The Possible Benefits of Pycnogenol

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More

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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.

Why People Use It

Pycnogenol® is often marketed as a supplement for heart and circulatory health and a variety of conditions:

The 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:

Heart Health

Several studies suggest that Pycnogenol® may promote blood flow (by increasing nitric oxide levels) and it is often touted as a remedy for high blood pressure, inflammation, and other problems known to increase the risk of heart disease.

According to a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine, however, pine bark extract may not enhance heart health. 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.

Meniere's Disease and Tinnitus

Pycnogenol® may help treat Meniere's disease and tinnitus, according to a study published in Minerva Medica. 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.

For the study, participants 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®.


Pycnogenol® may help control some cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes, suggests a small study published in 2008. For 12 weeks, 48 people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure took either a daily Pycnogenol® supplement or a placebo pill. By the study's end, those taking Pycnogenol® showed improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels.

A more recent study, published in 2009, shows that Pycnogenol® may 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).

For the study, 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.

Find out other natural treatments for diabetes and learn strategies for preventing diabetes.

Since Pycnogenol® may lower blood sugar, if you're considering taking it, it's essential that you speak with your healthcare provider first.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Several studies show 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.

Erectile Dysfunction

Pycnogenol® has been explored as a remedy for erectile dysfunction, due to its' effects on nitric oxide levels and blood flow. Studies, however, have used 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.

Possible Side Effects and Safety

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

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

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.

Keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

The Takeaway

Although it may be tempting to try this antioxidant, larger, independent clinical trials are needed. If you're still thinking of trying it, be sure to consult your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

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Article Sources
  • Cesarone MR, Belcaro G, Rohdewald P, et al. Comparison of Pycnogenol and Daflon in treating chronic venous insufficiency: a prospective, controlled study. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2006 12(2):205-12.
  • Drieling RL, Gardner CD, Ma J, Ahn DK, Stafford RS. No beneficial effects of pine bark extract on cardiovascular disease risk factors. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Sep 27;170(17):1541-7.
  • Luzzi R, Belcaro G, Hu S, et al. Improvement in symptoms and cochlear flow with pycnogenol in patients with Meniere's disease and tinnitus. Minerva Med. 2014 Jun;105(3):245-54.
  • Steigerwalt R, Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, et al. Pycnogenol improves microcirculation, retinal edema, and visual acuity in early diabetic retinopathy. J Ocul Pharmacol Ther. 2009 25(6):537-40.
  • Zibadi S, Rohdewald PJ, Park D, Watson RR. Reduction of cardiovascular risk factors in subjects with type 2 diabetes by Pycnogenol supplementation. Nutr Res. 2008 28(5):315-20.