According to the National Institutes of Health, 2 million Americans every year are afflicted with deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that forms in the legs and is especially prevalent during long-haul flights. But Dr. John Scurr, a British cardiovascular surgeon who has conducted extensive research into DVT for the World Health Organization, claims that an antioxidant called pycnogenol may considerably reduce your risk of developing this potentially fatal condition. A study published last October in the Clinical Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis journal corroborates Scurr's preliminary findings, showing that pycnogenol, a natural extract of French maritime pine bark, improves circulation, prevents edema, and ultimately protects against DVT. Pycnogenol has been available in the United States since the late eighties; it is sold as a dietary supplement, however, so it is not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. It has no serious side effects.
Dr. Richard Stein, a cardiologist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, calls the study "impressive" but says it should be followed soon by a larger trial. Stein encourages travelers to remember these four precautions before their next long flight: 1. If possible, travel in first or business class, where there's more legroom. 2. Get up every 15 to 20 minutes to stretch your legs. 3. Drink a lot of water (this will encourage No. 2). 4. Wear elastic compression socks (check with your doctor first).
Dr. Scurr's own brand of pycnogenol, Zinopin, is sold at most health-food stores for $30.