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The Proof is in The Pine Bark
The Proof is in The Pine Bark
Pycnogenol is popping up everywhere these days, in everything from multivitamins to antiaging supplements to skin care products. Pronounced pic-NOJ-en-all, this French maritime pine bark extract boasts a broad array of health-promoting benefits, including improving circulation, controlling blood sugar and reducing asthma symptoms. A Swiss research company introduced it in 1970, but in the past several years it has become one of the most highly sought-after plant-based supplement ingredients on the market. Currently it can be found in several hundred products on store shelves.
Unlike many in-demand dietary ingredients, which are marketed for a supposed health perk but backed by shoddy science, Pycnogenol has an arsenal of solid research to support its potential. According to the American Botanical Council’s 2010 Pycnogenol monograph—an unbiased, comprehensive and detailed pharmacology and research review—more than 220 studies and articles have been published on the extract, including several human trials. Dosages varied considerably by study, depending on which conditions and desired outcomes were examined. But since Pycnogenol was linked to very few, very minor side effects across its body of research, ABC deems it safe for prolonged use at any dose.
According to the monograph, several properties give Pycnogenol its punch. It is a powerful antioxidant, curbs inflammation, helps widen blood vessels and binds to skin proteins, to name a few, allowing it to support the body in many ways. Here’s a closer look at some of Pycnogenol’s science-backed potential applications.
Pycnogenol’s most well-researched use is for supporting vascular health. Several studies show that, because it contains key antioxidants called bioflavonoids, it boosts endothelial function, meaning it helps widen blood vessels by relaxing their muscular walls. This in turn eases blood flow. Conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), as well as age, can impair endothelial function. Both human and in vitro trials show marked improvement in circulation with Pycnogenol. In one particular trial, published in the journal Hypertension Research in September 2007, 180 mg of Pycnogenol per day improved endothelial function in healthy young men after two weeks.
Pycnogenol also improves chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a condition marked by poor blood drainage from the veins, which can cause swelling and even edema. By promoting circulation, Pycnogenol can reduce swelling, as confirmed by more than 15 trials including about 800 CVI sufferers. A 2004 Italian study of 70 people with CVI found that 20 mg of Pycnogenol per day, along with 470 mg of Troxerutine (a common drug treatment) eased symptoms significantly more than Troxerutine alone after 60 days.
Several clinical studies suggest that Pycnogenol has a host of skin benefits, making it a popular ingredient in targeted antiaging dietary supplements and topical products. Unlike many skin-supporting ingredients, which work when taken orally but not when applied topically, Pycnogenol shows promise both ways because its molecules are readily absorbed into the skin.
Laboratory research reveals that Pycnogenol binds to collagen and elastin—key proteins that keep skin supple—thus strengthening and protecting them from external damage, such as that caused by ultraviolet sun rays. Other studies show that Pycnogenol fights free radicals, a major contributor to skin aging, and helps recycle vitamins C and E, which are crucial to skin health. The extract’s vascular benefits can impact skin as well, since increased microcirculation can speed wound healing, according to multiple studies.
Two notable human trials point to Pycnogenol’s potential for helping people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes manage their conditions. First, a study published in Life Sciences in October 2004 found that supplementing with 100 mg of Pycnogenol per day for 12 weeks helped lower blood glucose levels and increase endothelial function in 77 people with type 2 diabetes. Second, a trial published in an Italian journal in July 2006 examined how different doses and applications of Pycnogenol affect diabetic ulcers on patients’ lower limbs. People who took 150 mg orally and applied 150 mg of powdered Pycnogenol to the affected areas each day healed significantly better than those who took only oral Pycnogenol or received no treatment. Researchers attribute these results to the extract’s ability to boost microcirculation to the skin.
Because Pycnogenol is both an anti-inflammatory and a histamine blocker, it may offer relief to asthma sufferers. In a study published in the January 2004 issue of Journal of Asthma, children with mild to moderate asthma who were given 1 mg of Pycnogenol per pound of body weight for three months breathed better and relied less on their inhalers than kids who took a placebo. Similar results were seen in a small study of asthmatic adults given the same dosage for eight weeks.
Along with Pycnogenol’s vascular, dermatological, antidiabetic, and respiratory benefits, preliminary research shows it may help combat several other conditions. Scientists have observed its potential for reducing pain associated with osteoarthritis and menstrual disorders, improving attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms in children, and preventing thrombosis, which is the formation of clots in the blood vessels. While these perks of Pycnogenol look promising, ABC says they require further investigation.
By: Melaina Juntti
Melaina is a freelance writer and editor in Madison, Wis., who focuses on natural health and wellness. Her work has appeared in Men's Journal, Delicious Living, Natural Foods Merchandiser, Natural Solutions, Inside Triathlon and Triathlete magazines.
March 1st, 2012