Taking a long plane ride? Don’t spend a lot of time worrying about crashing—the risk is extremely small. A much bigger risk is developing a life-threatening blood clot, aka deep vein thrombosis (DVT), in your leg during the flight. Most of these clots dissolve harmlessly, but they can instead break off and travel through your bloodstream to the lungs, causing a blockage called a pulmonary embolism, which can block blood flow and be fatal. And signs and symptoms of potential DVT, including swelling of the legs and/or ankles and leg pain, can be very uncomfortable.
The good news is that a simple herbal supplement can go a long way toward preventing swelling and reducing leg pain and, research suggests, DVT. The supplement is Pycnogenol, a registered trademark for an extract from the bark of the French maritime pine.
Pycnogenol is a powerful antioxidant that improves circulation and reduces inflammation. In one recent study, 295 people who flew in economy class for more than eight hours were divided into three groups. One group took Pycnogenol, a second wore compression stockings (which help with circulation) and the third control group did nothing special.
Results: Members of the Pycnogenol group had the least leg/ankle swelling of the three groups and the least leg pain. There were two incidents of thrombosis in the control group but none in the Pycnogenol or stocking group.
My recommendation: Pycnogenol had a good showing in this study and makes sense as a blood-clot preventive on long trips—even long car rides. I typically recommend taking 100 milligrams of Pycnogenol twice a day for one week before a long flight, on the day of the flight and for one week afterward. While Pycnogenol generally is considered safe with few side effects, as with any supplement, consult your physician to make sure that it’s right for you.