnogenol as a treatment for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. But in an interesting twist, there is new research, published in the Journal of European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which shows that indeed, there is some evidence that pycnogenol does help improve the symptoms of ADHD.
“Up until this study’s publication if somebody asked me about pycnogenol the answer that I would have to give them this is a product that’s been suggested as being helpful for ADHD but didn’t have any studies whatsoever in children and all we’ve had is anecdotal evidence,” says Dr. Adesman. In other words, case reports here and there suggesting it works. This study, though, found pycnogenol did show benefit in terms of hyperactivity and inattention, and more so with visual-motor coordination and concentration.
“It’s a reasonable study from a design standpoint. You show that study and ask could it have been done at UCLA, I say sure,” states Dr. Adesman. It isn’t a perfect study, but at least, there is some sound scientific data supporting the adhd claims. “There seems to be some benefit in terms of pycnogenol compared to placebo, so we know it seems to be better than nothing. I think the caution is we don’t have any information on how it is compared to standard of care,” advises Dr. Adesman.
And Dr. Adesman says we need to do more research looking at the size of the effect and which populations may benefit, if at all. He says no one should look at this as a definitive study suggesting that pycnogenol should be a first line treatment on par with other first line treatments, like ritalin. But perhaps applause is due: we do have some sound clinical data supporting a product’s claim.