Pycnogenol is a brand name and a registered trademark of French maritime pine bark extract. Supplements containing pycnogenol could help with ADHD symptoms, dry skin, and other conditions.
Pycnogenol and pine bark extract have anti-inflammatory properties, allowing them to improve asthma symptoms, modify cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, and reduce blood clotting abilities. It may also benefit those who have metabolic syndrome.
Other benefits include improving erectile function, helping to treat chronic venous insufficiency, and lessening menopausal symptoms. Taking pine bark extract may help with exercise endurance and physical function, with promising research suggesting that it may strengthen the immune system and help with symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus.
Some people use Pycnogenol supplementation or French maritime pine bark as an antioxidant treatment to lower blood sugar and improve mental performance. It affects mental performance by enhancing blood flow to the brain and other body parts.
Many of the benefits of the supplement are backed by clinical trials.
What Is Maritime Pine Bark?
There are over 100 pine tree species found throughout the northern and part of the southern hemisphere.
Throughout history, various cultures have used the components of pine trees as medicine, including the bark, resins, needles, and nuts.
A scientist named Jacques Masquelier started studying pine bark effects in the 1940s after he learned about the use of pine bark tea by indigenous people in North America to treat wounds and scurvy. Since then, it’s grown as an increasingly popular supplement.
Pinus pinaster is the scientific name of the particular type of tree used to create this supplement. This pine tree is native to Mediterranean regions, including France, Morocco, Portugal, and Spain.
This tree is called maritime pine or cluster pine. The bark is thick and red, orange, or brown.
Many other pine tree species potentially have health benefits. Still, if you see pine treebark supplements containing Pycnogenol, they come specifically from maritime pines.
Other trade names for this pine bark extract include Oligopin and Flavangenol.
The supplements might also have other ingredients mixed in with the bark, including plant extracts and vitamin C.
To make supplements out of pine tree bark, the bark is first ground, then washed and soaked in hot water. The solids are removed from the liquid extract; this extract can then be used as it is or processed more if it’s freeze-dried and ground into a powder.
Maritime pines have other plant compounds that are good for human health, including polyphenols, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Many other compounds made from tree bark include witch hazel and grape seed extract.
Procyanidins are one polyphenol nutrient found in the pine bark extract; this is a flavonoid with antioxidant and medicinal properties. If you buy the trade name Pycnogenol supplement, it is standardized to have at least 75% procyanidins.
The extract also contains catechins, which are flavonoids with antioxidant properties to protect cells from the damage of free radicals and the oxidation they cause to our cells..
Phenolic acids are a set of polyphenols high in antioxidants and found abundantly in many plant foods.
The three fundamental properties that make Pycnogenol and pine bark supplements popular are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
Pycnogenol vs. Pine Bark Extract
Different countries have their own name for Pycnogenol. For example, in Japan, it’s called Flavangenol.
Extracts can be made from other pine barks, but the difference with Pycnogenol is that it’s officially taken from the French maritime pine. The quality is specified in the United States Pharmacopeia.
Different types of pine bark extract can have varying biological activities.
For example, a pine extract called Enzogenol is from a pine native to California and Mexico; it’s believed to have primarily cognitive benefits.
What Is Pycnogenol Good For?
Researchers believe that Pycnogenol acts in a sustained-release manner.
When you take it, the small molecule antioxidants like catechin and phenolic acids are absorbed quickly by your body, so they’ll start to act within 30 minutes. Then, the rest of the more complex antioxidants will reach the gut, where your gut microbiome breaks them down into active metabolites.
The active compounds produced by your microbiome will appear in your blood around six hours later and last for at least 14 hours.
Pycnogenol might protect your cells from oxidative stress and help you regenerate or maintain vitamin C and E levels. It may also increase nitric oxide levels. When you increase nitric oxide levels, your blood vessels are more likely to relax.
How Does Pycnogenol Act in the Body?
There are different ways that Pycnogenol can act in the body, including improving blood flow and regulating blood glucose levels. Its primary benefits seem to be related to the fact that it’s an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.
There’s also a potential build-up effect of the extract so that it could help improve particular health concerns more over time.
There’s some evidence to suggest that the extract could also help reduce chronic, low levels of inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases.
By boosting your antioxidant status, you can put out internal “fires” that wreak havoc on your health. When free radicals build up as part of our cells’ metabolic processes, they can damage your DNA and cause various adverse health conditions and symptoms. If you can reduce free radicals, you’re reducing oxidative damage. This is one of the main Pycnogenol benefits and explains why this is a popular supplement.
Pycnogenol Health Benefits
There is a lot of research on the potential Pycnogenol health benefits. Some are more well-studied than others, so we’ll break down what has the most evidence currently and what the supplement could be potentially good for.
Chronic inflammation is one of the primary drivers of chronic illnesses, including cancer.
In both animal and test-tube studies, pine bark extracts have been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits.
In fact, because of the anti-inflammatory benefits of pine bark extract, it’s being looked at currently as a potential therapeutic for the inflammation seen in viral infections like COVID-19.
Researchers have found that Pycnogenol might reduce the activity of COX1 and COX2, both inflammatory enzymes. These benefits are similar to how NSAIDs work. In one study with ten volunteers, taking a dose of 300 mg reduced the activity of these enzymes after only 30 minutes.
In another study, taking a 300 mg dose of Pycnogenol for five days reduced the activity of NF-kB, an inflammatory gene.
On a related topic, in a study of 11 patients with lupus, taking the supplement helped reduce symptoms, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
Consuming the supplement can help with DNA damage related to sepsis and may reduce levels of C-Reactive Protein or CRP. CRP is a protein that increases in the body anytime there is acute or chronic inflammation
It may help reduce the size of lymph nodes too.
Exercise Performance and Recovery
Researchers have identified that pine bark extract from the maritime pine could potentially lower the levels of free radicals often experienced after exercise; these free radicals can cause muscle damage and fatigue.
A study of 147 people taking 100 mg of the extract daily showed improvements in their endurance as they ran and did sit-ups and push-ups. It might also enhance swimming, biking, and running performance.
In a study of 66 healthy people, taking 200 mg of Pycnogenol a day helped reduce pain and muscle cramps in healthy people, athletes, and individuals with venous problems after four weeks.
In a separate study, a Pycnogenol product helped increase muscle endurance and performance.
A randomized placebo-controlled study of 26 asthma patients found that taking 200 mg of the extract a day improved asthma and reduced inflammatory markers of asthma in the blood after four weeks of use. These markers are known as leukotrienes.
A study with 60 children with mild-to-moderate asthma found that those taking Pycnogenol could reduce or discontinue the use of their rescue inhaler more than a placebo group.
In a study of 76 people with allergic asthma, a 100 mg a day dose helped 55% of study participants reduce their inhaler use and dosage. Researchers have concluded that the supplement may improve airway flow, reduce awakening during the night, reduce cough, and eliminate the need for more asthma medication.
In people with allergic rhinitis, taking 50 mg daily of a pycnogenol supplement helped reduce their allergy scores, particularly among those with eye and nasal allergies.
In an animal model looking at allergic rhinitis, the supplement reduced allergic markers, including IL-10, TNF-alpha, and IL-1b. It also decreased mucus production.
In animal studies of allergic conjunctivitis, the extract acted similarly to dexamethasone, reducing mast cell count.
In most studies looking at the benefits of maritime pine bark extract for allergies, researchers determined that it was best to take it 7-8 weeks before the allergy season.
Pycnogenol may help prevent thrombosis (blood clotting). In a study that ran for 12 months, taking the supplement was shown to be as effective as wearing compression stockings in reducing blood clots in the legs. In other studies, a 100 mg dose daily was as effective as aspirin and Antistax in preventing edema and thrombotic events.
It can reduce high blood pressure as well.
These benefits may be because they can help activate endothelial nitric oxide synthase and reduce vascular oxidative stress.
In a study of 133 women with varicose veins who recently gave birth, taking 100 mg daily reduced leg swelling, cramps, and spider veins.
In people with deep vein thrombosis, which are blood clots in the deep leg veins, Pycnogenol improves circulation, symptoms, and complications. It had the best outcomes combined with compression stockings but also worked independently.
Heart and Blood Pressure Benefits
Some studies show Pycnogenol can help keep blood pressure levels under control, and that can help with cardiovascular health. Blood pressure is a measure of how much blood is making its way from your heart to the rest of your body, and if your blood pressure is too high, it might be a sign your heart is working too hard. That can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
In one study, people taking Pycnogenol had a drop in their systolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure measures how much blood is pumping from the heart to the arteries. If it becomes too high, strokes, kidney disease, and heart attacks can ensue.
The benefits of Pycnogenol on blood pressure and heart health may stem from its ability to relax the blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and lower free radicals.
In a meta-analysis of nine studies, taking 150 to 200 mg daily for at least 12 weeks led to a drop in diastolic and systolic blood pressure.
Higher doses of around 200 mg a day could help improve the health and function of blood vessels.
In a study of a combination of products that included L-arginine, alpha lipoic acid, vitamin K2 and B vitamins, there was a reduction in homocysteine levels, which is a marker indicating increased heart attack risk. Lower homocysteine levels mean that the blood vessels are better protected.
In a study of people with heart failure taking both a maritime pine bark extract and CoQ10, there were improvements in edema, blood pressure, heart failure, and ability to participate in physical activities.
Pink bark extract may help improve erectile dysfunction. The extract can affect nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream. Nitric oxide improves blood flow and is responsible for vasodilation. This helps improve a man’s ability to have an erection. A recent study found that combining pine bark extract and arginine effectively improved mild to moderate erectile dysfunction.
There was a clinical trial of 40 men with erectile dysfunction. 92.5% of men with ED regained their ability to have normal erections after three months of taking a combination of L-arginine and Pycnogenol.
Maritime pine bark extract may help with male reproductive health. In one study, combining this with L-citrulline, rouburins, and L-arginine led to increased sperm volume, quality, and concentration.
Nootropic and Brain Benefits
There are several ways pine bark extract can improve brain health and cognition (thinking). It may help with symptoms of specific disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.
Pine bark extract can improve cerebral blood flow. Antioxidants like those found in this supplement can enhance nitric oxide expression in blood vessels to improve blood flow in the brain.
In one study of healthy young men who took 180 mg of Pycnogenol per day for two weeks or a placebo, the group using the extract experienced a significant increase in blood flow compared to those who took the placebo drug (sugar pill)
Pine bark can also benefit memory, mood, focus, and decision-making.
In a study with 60 participants, half the group received 50 mg of Pycnogenol three times a day for 12 weeks, while the other just followed a healthy lifestyle. After 12 weeks of supplementation, the group taking Pycnogenol had an 8.9% average increase in mental performance, a 13.4% increase in sustained attention, and a 16% increase in mood.
In a study of 78 people with mild cognitive impairment, which is similar to brain fog, taking Pycnogenol significantly improved cognitive function.
A clinical trial of 57 children with ADHD found that taking a daily dose of Pycnogenol for a month reduced hyperactivity symptoms. Researchers believe this could be due to the effects on dopamine, adrenaline, and glutathione.
In another study of 61 ADHD children, taking the Pycnogenol supplement reduced hyperactivity and improved attention after a month, but the symptoms returned a month after the supplementation was stopped.
There are benefits for human skin that come with pine bark extract.
For example, a study in 2012 found that pine bark extracts improved skin elasticity and hydration in postmenopausal women. Researchers concluded that pine bark extract might have antiaging properties because it improves the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid.
In an animal study, Pycnogenol accelerates wound healing.
In a 2017 review of the benefits of pine bark extract on the skin, specific conditions it was found to help with include:
- Reducing wrinkles from UVB rays
- Reduces scar formation
- Reduce the roughness of skin
- Improving visible aging signs
- Preventing inflammation
- Reduced redness
- Reduced discoloration
- Protection from UV rays
- May help with melasma, which is a form of hyperpigmentation
Other Pycnogenol Benefits
Other potential benefits of maritime pine bark include:
- Helping with metabolic syndrome. Some studies show pine bark extract can treat metabolic syndrome and related high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Pine bark extract may reduce blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, improve kidney function, and reduce waist size.
- May help children with Crohn’s disease because it can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
- In a study of women in their early 40s with mild sexual dysfunction, pine bark extract improved their sexual function over eight weeks.
- In a trial of 92 people with tinnitus, taking pine bark extract at a dose of 100 to 150 mg daily reduced symptoms and improved blood flow to their ears after four weeks.
- Taking 100 mg of Pycnogenol daily helped improve menopausal symptoms over three months, including hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep disturbances.
- Pycnogenol taken as an oral supplement and used as a cream can help hemorrhoids.
What Are the Best Pycnogenol Supplements?
Our picks for the best Pycnogenol supplements include:
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Pycnogenol used for?
Pycnogenol is a trademarked name for an antioxidant that comes from the Maritime Pine Tree’s bark. Pycnogenol is used for skin conditions, allergies, asthma, inflammation, erectile dysfunction, wound healing, and other health conditions.
Can Pycnogenol cause liver damage?
According to available research, Pycnogenol can help with liver damage. For example, in one study of rats with liver damage from cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug, taking Pycnogenol significantly decreased liver damage.
When is the best time to take Pycnogenol?
It’s typically best to take Pycnogenol with a meal to avoid stomach upset. You could divide your doses and take one half at breakfast and one half at dinner. If you’re considering it for allergy symptoms, try taking it at least five weeks before the start of allergy season.
What are the benefits of Pycnogenol supplements?
Some of the benefits of Pycnogenol supplements include the following:
- Skin benefits like reducing signs of aging and discoloration
- Mental health benefits
- May help with ADHD symptoms
- Reduces inflammation and oxidative stress
- Could improve heart health
- Helps with menopause symptoms
- May benefit metabolic syndrome
What are the health benefits of pine bark?
Pine bark extract benefits are the same as Pycnogenol benefits because Pycnogenol comes from a pine bark extract. The primary benefits of pine bark extract appear to come from its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Is Pycnogenol good for erectile dysfunction?
There is evidence that Pycnogenol is good for erectile dysfunction because it can improve nitric oxide production and blood flow.
Who shouldn’t take Pycnogenol?
There’s some evidence that Pycnogenol could increase the chance of bleeding if you’re having surgery because it might slow blood clotting. Stop using it at least two weeks before surgery.
If you have diabetes and take medication, high doses of Pycnogenol could also reduce your blood sugar too much.
If you take anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs, pine bark extract could raise your risk of bleeding.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, there’s not enough evidence to say whether or not pine bark extract or Pycnogenol is safe for you.
How does Pycnogenol make you feel?
Pycnogenol’s reported effects include less fatigue, better sleep, improved concentration and memory, less irritability, and better mood.
Can I take Pycnogenol every day?
You can take Pycnogenol daily, which is the way to get the most effects.
Does Pycnogenol make you sleepy?
Pycnogenol shouldn’t make you sleepy, although it can improve sleep quality.
In conclusion, Pycnogenol is a natural supplement derived from pine bark extract that has been shown to have various health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, reduced oxidative stress, and enhanced skin health. While Pycnogenol has shown promise in clinical studies, more research is needed to understand the effects and determine the appropriate dosing. It is also important to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, as it may interact with medications or medical conditions.
Grimm, Tanja, et al. “Single and multiple dose pharmacokinetics of maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol) after oral administration to healthy volunteers.” BMC Clinical Pharmacology, August 3, 2006. Accessed January 31, 2022.
NIH National Library of Medicine. “Maritime Pine.” MedlinePlus, August 29, 2022. Accessed January 31, 2022.
Stanislavov, R. et al. “Treatment of erectile dysfunction with pycnogenol and L-arginine.” NIH National Library of Medicine, 2003. Accessed January 31, 2022.
Simpson, T, et al. “Assessing the Efficacy and Mechanisms of Pycnogenol on Cognitive Aging from In Vitro Animal and Human Studies.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, July 2019. Accessed January 31, 2022.
Weichman, Franziska, et al. “Projected supportive effects of Pycnogenol in patients suffering from multi-dimensional health impairments after a SARS-CoV2 infection.” International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, December 2020. Accessed January 31, 2023.
Malekhmadi, Mahsa, et al. “Evaluation of the effects of Pycnogenol (French maritime pine bark extract) supplementation on inflammatory biomarkers and nutrition and clinical status in traumatic brain injury patients in an intensive care unit: A randomized clinical trial protocol.” Trials, 2020. Accessed January 31, 2023.
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