Guide to Pycnogenol®

Pycnogenol® is the trade name of a natural plant extract originating from the bark of the French maritime pine tree whose scientific name is Pinus maritima. These trees are grown in the natural forest of Les Landes in south west France. They have been cultivated over a period of 30 to 50 years without the use of herbicides or pesticides.

Pine bark has been used medicinally for centuries, and, more recently, Pycnogenol® has been used as natural remedy to treat a range of chronic diseases, including blood circulation problems and hardening of the arteries, memory problems, and joint health.

Pycnogenol® contains a unique combination of antioxidants including procyanidins, bioflavonoids and phenolic acids.

Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘Pycnogenol® contains a powerful blend of antioxidants which prolong the action of vitamins C and E, and reduce inflammation. Today, this natural extract is used as a dietary supplement to treat circulation problems.

‘Research suggests it can boost overall cognitive performance and one study also found that Pycnogenol® decreased symptoms of the common cold, while also shortening its duration.’

What does Pycnogenol® do?

One explanation for Pycnogenol®’s purported health-boosting properties is its high level of antioxidant activity. The pine extract contains a unique blend of antioxidant flavonoids (catechin, taxifolin and procyanidins) extracted from the bark of the tree.

These antioxidants protect other cells in the body from harmful damage by free radicals, which build up as we age and can contribute to conditions including heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

The pine bark extract also regulates the production of nitric oxide – a substance involved in dilating blood vessels, which helps to improve blood flow and circulation.

It may also help generate collagen and hyaluronic acid, making it the ideal ingredient for anti-ageing supplements, as well having anti-inflammatory properties.

Circulation

Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is where fatty substances, collectively referred to as plaque, build-up inside your arteries. This can lead to blood clots, which may potentially block the flow of blood to the heart or brain, eventually leading to life-threatening problems such heart attacks and strokes.

One study in 2017, by Italy’s University of Chieti-Pescara, evaluated the effect of Pycnogenol® supplements on patients with atherosclerosis plaques. The results showed that those who took a supplement were less likely to show progression of the disease. 

Cognitive function

By improving circulation to the brain, it has been argued Pycnogenol® may help improve memory and cognitive performance.

Research published in 2014 found the supplements improved cognitive function in professionals aged 35 to 55 in a 12-week study. Another trial published in 2015 found the supplements also improved cognitive function in older healthy volunteers aged 55 to 70 over 12 months.

Getting Pycnogenol® from your diet

Pycnogenol® is not available from food sources, but is available as a supplement.

Safety

Pycnogenol® is considered safe to use for most people, though side effects including dizziness, gut problems, headaches and mouth ulcers have been reported.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid taking it as there hasn’t been enough research to determine its safety. Avoid Pycnogenol® if you have an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis because the immune system may become more active.

Because Pycnogenol® might slow down blood clotting, there is some concern it might increase the chance of bleeding during and after surgery. Stop using Pycnogenol® at least two weeks before any planned surgery. 

Correct dosage

There’s currently no UK or EU recommended daily allowance or upper safe limit; a standard dose is two 30mg tablets a day of standardised extract which can be taken at the same time.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

Pycnogenol® contains a powerful blend of antioxidants which prolong the action of vitamins C and E, and reduce inflammation. Today, this natural extract is used as a dietary supplement to treat circulation problems.

Dr Sarah Brewer
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