by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady asked,
Is an extract of pine bark (pycnogenol) still of interest in treating tinnitus?
You are referring to an article that came out 3 years ago on October 13, 2010 entitled, “Pycnogenol effective in relieving tinnitus symptoms: Study“.
In case you aren’t familiar with it, pycnogenol (pik-NAH-jen-all) is a proprietary extract derived from the bark of the Maritime Pine (Pinus pinastris) and is used as an alternative treatment for various health conditions.
It’s rather interesting that after a flurry of activity repeating/commenting on this article, there has been little written since then about pycnogenol and tinnitus.
Why aren’t the millions of tinnitus sufferers flocking to take pycnogenol? Why is there no mention of this treatment on the American Tinnitus Association website or other prominent tinnitus information sites?
As they say, “the devil is in the details”—in other words, when looking deeper into the subject, you see that the fine details do not fully support the initial proclamation. This is the case with the above-mentioned study.
Notice the specific conditions of this study.
“In a study conducted by the Chieti-Pescara University in Italy, 82 patients between the ages of 35 and 55 with mild-to-moderate tinnitus in only one ear, while the other remains unaffected, were studied throughout a four-week period. Tinnitus in all subjects was a result of restricted blood supply to the inner ear, as measured by high resolution ultrasonography imaging of their cochlear blood flow.”
First, notice the small size of this study. It only involved 82 people. If other studies had been done with other people would they have found the same results?
Second, notice that this was only for people with “mild to moderate tinnitus”, not for the millions of people with tinnitus that is driving them “buggy” (severe tinnitus).
Third, notice that they could only have tinnitus in one ear. Again, this leaves out enormous numbers of people with tinnitus in both ears.
Fourth, the study only lasted 4 weeks. Would the positive effects they found last for years? That question is not answered.
Finally, and very importantly, notice that all the test subjects had tinnitus from one specific cause—”a result of restricted blood supply to the inner ear”.
Let’s zero in on that last condition. In how many people is tinnitus caused by a lack of adequate blood-flow to the inner ear?
We know that for most people with hearing loss, tinnitus accompanies their hearing loss. We also know that exposing your ears to noise is the most common cause of preventable tinnitus. Furthermore, we know that tinnitus is associated with taking any of more than 550 different drugs and medications.
Thus, it appears that few people with tinnitus have, as the primary cause of their tinnitus, a lack of adequate blood flow to their inner ears.
Therefore, the reason that pycnogenol isn’t used to treat everyone with tinnitus is that it (only) works for those people who have inadequate blood flow to their inner ears—obviously not the majority of people with tinnitus by any means.
However, for people that suffer from tinnitus caused solely by reduced blood flow to their inner ears, taking pycnogenol may indeed help them. However, pycnogenol isn’t the only thing that can help this condition. Anything that increases blood flow in the peripheral arteries should do the same job. For example, Niacin (Vitamin B3) would do the same job, and indeed, is used in treating this very condition. So is taking Ginkgo biloba (standardized to contain 24% flavone glycosides, 6% terpene lactones and 2.6% bilobalide) in therapeutic doses (480 mg per day).
Unfortunately, for all those of us with tinnitus who do not have reduced blood flow as the primary cause of our tinnitus—taking pycnogenol or the above remedies typically doesn’t help us.
You see, in order to get good results, you need to use the correct tinnitus treatment based on the cause of your tinnitus. However, too many people lump all tinnitus together as though it were just “tinnitus” and thus one treatment should work. This is just not true, and is why results vary all over the place.
There are a number of different causes/”kinds” of tinnitus. There are also many different tinnitus treatments. The good news is that each of these treatments work for some people, but none work for all people. That is why pycnogenol works for some people and not others. For this very reason, if you have tinnitus, you should try a number of different treatments until you find one (or more) treatments that helps alleviate your tinnitus.
If you want to learn more about many things that can trigger tinnitus, or more about a number of things you can do to help bring your tinnitus under control, check out our book, When Your Ears Ring—Cope with Your Tinnitus—Here’s How.