A fake Christmas tree may be more popular, but here's a new reason to appreciate the real thing: Researchers have identified a group of anti-inflammatory compounds in the bark of the Scotch pine -- widely used for Christmas trees -- that they say could be developed into food supplements or drugs for treating arthritis and pain. The compounds, which show promise in preliminary cell studies, are likely to be found in other pine species as well, the scientists say. The compounds identified were phenolics, a class of highly-active plant chemicals that have been increasingly tied to beneficial health effects. The study is scheduled to appear in the Dec. 29 print issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. ''The preliminary study showed that highly purified preparations of pine bark extract have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Pine bark extract has been used worldwide for many years as folk medicine, both orally and topically, to treat a variety of health conditions ranging from wounds to coughs. As part of a larger search for healthy compounds in plants that might be used to develop functional food products or nutraceuticals, the researchers studied several different preparations of pine bark extract taken from the Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) and identified up to 28 compounds, some of which showed high biological activity. The researchers then tested the various extracts against mouse inflammatory cells (macrophages) for their ability to produce nitric oxide and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), chemicals which are known to help trigger inflammation when they are produced in excess amounts, as during disease or injury. The extract (at 50 µg/mL concentration level) inhibited nitric oxide production, an excess of which has been linked to arthritis and circulatory problems, by up to 63 percent, they say.