Pycnogenol: Pine Bark Extract

Pycnogenol is a pine bark extract known as a powerful antioxidant with the ability to relieve inflammation, and to improve the immune and circulatory system. The first known reference to pine bark as a therapeutic application was by Hippocrates in the 4th Century B.C. He noted that pine bark could be used as a way to reduce inflammation. In 1479 Minner from Switzerland in his book Thesaurus Medicaminum said that pine bark was useful in healing wounds. Around the same time a German naturalist, Hieronymus Boch said that pine bark made a good topical remedy for many skin disorders.

The first documented use of pine bark for medical purposes was by the French Explorer, Jacques Cartier. When travelling through Quebec, many of Cartier's men were struck by scurvy. An Iroquois Indian recommended pine bark to the expedition. Those who received the treatment seemed to be fully recovered after six days.

The medicinal benefits of pine bark remained obscure until some researchers in France ran across Cartier's references to the incident with scurvy. They decided to do a little research. They found that pine bark contains oligomeric proanthocyanidins (an anti-oxidant biflavonoid compound). This substance is now often referred to as pycnogenol.

Pycnogenol appears to have at least four benefits:

  1. As an anti-oxidant pycnogenol may help prevent cell damage and aging.
  2. It may promote a healthy circulatory system by influencing the production of endothelial nitric oxide.
  3. Pycnogenol may reduce inflammation by regulating the immune system.
  4. By binding to collagen and elastin, it could help protect skin, organs, connective tissue, and arteries.

Pycnogenol as Antioxidant

Atoms needing electrons course through the body. They come as a by-product of certain biological processes, but also can come from smoking, exercise, toxins, and emotional stress. They steal electrons from other atoms situated within cell structures, damaging these cells. The only way to stop this oxidization process is with other atoms (called antioxidants) that are not part of the cell structure that can freely give away an electron, thus neutralizing the free radical. Pycnogenol is an antioxidant. In fact, it contains over 40 different kinds of biflavonoid antioxidants. These biflavonoids were found to be highly absorbed in moderate doses.

Pycnogenol's Role in Circulatory System

Studies are not complete on why Pycnogenol seems to benefit the circulatory system. However, it is hypothesized that it helps regulate and increase the endothelial production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide (NO) helps relax blood vessels, helping to reduce high blood pressure and allowing for free blood flow. Pycnogenol might also help prevent platelets from becoming sticky, so they do not clump together.

Pycnogenol's Other Benefits

Pycnogenol is thought to aid the immune system by reducing inflammation and increasing activity of defensive cells. This same anti-inflammatory quality may help with asthma, and joint discomfort. Skin health is promoted by the antioxidant activity reducing damage from the sun. Because pycnogenol bonds directly with collagen and elastin, it is carried directly to the skin where it can do the most good against ultra-violet rays. Claims have also been made for pycnogenol in cognitive functioning, gum health, and exercise performance.

National Institute of Health on Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol is a trademark name for the extract from pine bark of French maritime pine trees, the Pinus pinaster. It should be noted that the name "pycnogenol" has also been used to describe a similar substance from grape seed extract that contains many similar properties. The U.S. government notes that Pycnogenol has been tested and proved effective for use in cases of asthma, and CVI - a syndrome that causes leg swelling and blood clots. It stresses that other claims made by producers of pycnogenol have not been fully tested.1

Supplements are taken orally in 25-360 mg doses. It can also come in chewing gum or topical ointments. When taken orally it takes approximately 20 minutes to enter the blood stream and remains effective for up to 72 hours. It is not recommended for use by children under 18.

Possible Side Effects of Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol may cause mild stomach discomfort, so it is most often taken with meals. It may alter blood sugar levels, which could be problematic for diabetes patients. It may also increase the risk of bleeding. This substance could interact with various drugs especially those taken for blood pressure, immunosupression, or sugar disorders. It is always wise to consult a physician when taking supplements in conjunction with drugs.


  1. National Institute for Health

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