What is pine bark extract?
Pine bark extract is extracted from the inner bark of certain European pine trees. Although Pycnogenol® is the most studied pine bark extract, all pine bark extracts contain the same active compounds, which include the powerful antioxidants oligomeric proanthocyanidin compounds (OPCs).
Why take pine bark extract?
Pine bark extract:
- Helps strengthen blood vessels and increase blood flow from tiny vessels to tissues
- Improves cardiovascular health and increases circulation
- Supports healthy blood pressure
- Supports brain function
- Reduces leg and ankle edema
- Improves delivery of oxygen to cells
Who might benefit from pine bark extract?
Everyone. No one is immune from the potential damage of free radicals and oxidation. Even if you live a healthy lifestyle and eat organic food, it’s impossible to avoid the toxins in the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Individuals who have compromised circulatory systems will especially benefit from taking pine bark extract, as well as:
- Stroke victims
- Those with varicose veins
- Women who use oral contraceptives
- Those with arthritis
- Others with general cardiovascular problems
- Children with ADD or ADHD
What makes pine bark extract so special?
It’s the oligomeric proanthocyanidins, which are a class of flavonoids that a French researcher named Jacques Masquelier discovered in the 1950s. Masquelier was in Canada doing research on flavonols, which he initially found in peanut skins, and their ability to improve circulation and repair tissue in the body. Later he found that pine trees growing on the coastline of southern France not only contained an abundance of the OPCs, but that they were also the most efficient source, since only warm water and pressure are required to extract the proanthocyanidins from the bark.
OPCs contain some of the most potent antioxidants available
You’ve heard the terms antioxidants and free radicals a million times. But what are they exactly?
Free radicals, also called oxidants, are atoms with an unpaired electron. They are desperately in search of a mate and furiously bump into other atoms trying to find another electron to pair up with.
Free radicals are produced as a result of exposure to ultraviolet radiation, pollution and environmental toxins such as smoke, eating unhealthy foods like deep-fried foods (which are often cooked in rancid oil), lack of exercise, illness and stress.
Their chief danger comes from the damage free radicals can do when they react with DNA or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs, and the end result can be a weakened immune system, chronic illness, disease and ultimately death.
That’s where antioxidants come to the rescue and why we all don’t just keel over and die from the multiple free radical attacks our cells get every day. Antioxidants are molecules that interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction they cause before vital molecules are damaged. Without antioxidants our bodies would rust from the inside out, in a way similar to how metal rusts after exposure to a barrage of salt or the elements.
Antioxidants found in brightly colored fruits and veggies, and provided by pine bark extract, diminish the destructive power of free radicals and may help repair damage that has already been done. Antioxidants are also thought to have a role in slowing the aging process and helping prevent chronic illness and disease including heart disease, stroke, arthritis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
How does pine bark extract recycle vitamins C and E?
According to Lester Packer, head of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Antioxidant Miracle (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1999), the molecules of each antioxidant absorb a free radical, but in the process they become a weak free radical themselves. The only way they can change back into a defender is with the help of other members of the antioxidant network. That’s why vitamin E needs C to be present in the blood. Vitamin C recharges vitamin E and lets it go back to being a defender. And pine bark extract recharges vitamin C, which allows it to go on and on past its usual cycle and capability.
How does pine bark extract work?
- The OPCs in pine bark extract bind to the collagen in blood vessel walls making capillaries stronger and more elastic, which subsequently improves circulation and reduces blood pressure.
- It has anti-inflammatory effects, and has been shown to reduce symptoms of chronic inflammation, a contributor to venous insufficiency.1
- Reduces capillary permeability and fragility
- Enhances production of nitric oxide (NO), a blood gas that enhances blood vessel dilation and an increase of blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles
- Is antimicrobial, and is especially helpful in reducing viral replication in the treatment of viral myocarditis234
Improves venous insufficiency
Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a result of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and thrombophlebitis, more commonly called blood clots in the legs. This condition can cause fullness, aching or tiredness in the legs, severe leg swelling (edema), varicose veins, skin discoloration and much more. So it’s vital to prevent permanent damage to your legs as soon as possible, and one of the best ways is to take pine bark extract.
It’s important to note that even healthy people can develop this condition, especially when traveling on long-distance flights—which is why it’s advisable to get up and stroll down the aisle at regular intervals. In fact, a study which required the participants to complete a survey showed that taking pine bark extract helps reduce ankle and leg swelling during long-distance flights.5
In a recent eight-week study in Great Britain, pine bark extract was used to treat 21 patients with severe chronic venous insufficiency (including ankle swelling and a history of venous ulcerations). On average, the patients had had symptoms for almost six years. After taking pine bark extract everyone showed significant improvement in edema, as well as circulation problems, as opposed to the control group which showed no change. The researchers concluded that pine bark extract can play a significant role in the management of venous insufficiency and may also be useful in preventing ulcerations.6
Additionally, pine bark extract was shown to reduce risk of thrombosis (blood clot inside a blood vessel) in diabetic laboratory animals, leading researchers to believe that it may be beneficial to diabetic patients in preventing vascular complications.7
Helps normalize blood lipids
In a German study comparing pine bark extract with horse chestnut seed extract in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency, 40 patients were given either 600 mg of horse chestnut extract or 360 mg of pine bark extract every day for four weeks. Blood lipid levels were also tested before and at the end of treatment.
In addition to significantly reducing the patients’ symptoms of CVI, pine bark extract significantly decreased cholesterol and LDL values in the blood, whereas HDL remained unaffected.8
Another study at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento examined the effect of pine bark extract on the lipid profiles of 25 healthy subjects who received 150 mg a day for six weeks. After six weeks pine bark extract significantly reduced LDL-cholesterol levels and increased HDL-cholesterol levels in two-thirds of the subjects.9
Reduces blood pressure
Pine bark extract was successful in reducing blood pressure in mildly hypertensive patients in a 12-week, placebo-controlled, double blind parallel group study at the Chinese Medical Science Research Institute in Beijing, China.10
Protects the brain
Scientists are still struggling to determine the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but they know for certain that plaque, formed from amyloid beta protein, wraps around neurons, virtually destroying them. In an in vitro study done at Loma Linda University in California, the potent antioxidants in pine bark extract were able to reduce neuronal death, providing researchers with hope for its use as a supplement in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.11
Beneficial in diabetes treatment
When pine bark extract was added to a standard diabetic treatment patients showed lower glucose levels and improved endothelial function.12 It has also been shown to help speed up lower limb ulcer healing in diabetics.13
Helps reduce hyperactivity in children with ADHD
Results from recent studies of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found that pine bark extract generally improved concentration and reduced restless behavior after as little as one month of treatment.
In a randomized, double blind placebo-controlled study done in Germany, pine bark extract helped reduce hyperactivity and improve the children’s attention, concentration and motor-visual coordination.
The researchers also found that one month after the children stopped taking pine bark extract their symptoms returned to the levels they were before the study started. This fact alone strongly suggests that pine bark extract has a positive effect in reducing ADHD symptoms.
There are approximately 3,000 additives used in our food today. And according to the Toxic Release Inventory released by the EPA, there were 1,672,127,735 pounds of toxic chemicals released into our air in 1993. This all contributes to the 10,000 or so free radical hits that the DNA in every cell in your body receives on a daily basis.
Adding pine bark extract to your health regimen is a great way to increase the effectiveness of vitamins C and E, and protect yourself from free radical damage. And if you happen to suffer from poor circulation, varicose veins, high blood pressure or diabetes, this is one supplement you’ll definitely want to take on a regular basis.
- Blazso G, Gabor M, Rohdewald P. Antiinflammatory activities of procyanidin-containing extracts from Pinus pinaster Ait. after oral and cutaneous application. Pharmazie 1997;52:380-382.
- Torras MA, Faura CA, Schönlau F, Rohdewald P. Antimicrobial activity of Pycnogenol Phytother Res. 2005 Jul;19(7):647-8Phytother Res. 2005 Jul;19(7):647-8.
- Matsumori A. Treatment options in myocarditis: what we know from experimental data and how it translates to clinical trials. Herz. 2007 Sep;32(6):452-6.
- Matsumori A, Higuchi H, Shimada M French maritime pine bark extract inhibits viral replication and prevents development of viral myocarditis. : J Card Fail. 2007 Nov;13(9):785-91.
- Cesarone MR, Belcaro G, Rohdewald P, Pellegrini L, Ippolito E, Scoccianti M, Ricci A, Dugall M, Cacchio M, Ruffini I, Fano F, Acerbi G, Vinciguerra MG, Bavera P, Di Renzo A, Errichi BM, Mucci F. Prevention of edema in long flights with Pycnogenol. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2005 Jul;11(3):289 94.
- Cesarone MR, Belcaro G, Rohdewald P, Pellegrini L, Ledda A, Vinciguerra G, Ricci A, Gizzi G, Ippolito E, Fano F, Dugall M, Acerbi G, Cacchio M, Di Renzo A, Hosoi M, Stuard S, Corsi M. Rapid relief of signs/symptoms in chronic venous microangiopathy with pycnogenol: a prospective, controlled study. Angiology. 2006 Oct-Nov;57(5):569-76.
- Nocun M, Ulicna O, Muchova J, Durackova Z, Watala C. French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol((R))) reduces thromboxane generation in blood from diabetic male rats. Biomed Pharmacother.2007 Jul 30 [Epub ahead of print]
- Koch R. Comparative study of Venostasin and Pycnogenol in chronic venous insufficiency. Phytother Res. 2002 Mar;16 Suppl 1:S1
- 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 Oct;37(10):931-4.
- Liu X, Wei J, Tan F, Zhou S, Würthwein G, Rohdewald P. Pycnogenol, French maritime pine bark extract, improves endothelial function of hypertensive patients. Life Sci. 2004 Jan 2;74(7):855-6.
- Peng QL, Buz’Zard AR, Lau BH. Pycnogenol protects neurons from amyloid-beta peptide-induced apoptosis. Brain Res Mol Brain Res.2002 Jul 15;104(1):55-65.
- Liu X, Wei J, Tan F, Zhou S, Würthwein G, Rohdewald P.Antidiabetic effect of Pycnogenol French maritime pine bark extract in patients with diabetes type II. Life Sci. 2004 Oct 8;75(21):2505-13.
- 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. 2006 Jul;12(3):318-23.
- Trebatická J, Kopasová S, Hradecná Z, Cinovský K, Skodácek, Suba J, Muchová J, Zitnanová I, Waczulíková I, Rohdewald P, Duracková Z. Treatment of ADHD with French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006 Sep;15(6):329-35. Epub 2006 May 13.