What is Pine Bark Extract?
Pine bark extract, or Pycnogenol, comes from the bark of the Pinus pinaster tree, which commonly grows in Europe. It has been praised for its medicinal properties since the 4th century B.C. when Hippocrates noted that it could reduce inflammation (x).
The earliest recorded use of pine bark extract for medicinal purposes was in 1535, when Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, was traveling through Quebec. When Cartier’s men were struck by scurvy, Native Americans advised him to take pine bark (x).
In 1934, a French researcher named Jacques Masqueller discovered that Pycnogenol promoted better vitamin C absorption in the body, making it useful for treating various health conditions (x).
Today, many recognize Pycnogenol as a potent antioxidant that is quite beneficial to take along with vitamin C, E and lipoic acid (x).
Pine Bark Extract vs. Pycnogenol
The trademarked name for pine bark extract is Pycnogenol. Though this may confuse some, there are few differences (if any) between the two regarding their effects as a supplement.
Pine Bark Extract Benefits
Pine bark extract offers many benefits, ranging from reducing the signs of aging to decreasing the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and strokes. It contains oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) that help manage various eye issues caused by damage to blood vessels, such as macular degeneration and retinopathy (x).
Improves Diabetic Symptoms
Studies show that pine bark extract improves endothelial function and lowers blood glucose levels in diabetics. A study was conducted on 77 diabetic patients to determine if it provided any anti-diabetic effects. Results showed that the patients who took 100 mg of Pycnogenol for 12 weeks, in addition to their continued diabetes treatment, showed improved endothelial function and lower blood glucose levels. These results concluded that pine bark extract might be beneficial for treating type 2 diabetes (x, x).
Promotes Inner Ear Health
Ear poisoning (ototoxicity) can occur when the ear is exposed to certain chemicals or drugs that damage the vestibulocochlear nerve or the inner ear. The vestibulocochlear nerve affects both hearing and balance. The condition may be temporary or permanent. However, some studies have suggested that Pycnogenol may help relieve symptoms of ototoxicity. In short, this supplement can prevent ear infection and may be a remedy for preventing hearing loss caused by ototoxicity (x).
Benefits for Skin
Pine bark extract provides the skin with many benefits. A study conducted in 2012 on post-menopausal women revealed that it can improve elasticity and hydration of the skin (x). Furthermore, the study showed that Pycnogenol can increase collagen and hyaluronic acid production. This natural antioxidant appears to reduce free radical formation and assist with cell replication and regeneration (x).
Additionally, a survey also noted that Pycnogenol could help with:
- Reducing skin roughness
- Reducing skin thickness
- Decreasing wrinkles caused by UVB rays
- Improving noticeable signs of aging
- Decreasing redness
- Protecting against UV rays
- Preventing inflammation
- Diminishing discoloration
- Decreasing melasma areas
- Preventing skin cancer
- Preventing photoaging
Treats Menopause-Related Heart Risks
A study conducted in 2017 looked at the effects of pine bark extract in treating heart disease risk factors related to menopause (x). Perimenopausal women took pine bark extract for eight weeks and noticed reduced triglyceride and cholesterol levels, lower blood glucose levels and normalized blood pressure. Additionally, another study revealed that pine bark extract alleviated symptoms associated with menopause including hot flashes, loss of libido, vaginal dryness and irregular periods (x).
Helps with Erectile Dysfunction
A Japanese study showed that the combination of pine bark extract and L-arginine could help treat erectile dysfunction. Forty-seven Japanese men with mild erection issues took pine bark extract and L-arginine over an eight to 16-week period. Results of the study revealed an increase in sperm production and improved erectile function (x).
Beneficial for Patients with ADHD
Pine bark extract can help manage symptoms of ADHD. A study in 2006 discovered that children who took the supplement daily for four weeks had significantly reduced hyperactivity levels, improved concentration and visual motor skills. Furthermore, symptoms of the study’s subjects began to return one month after they ceased using Pycnogenol (x).
Another study examined the impact of Pycnogenol’s antioxidant activity on oxidative stress, one of the non-hereditary factors believed to contribute to ADHD. Children who took Pycnogenol for a month had good antioxidant levels (x). While these findings look promising, there’s insufficient research to understand how antioxidant levels affect ADHD symptoms.
The findings of a study in 2013 suggest that pine bark extract may help to decrease nerve cell damage after traumatic brain injury (x). More research is needed to understand pine bark extract’s role in decreasing damage resulting from head trauma. However, the results of the study showed improvement in cognitive functioning and short term memory among patients.
Preventative Effect on Metabolic Syndrome
A study shows that pine bark extract could treat metabolic syndrome as well as related conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes (x). The results of the study indicate that Pycnogenol may:
- Improve kidney function
- Reduce waist size
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce blood glucose levels in diabetics
The metabolic benefits of pine bark extract also seem to be associated with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Moreover, it has been shown to inhibit lipid absorption.
Boosts Athletic Performance
Research shows that pine bark extract can increase endurance in professional athletes. Furthermore, it increases the time the body takes to reach an exhausted state due to increased levels of serum NAD+. Athletes may experience less muscle pain, cramping when using the supplement (x).
When it comes to antioxidant content, pine bark extract leads the way. The antioxidants help fight off harmful free radicals and can prevent disease (x).
Several studies have been conducted to determine whether pine bark extract can reduce inflammation in post-abdominal surgery patients. Subjects who were given Pycnogenol for 10 days showed significant healing when compared to the placebo group, concluding that Pycnogenol can be an effective treatment for healing surgery-related wounds (x).
Side Effects of Pine Bark Extract
Generally, pine bark extract has no side effects. However, it is advisable to begin with a small dose to see how your body reacts to it. It is safe so long as one follows its optimal dosage.
Possible Pycnogenol side effects include:
- Stomach upset
- Mouth ulcers
- Urinary issues
- Lower blood glucose levels
- Skin irritation
Other Side Effects and Warnings
Pine bark extract may not be safe for people with a weakened immune system. In fact, it may inhibit histamine release and interfere with medication prescribed for immune function. High doses may also cause a drop in blood sugar levels in diabetics and interfere with liver function in people with hepatitis. Consult your doctor or health care professional prior to taking any supplements.
Dosage of Pine Bark Extract
Pine bark extract can be taken in capsule or powder form. Begin with a low dose and gradually increase your dosage to understand how your body responds to the supplement. Adults should take one capsule (500 mg) of pine bark extract a day or 250 mg in powder form per day. Consult your doctor first if you have any underlying medical disorders or are take any other medicines.
The Bottom Line
Pine bark extract offers many health benefits, from reducing the signs of aging to decreasing the risk of circulation problems, heart disease, high cholesterol and stroke. It contains oligomeric proanthocyanidins — compounds that demonstrate antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Of course, be sure to consult your doctor first if you have any underlying medical disorders or take any other medications.