Pine Bark Extract: Help for Runner’s Ischemia?

race start line austin marathon

Streak Day:1027
YTD Mileage: 1919
(2222 mile goal / 2017)
(2112 miles / 2016)

I’ve neglected this blog for a few months, and one reason for the neglect is

Austin Marathon 2017
Eldest son, daughter-in-law, me, and Hubby, at the ATX Marathon start line (Feb, 19, 2017)

that I’ve been discouraged since I finished the 2017 Austin Marathon (February 19) in the St David ER instead of at the race finish line. The day was unusually warm and muggy, which led to many runners having troubled runs. For me, it meant that my usual distance running issues were more pronounced and at mile 23.8 my race ended (I KNOW! SO CLOSE! UGH!). One bag of fluid administered by a race medic at curb-side was not enough to satisfactorily improve my vitals, so off to the hospital I went in an ambulance – which made this race the MOST expensive race I’ve ever run. The ER was full of runners in bibs, waiting to be seen. As the EMTs wheeled me through them to a room, I thought that the waiting room was much like scene from a war movie in which wounded waiting for medical attention in a medical facility are seated or laying in every available empty spot.

race start line austin marathon
Start line, ATX Marathon (Feb. 19, 2017)

I may have set a record, though, when I failed to finish the race that day. I received TWO DNFs for the same event: one for the race itself, and one for the Austin Distance Challenge. The ATX Marathon was the last race in the in the 2016-17 challenge, and I had begun the race with a third place ranking in my gender /  AG among the ADC participants. I was more disappointed about not finishing the Austin Distance Challenge than about any other running disappointment I’ve experienced. I didn’t get the ADC finisher’s jacket I’d been working so hard to earn.

80s 8k Cedar Park 2016
80s 8k, Oct 2, 2016 (2nd place AG) – First Austin Distance Challenge race, 2016

I won’t go into details, but I have a genetic, congenital issue that predisposes me to ischemia, so for me to become sick while running, especially in hot, humid weather, is just part of my running life. The symptoms related to the problem have ruined quite a few of my runs and races. After my ATX marathon debacle last February, my internist sent me to a sport specialist, who offered more suggestions to avoid or ease the problem, as well as the usual advice I’ve received from past doctors to change my goals, shorten my distances, and slow my pace. I’ve read volumes of journal and magazine articles, and online sites, about ways to avoid nausea and intestinal problems while running, or after a run. These problems plague a large percentage of runners, from weekend warriors to elites. If you’re taking the time to read this post, you probably experience this unfortunate disruption to your runs, as well.

running meme paramedics
credit: picsmine.com

The sport doctor I saw, however, was on to something I think. He offered explanations and advice that doctors I’ve seen the past never mentioned. I’ve put into practice what he told me, but I’ve also started to research the problem a little differently because of what I learned from him. About three weeks ago I came across this article on the Canadian Academy of Sports Nutrition’s website, which I’m surprised I’ve never seen before. The article notes the usual reasons for stomach and intestinal distress among distance runners, including transient intestinal ischemia, then lists possible solutions for the problem. Listed under recommended supplements for runner’s diarrhea is French maritime pine bark extract, which according to the article is a flavonoid that “improves blood circulation and may help with intestinal ischemia.”

running meme live dangerously
credit: marathonandspirit.wordpress.com

In all my research into the runner’s curse of stomach problems, I had never once come across mention of this supplement as a possible aid to ischemia and inflammation of the intestines that often plagues distance runners. I’d never even heard of it. I realize that my ischemia is chronic: unrelated to, but exacerbated by, running. I already take a prescription medication to improve circulation and prevent related health problems; however, having an additional supplement to help with inflammation as well as circulation while I run could be helpful, regardless of the cause of the ischemia. I researched pine bark extract (the trademarked active element of the extract is pyncogenol) using health and academic databases on the San Antonio Public Library website. I read articles in both consumer magazines and academic journals. Limited research reported in the articles I read shows that in addition to pine bark extract’s positive effect on circulation, it reduces the following: inflammation in the body, arthritis and joint pain, symptoms of endometriosis, symptoms of menopause, tinnitus, muscle cramps, and the effects of aging on skin. Additionally, pine bark extract improves mental function, promotes weight loss, and offers natural protection of the skin from sun. Finally, pine bark extract appears to increase endurance and boosts performance of athletes.

One always suspects the myriad claims that make a supplement sound like a miracle cure-all. Since no serious side effects are associated with pine bark extract, or pycnogenol, I didn’t see any risk in trying it. I’ve been taking it for twelve days now, and so far I think I’ve seen some improvement in my ischemia symptoms while running. I ran an two eight milers and a ten miler over this past weekend without major stomach problems, which was a surprise given the heat and humidity. I hope that the supplement really does increase endurance and boosts athletic performance; I can really use that benefit! We’ll see what happens over the next few weeks. I’m cautiously optimistic. I figure if the extract works for me, it’ll work for other runners who experience stomach problems during and after races. I’ll record my experience with pine bark extract on this blog. I’m hoping to find that all benefits supposedly derived from a daily dose  (I’m taking one 240 mg capsule) of pine bark extract are real!

Author: TD Morris

I am a small business owner (ATX Ultra Eats, gluten-free, grain-free products www.atxultraeats.com) who loves God, my family, my dogs, running, barefoot running, cooking, eating, and reading!

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