The Health Benefits of Pycnogenol

Pink bark extract is said to improve circulation and overall heart health

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Pycnogenol 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 (ringing in the ears).

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. Nevertheless, if you're considering taking it, it's worth 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 a review that came to this conclusion proposed that this effect is related to Pycnogenol's antioxidative 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 in particular showed that Pycnogenol may reduce swelling and pain in people with chronic venous insufficiency—when veins do not efficiently return blood from the legs to the heart—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). While the effects of Pycnogenol alone aren't known, the data is promising with 92.5 percent of study participants experiencing a normal erection after three 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; again here, its effects on the functioning of the endothelium are believed to be at play.

A small study 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. This supports the idea that taking Pycnogenol may help control some cardiovascular risk factors, particularly in this patient population.

However, 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.

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, about 45 percent of those who took Pycnogenol were completely asymptomatic compared to 23 percent of controls.

At six months, 87 percent of those who took Pycnogenol were asymptomatic, compared to almost 35 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

Some people taking pycnogenol may experience bad breath, upset stomach, dizziness, sores in the mouth, or headaches.

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

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

People with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and celiac disease, should probably avoid Pycnogenol 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

Taking three 50 mg tablets in the morning was found useful for retinopathy in people with diabetes.

A 100 mg dose of Pycnogenol once per day was found to lower blood glucose.

Higher doses (up to 360 mg daily) were found helpful for improving circulation.

In most studies, Pycnogenol was taken with a meal, so doing so is advised.

What to Look For

Pycnogenol, as a patented formulation of French maritime pine bark extract, is standardized to 65 percent to 75 percent procyanidin compounds by weight. Procyanidins are chain-like structures consisting of catechins, which confer the supplement's antioxidant properties.

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 a product labeled "pine bark extract" the same as Pycnogenol?

Essentially, yes. Pycnogenol is simply a patented formula of pine bark extract.

Is it true that Pycnogenol is good for your skin?

Yes. 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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