The Health Benefits of Pycnogenol®

Boosts Heart Health and Improves Circulation

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Pycnogenol® (pronounced pic-NOJ-en-all) is the trade name for an extract of French Maritime Pine Bark (Pinus pinaster). It is a natural source of several antioxidants including proanthocyanidins, which are also found in wine, grapes, apples, cocoa, tea, nuts, and some berries.

Pycnogenol® is often marketed as a supplement for heart and circulatory health and a variety of conditions, including: menopause, chronic venous insufficiency, erectile dysfunction (ED), high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, and tinnitus.

Health Benefits

Many of the studies on pine bark extract have been small and short-term, and it should be noted that few have been done by independent researchers. Here's a look at some of the available research:

Circulation

Pycnogenol® has been found to be useful in relieving symptoms in postmenopausal women. The authors of the review proposed this effect is related to Pycnogenol®'s anti-oxidative effects and improved functioning of the endothelium, the thin membrane lining the inside of the heart. This paper cites several studies demonstrating that Pycnogenol® can improve the availability of nitric oxide, helping to maintain vascular homeostasis, and improve circulation.

One study showed that Pycnogenol® may reduce swelling and pain in people with chronic venous insufficiency, a condition in which the veins do not efficiently return blood from the legs to the heart, and which may be improved along with circulation.

Pycnogenol® has also been explored as a remedy for erectile dysfunction, due to its effects on nitric oxide levels and blood flow. One study tested this using a combination of Pycnogenol® and other ingredients (most commonly L-arginine), so the effects of Pycnogenol® on its own for erectile dysfunction aren't known, however the data is promising with 92.5 percent of study participants experiencing a normal erection after 3 months.

Heart Health

Pycnogenol® is often touted as a remedy for high blood pressure, inflammation, and other problems known to increase the risk of heart disease. Pycnogenol® has been found to improve functioning of the endothelium. A small study published in 2008 investigating 48 people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure who took either a daily Pycnogenol® supplement or a placebo pill for 12 weeks, found that those taking Pycnogenol® showed improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels, supporting the idea that taking Pycnogenol® may help control some cardiovascular risk factors, particularly in this patient population.

According to a larger study published in Archives of Internal Medicine, french maritime pine bark extract may not enhance heart health for the general population. The study involved 130 overweight people, all of whom had elevated blood pressure but weren't taking blood pressure medication. For 12 weeks, participants took either the pine bark extract or a placebo. Study results showed that the participants' blood pressure, C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), blood sugar, and cholesterol levels remained essentially the same in both groups throughout the study.

Diabetes

There is additional evidence to support that Pycnogenol® may be helpful in other ways for people with diabetes. In particular, it may help improve vision in people in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. A leading cause of blindness among people with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy occurs when leaky blood vessels damage the retina (a light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye).

In a study published in 2009, people with diabetes and early-stage retinopathy took Pycnogenol® or a placebo daily for three months. Study results showed that 18 of the 24 participants who took Pycnogenol® had an improvement in their vision, while no such improvements were observed in those who took the placebo. The study's authors suggest that pine bark extract may help stimulate circulation in the retina and inhibit swelling, which in turn may improve vision.

Pycnogenol® has also been shown to lower blood glucose. If this interests you, check out additional natural treatments for diabetes.

Tinnitus

Marked by continuous noise or ringing in the ears, tinnitus is a common condition sometimes triggered by low or high blood pressure or a disorder in the circulatory system. In one study, participants with tinnitus took Pycnogenol® or a placebo daily for six months. After three months, 45.4 percent of those who took Pycnogenol® were completely asymptomatic compared to 23.07 percent of controls.

At six months, 87.3 percent of those who took Pycnogenol® were asymptomatic compared to 34.6 percent of controls and had significantly better blood flow in the cochlea (a part of the inner ear that plays a key role in hearing). While tinnitus decreased in both groups, the decrease was more significant in those taking Pycnogenol®.

Possible Side Effects

Precautions

The safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Contraindications

Pycnogenol® may cause irritability and lower energy levels, especially when used in the treatment of ADHD.

People with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and celiac disease, should probably avoid it as it may stimulate the immune system.

Pycnogenol® may increase the risk of bleeding, so it should be avoided by those with bleeding disorders, people taking blood thinning medication or supplements, or in the weeks before surgery.

Interactions

Although Pycnogenol® is generally considered safe, it may interfere with the action of certain drugs used in chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Pycnogenol® may interact with medications that suppress the immune system, such as prednisone and corticosteroids.

Because Pycnogenol® lowers blood sugar, it may interact with other medications taken by people with diabetes.

Dosage and Preparation

50 mg several times daily was found useful for retinopathy in people with diabetes.

100 mg of Pycnogenol® was found to lower blood glucose.

Higher doses up to 360 mg daily was found helpful for effects related to improved circulation.

In most studies, Pycnogenol® was taken with a meal.

What to Look For

Pycnogenol® as a patented formulation of french maritime pine bark extract is standardized to 65-75 percent Procyanidin compounds by weight. Procyanidins are chain-like structures consisting of catechins, which confer anti-oxidant properties.

These structures are similar but not entirely the same as those to found in green tea, which makes it hard for consumer labs to test different supplement manufacturers and ensure the make-up of the supplement is entirely as advertised.

Trusted suppliers of Pycnogenol® are those that have been GMP-certified. If you have trouble finding a supplier you trust, many of the active ingredients of Pycnogenol® can also be extracted from other sources, including peanut skin, grape seed, and witch hazel bark.

Other Questions

Is Pycnogenol® an anti-inflammatory?

Yes, a 2009 study found that Pycnogenol® shuts down the production of specific enzymes involved with inflammation, specifically COX-2 and 5-LOX, and has shown promise in treating some inflammatory conditions such as asthma.

What does Pycnogenol® do for the skin?

Pycnogenol® increases collagen and hyaluronic acid production, two components of popular anti-aging products that may lead to more hydrated and elastic skin. A 2012 study of postmenopausal women found Pycnogenol® was most helpful as a skin supplement for women whose skin started out dry.

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