Pycnogenol is a pine bark extract obtained from the French maritime pine (Pinus pinaster). It has a long history of medicinal use and was added to pine needle tea to treat severe vitamin C deficiency (scurvy). It was later found to work by enhancing the uptake and effectiveness (bioavailability) of vitamin C within the pine needles.
Pycnogenol health benefits
Pycnogenol pine bark extracts contain a unique blend of flavonoids whose antioxidant action is over is 50 times more powerful than vitamin E, 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 16 times more active than grapeseed extracts.
Pycnogenol suppresses inflammation and regulates the production of nitric oxide – a substance involved in blood vessel dilation to reduce hardening and furring up of the arteries. Other benefits include strengthens fragile capillaries, protecting against unwanted blood clots and improving blood glucose control.
Pine bark extracts are widely taken to treat conditions associated with poor circulation, such as diabetes, erectile dysfunction, varicose veins, thread veins, macular degeneration, peripheral vascular disease (intermittent claudication) and leg cramps.
Pycnogenol reduces pain and inflammation
Pine bark extract inhibit the action of enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2) involved in triggering inflammation. This gives it a similar pain-killing action as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but without the side effects of stomach irritation.
In people with knee osteoarthritis, taking Pycnogenol (French maritime pine bark extract) at a dose of 150 mg a day, with meals, for 3 months, was significantly more effective than placebo in reducing pain and reduced the need to take NSAIDs as painkillers.
Another study found that taking 100mg Pycnogenol per day for 3 months can improve pain, stiffness, walking distance, flexibility and swollen feet in people with osteoarthritis.
Pycnogenol and the circulation
Pycnogenol helps to lower a high blood pressure, improve cholesterol balance to protect against atherosclerosis, strengthens fragile capillaries to reduce swelling (oedema) in people with varicose veins (chronic venous insufficiency), and those experiencing swelling as a side effects of antihypertensive medication. Pycnogenol also reduces ankle swelling and the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during long flights. Pycnogenol also reduces abnormal blood clotting, even in smokers, with a dose of 125mg pycnogenol proving as effective as 500mg aspirin, but without the increased stomach-bleeding time seem with aspirin.
As a result of all these benefits, taking Pycnogenol can even improve arterial blood flow in people with coronary heart disease.
Pycnogenol and type 2 diabetes
Pycnogenol appears to improve glucose control and reduce the small blood vessel damage that can lead to complications in type 2 diabetes. As it improves blood circulation through both large and small blood vessels, Pycnogenol also improves the healing of diabetic ulcers.
Because it strengthens the connective tissue supporting tiny blood vessels and helps to seal leaks, Pycnogenol also has the potential to preserve vision in people with diabetic retinopathy.
NB If you have diabetes, monitor your glucose levels carefully when starting any supplement.
Pycnogenol and the skin
Pycnogenol supplements can be taken by mouth or used in cosmetic creams to reduce free radical damage linked with premature ageing. Pine bark antioxidants also bind to collagen and elastin in the skin to protect them from degradation by collagenase and elastase enzymes. This has the potential to improve skin smoothness and elasticity, and to discourage wrinkles.
Pycnogenol also increases the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, which improves skin plumpness, hydration and elasticity.
By increasing blood flow through small vessels in the skin, pine bark extracts also brighten the complexion, and reduces red blotches. Pycnogenol may also reduce hyperpigmentation and protect against ultraviolet induced damage.
Pycnogenol also has beneficial effects on skin in people with psoriasis.
Pycnogenol and allergies
Pycnogenol antioxidants suppress the release of histamine from allergy cells (mast cells) exposed to airborne allergens such as pollen. Clinical trials suggest Pycnogenol is as effective as an antihistamine as the commonly used hayfever drug, sodium cromoglicate in reducing allergic rhinitis (hayfever) symptoms when started at least 5 weeks before the onset of the birch pollen season in Canada.
The usual dose range is 50mg to 220mg per day. A typical daily dose is 100mg to 150mg.
Pycnogenol side effects
Pine bark extracts are well tolerated in clinical trials, with few side effects. Those that do occur tend to be mild and temporary. Side effects that have occasionally occurred include nausea, headache and upset stomach.