Pycnogenol (Pic-no-gen-ol) is made from the bark of French maritime pine with the Latin name Pinus pinaster. Pycnogenol is made by extracting the outer bark of the pine and is then standardized to a 65% content of the active plant substances known as procyanidins.
The trees are cultivated in a 2.5 million acre plantation in the Southwestern part of France. All trees that are cut down are replaced with new saplings, making the entire production fully sustainable. The forest is unspoiled and natural, with no pesticides, no herbicides. Pinus pinaster is not subject to seasonal variations, unlike other plants, which makes it an ideal botanical source.
Why do we need to supplement?
Pycnogenol naturally contains a wide range of plant compounds with beneficial properties, including catechin, epicatechin, flavones and taxifolin. Due to the wide range of beneficial compounds found naturally in Pycnogenol, it also has a wide range of potential benefits to human health. Pycnogenol is a popular supplement due to this and is often referred to as nature's most versatile supplement.
How does it work in the body?
Pycnogenol® French maritime pine bark extract's unique blend of active compounds offers four basic properties –
- Generate collagen and hyaluronic acid
- Aids in the production of endothelial nitric oxide which helps to dilate blood vessels.
Each of these actions stand alone or work in unison to support a wide range of potential benefits as shown in research.
Benefits in Research
Hay-fever and other allergens
One in three people suffer from allergies; which are an overreaction of the body’s immune system toward substances it considers harmful, such as dusts, mites and animal hair. Hay-fever describes an allergic reaction to plant pollen and is one of the most common triggers of allergic reactions.
When a person who is allergic comes in to contact with one of these allergens, immune cells known as mast cells release the tissue-hormone histamine. The histamine in turn triggers sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, itching and bronchial swellings.
According to studies, Pycnogenol was found to inhibit the release of histamine from mast cells that were aggravated by an irritant 1.
Pycnogenol may significantly contribute to the improvement of some risk factors of cardiovascular disease, including regulating blood pressure and platelet function and improving lipids (fats) in the bloods.
Clinical studies demonstrate the efficacy of Pycnogenol for keeping cardiovascular health problems at bay including in healthy people and those taking prescription medicine for cardiovascular health issues. Research has found that Pycnogenol helps individuals maintain healthy circulation by counteracting blood vessel constriction, thus improving blood flow and helping maintain normal blood pressure 2.
In clinical trials, supplementing with Pycnogenol was found to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and raise ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) 3.
Also known as an enlarged prostate, BPH is common in men as they age, especially in those over 50. When the prostate (a small gland near the bladder) becomes enlarged, it places pressure on both the bladder and urethra, leading to various symptoms including difficulty urinating.
BPH can also lead to various complications, including urinary tract infections (UTIs).
In one study 4, Pycnogenol was shown to be statistically superior to both placebo and medication (dutasteride and finasteride) after 8 weeks in improving urine flow, decreasing urine frequency and improving the ability to fully empty the bladder.
The blood test demonstrated a decrease of oxidative stress in those taking Pycnogenol, yet an increase in both control and the drug group. Those taking medications actually experienced an increase in oxidative stress, while those taking Pycnogenol experienced less oxidative stress.
In various studies, athletes have shown an increase in endurance while supplementing with Pycnogenol compared to placebo. In these studies Pycnogenol has shown to improve blood flow and oxygenation of muscle, allowing them to work harder and resist fatigue 5.
Healthy blood vessels
Long periods of immobility, decreased fluid intake and water loss in dry compressed airplane cabins are contributing factors of swelling due to insufficient blood circulation, with fluids accumulation in tissues throughout the legs. Most people will notice the effects of in-flight swelling if they take their shoes off and have difficulty getting back into them at the end of the flight. Leg and ankle swelling can lead to dangerous conditions like Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).
Pycnogenol can help prevent leg swelling (edema) during long flights according to research. Pycnogenol supplementation has been associated with less leg and ankle swelling and discomfort, symptoms commonly associated with long distance travel 6.
Other research demonstrated the ability of Pycnogenol to help prevent thrombosis. Passengers took 200mg of Pycnogenol prior to departure, 200mg during the flight and 100mg the day after arrival. There were five cases of thrombosis in the group taking the placebo, none of the passengers supplementing with Pycnogenol developed thrombosis during the flight 7.
Pycnogenol enhances generation of nitric oxide (NO) which supports the relaxation of the blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow to the skin.
Pycnogenol binds with skin proteins collagen and elastin to help support skin elasticity and structure. In research, those taking Pycnogenol supplements daily over 12 weeks experienced significantly increased collagen (type 1) production by 41%. This in turn can contribute to reduction of wrinkles and fine lines 8.
Pycnogenol supplementation also improves production of hyaluronic acid, the compound responsible for skin hydration, with one study showing a boost of up to 44% after 12 weeks. This benefit was particularly noticeable in the skin of subjects who had dry skin prior to the study 8. Other mechanisms of Pycnogenol which can support healthy-looking skin include improved microcirculation and increased antioxidant protection from environmental factors 9, 10.
Pycnogenol is shown to inhibit the activation of the main inflammatory complex in the body, Nf-KB 11. This action reduces the activity of compounds in the body which trigger inflammation and negatively impact joint conditions, such as arthritis. Pycnogenol use in clinical trials has also demonstrated reduced inflammation and joint pain in arthritis sufferers 12,13. Those taking Pycnogenol supplements also produce fewer MMP enzymes, compounds responsible for degrading joint cartilage.
Lifestyle, diet and hereditary factors all impact our vision, with age causing vision to naturally decline over time. The retina specifically is exposed to high levels of oxidative stress when the eyes are exposed to UV rays from the sun which can damage the delicate tissue. This oxidative stress can be counteracted by effective antioxidants and numerous studies show Pycnogenol demonstrating this beneficial action 14, 15. Pycnogenol also helps protect delicate retinal capillaries which play a role in healthy vision by ensuring good optic blood flow.
1. Sharma S, Sharma S, Gulati O. Pycnogenol inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2003 Jan 31
2.Liu X, Wei J, Tan F, Zhou S, Wurthwein G, Rohdewald P.Pycnogenol®, French maritime pine bark extract, improves endothelial function of hypertensive patients. Life Sciences 74: 855-862, 2004.
3. Koch R.Comparative study of Venostasin® and Pycnogenol® in chronic venous insufficiency. Phytother Res 16:1-5, 2002.
4. Ledda, A Benign prostatic hypertrophy: Pycnogenol® supplementation improves prostate symptoms and residual bladder volume.Minerva Med. 2018 Aug;109(4):280-284. doi: 10.23736/S0026-4806.18.05572-6.
5. Vinciguerra, G., G. Belcaro, E. Bonanni, M. R. Cesarone, V. Rotondi, A. Ledda, M. Hosoi, M. Dugall, M. Cacchio and U. Cornelli (2013). “Evaluation of the effects of supplementation with Pycnogenol® on fitness in normal subjects with the Army Physical Fitness Test and in performances of athletes in the 100-minute triathlon.” J Sports Med Phys Fitness 53(6): 644-654.
6. Cesarone MR et al.Prevention of edema in long flights with Pycnogenol®.Clin Appl Thromb Hemost 11(3): 289-294, 2005.
7. Belcaro G et al.Prevention of venous thrombosis and thrombophlebitis in long-haul flights with Pycnogenol®.Clin Appl Thromb Hemost 10(4): 373-377, 2004.
8. Marini A, Grether-Beck S, Jaenicke T, Weber M, Burki C, Formann P et al. Pycnogenol® Effects on Skin Elasticity and Hydration Coincide with Increased Gene Expressions of Collagen Type I and Hyaluronic Acid Synthase in Women. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. 2012;25(2):86-92.
9. Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Errichi BM, Ledda A, Di Renzo A, Stuard S, Dugall M, Pellegrini L, Gizzi G, Rohdewald P, Ippolito E, Ricci A, Cacchio M, Cipollone G, Ruffini I, Fano F, Hosoi M.Diabetic ulcers: microcirculatory improvement and faster healing with Pycnogenol®. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost 12: 318-323, 2006
10. Devaraj S, Vega-López S, Kaul N, Schönlau F, Rohdewald P, Jialal I. Supplementation with a pine bark extract rich in polyphenols increases plasma antioxidant capacity and alters the plasma lipoprotein profile. Lipids. 2002;37(10):931-934.
11. Grimm T et al. Inhibition of NF-kB activation and MMP-9 secretion by plasma of human volunteers after ingestion of maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol®). J Inflamm 3: 1-15, 2006.
12. Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Errichi S, Zulli C, Errichi BM, Vinciguerra G, Ledda A, Di Renzo A, Stuard S, Dugall M, Pellegrini L, Gizzi G, Ippolito E, Ricci A, Cacchio M, Cipollone G, Ruffini I, Fano F, Hosoi M, Rohdewald P Variations in C-reactive protein, plasma free radicals and fibrinogen values in patients with osteoarthritis treated with Pycnogenol®. Redox Rep 13: 271-276, 2008
13. Farid R et al. Pycnogenol® supplementation reduces pain and stiffness and improves physical function in adults with knee osteoarthritis. Nutr Res 27: 692-697, 2007.
14. Chida M et al. In vitro testing of antioxidants and biochemical end-points in bovine retinal tissue. Ophthalmic Res 31: 407-415, 1999
15. Nakanishi-Ueda T et al. Inhibitory effect of Lutein and Pycnogenol on lipid peroxidation in porcine retinal homogenate. J Clin Biochem Nutr 38: 204-210, 2006