I have been vaporizing an oil form of pine bark extract for two years now since I found out about its anti-cancer and anti-infection effects – two important points for longevity. It increases all-around antioxidant defense and epigenetically reduces inflammation. The extract also lowers cholesterol and blood pressure and reduces free radical damage.
This article summarizes all the scientific research surrounding pine bark extract and pycnogenol.
What Is Pycnogenol?
Pycnogenol is a patented extract of the French maritime pine bark (Pinus pinaster).
It is standardized to contain 65-75% procyanidins, a class of polyphenols and flavonoids like those found in blueberries, wine, grape skin, citrus, and cocoa. Procyanidins are strong antioxidants and anti-inflammatory natural substances. The remaining compounds are phenolic acids, also potent antioxidants [R, R].
Pycnogenol protects cells in the whole body against oxidative stress, boosts antioxidant enzymes, and neutralizes free radicals. It helps regenerate and maintain vitamin C and E levels. Its active compounds are anti-inflammatory, reduce allergies, fight viruses, and balance the immune system. Pycnogenol also boosts nitric oxide in the body, which relaxes and protects blood vessels [R].
Most of its health benefits come from its wide-ranging antioxidant, anti-infection, and anti-inflammatory capacities. Pycnogenol is a nootropic, it improves ADHD, diabetes, and blood pressure. Plus, it enhances exercise performance, and both female and male sexual function [R].
When all these effects are looked at together, scientists began realizing that pycnogenol may also slow down aging and help prolong the lifespan.
Pycnogenol is well-researched: 90 clinical trials have been published so far, and over 100 if pine bark extracts similar to pycnogenol are included!
Pine Bark Extract vs Pycnogenol
Pycnogenol is officially extracted from the French maritime pine (Pinus pinaster), which grows in the southwest coast of France. Its quality is specified in the United States Pharmacopeia [R].
Extracts can also be made from other pine barks, such as Pinus radiata, Pinus densiflora, Pinus thunbergii, and Pinus massoniana. Most have similar amounts of active substances and are often sold under the brand name Pycnogenol [R].
However, some of these other pine bark extracts can have different active compounds. Extracts from a pine native to Taiwan (Pinus massoniana) have anticancer effects. Some scientists think that extracts from this pine could be added to food to prevent cancers in the general population [R].
And Enzogenol is an extract from a pine that grows in California and Mexico (Pinus radiata). It’s an especially powerful cognitive enhancer. Trees of this pine have been naturalized in Australia and New Zealand, where most Enzogenol is now made [R].
How Does Pycnogenol Act in the Body?
What’s unique about Pycnogenol is that it naturally acts as a sustained-release formulation.
When you take pycnogenol [R]:
- Small molecule antioxidants (phenolic acids, catechin, and taxifolin) are quickly absorbed and begin to act in the body within 30 min
- The remaining more complex antioxidants (long chains of procyanidins) reach the gut, where your gut microbiome breaks them down into active metabolites
- The microbiome-produced active compounds appear in blood 6 h later and remain for at least 14 h
Also, pycnogenol affects virtually every process in the body, from cognition to blood vessels, metabolism, and gene expression.
The dosage in most clinical studies varied between 50-360 mg/day. The standard dose is 100-200 mg/day. This dose is equally effective taken at one time or divided into two doses throughout the day.
Health Benefits of Pycnogenol
1) Lowers Blood Glucose and Fights Type 2 Diabetes
Pycnogenol potently lowers blood glucose and improves blood sugar control in type 2 diabetics if taken daily for at least 12 weeks, according to numerous clinical trials.
Pycnogenol (125 mg/day) had the same effects in another study of 48 people with diabetes and high blood pressure. It also helped more than half of them normalize blood pressure and reduce their medications for high blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease complications [R].
In another trial, 30 people with type 2 diabetes received a range of pycnogenol doses. The most effective blood sugar-lowering dose was 200 mg/day while increasing it further didn’t help [R].
In 24 people with early eye damage from diabetes, pycnogenol improved vision reduced eye swelling and improved circulation in the eye after 2 months. Used early on, it could prevent eye damage and blindness from diabetes [R].
2) Prevents Metabolic Syndrome
Pycnogenol can broadly target metabolic syndrome, acting as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It can protect the blood vessels, boost weight loss and fats metabolism, as well as reduce excessive blood clotting [R].
Pycnogenol (150 mg/day) reduced risk of metabolic syndrome in a trial of 132 people at high risk after 6 months. It beneficially affected virtually all risk factors: lowering triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and fasting glucose, decreasing waist circumference, and increasing HDL cholesterol levels. Plus, it reduced free radicals it the blood [R].
In 50 overweight people, a combination product (Pycnogenol, Madeglucyl, and starches called Glucaffect) reduced weight, BMI, blood glucose, and HbA1C after 8 weeks [R].
3) Boosts Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide is crucial for relaxing blood vessels, while low levels can turn blood vessels rigid and susceptible to damage.
The ability of pycnogenol to boost nitric oxide and protect blood vessels is tied to numerous health benefits aside from heart health we’ll go over: diabetes complications, exercise performance, erectile dysfunction, and even chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases [R].
Pycnogenol’s effects are a direct result of increased nitric oxide production and release. For example, increased nitric oxide from Pycnogenol (180 mg/day) improved blood flow in forearms in a trial in 16 healthy men after 2 weeks [R].
Pycnogenol (200 mg/day) improved blood vessel health in 23 people with heart disease from clogged arteries after 8 weeks. It helped blood vessels relax and adapt better to blood flow changes, while protecting them by reducing oxidative stress [R].
4) Protects the Heart and Lowers Blood Pressure
Pycnogenol lowers blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, reducing free radicals, and combating inflammation. According to an analysis of over 500 people, 150-200 mg/day for at least 12 weeks safely reduces both diastolic and systolic blood pressure [R].
In 58 people with high blood pressure, even lower doses (100 mg/day) improved blood vessel health and reduced markers of high blood pressure (endothelin-1) after 12 weeks. Pycnogenol also helped participants reduce their dosage high-blood-pressure medication (nifedipine) [R].
Higher doses (200 mg/day) greatly improved blood vessel health and function in 23 people with heart disease after just 8 weeks [R].
Drugs used to treat high blood pressure can cause swelling as a side effect. Pycnogenol reduced swelling and protected the blood vessels in one study, which could help reduce the dose of these medications (nifedipine and ACE inhibitors) [R].
A pycnogenol combination product (with l-arginine, alpha lipoic acid, B vitamins, and vitamin K2) protected the blood vessels and reduced high homocysteine levels in a trial of 25 people. It also had a slight effect on lowering blood pressure. But more importantly, this antioxidant combo could prevent health problems in people with heart disease early on [R].
In a study of 32 people with heart failure, a combination of pycnogenol with CoQ10 (PycnoQ10) improved heart health without side effects after 12 weeks. It improved the heart’s ability to pump blood and improved physical capacity [R].
5) Reduces LDL Cholesterol
Pycnogenol (150 mg/day) reduced LDL and increased HDL cholesterol in a trial of 25 healthy people after 6 weeks [R].
It also reduced LDL cholesterol at a slightly lower dose (125 mg/day) in those with type 2 diabetes in a clinical trial of 48 people after 12 weeks. High-dose Pycnogenol (360 mg/day) for 4 weeks had the same LDL-lowering benefits in another study of 40 people [R, R].
6) Enhances Exercise Performance & Recovery
Pycnogenol can prevent the short-term increase in free radicals after exercise, which causes muscle fatigue and damage. The first study to explore this showed that pycnogenol can increase endurance performance in recreationally trained athletes [R].
In a large study of 147 people, pycnogenol improved running, push-ups, and sit-ups endurance in recreational athletes over an 8-week training program (100 mg/day). It enhanced swimming, biking and running scores in professional athletes preparing for a triathlon (150 mg/day). Pycnogenol improved the triathlon time, reduced cramps, running and post-running pain [R].
Pycnogenol (200 mg/day) reduced muscle cramps and pain in 66 healthy people, athletes, and those with venous problems after 4 weeks. So aside from being helpful for athletes, pycnogenol can reduce pain and cramps during retraining and rehabilitation in people with blood vessel problems [R].
An antioxidant cocktail with pycnogenol (Lactaway) increased endurance by 17% by increasing the antioxidant NAD+ in both 6 trained and 7 untrained people in another study. This supplement also increased muscle endurance and performance after a single pre-exercise dose in another study of 9 cyclists [R, R].
7) Improves Asthma Symptoms
According to several clinical trials, pycnogenol can safely control the symptoms of asthma.
In a trial of 60 children with mild-to-moderate asthma, 18 of 30 patients who took pycnogenol in were able to stop using their inhaler. Overall, it greatly reduced daily inhaler use (Albuterol) and lowered leukotrienes by 38%, while the control group slightly worsened [R].
In 76 people with allergic asthma, Pycnogenol (100 mg/day) added to conventional corticosteroid inhalers for 6 months helped 55% of them reduce inhaler use frequency and dosage. In contrast, almost 20% of those just on inhalers had to increase their dosage. Pycnogenol also reduced cough, night-awakenings, improved airway flow, and the need for additional asthma medication [R].
8) Reduces Allergies
In a trial of 39 people with hay fever, pycnogenol greatly reduced nose and eye symptoms. The placebo group also had much higher IgE antibodies to the birch allergen than those who took pycnogenol during the allergy season [R].
Importantly, all studies found that pycnogenol has to be taken at least 5 weeks before the allergy season, with the best results in those who take it 7-8 weeks ahead. In one study, it had no effects when given just 3 weeks beforehand, as it requires a lag time to stabilize the immune response [R].
9) May Improve Symptoms of ADHD
Antioxidant treatment with pycnogenol can balance the immune system, lower inflammation, epigenetically regulate genes, and reduce oxidative stress in ADHD – something majorly overlooked approaches that just use stimulant drugs. Several clinical trials back up its potential for helping children and adults with ADHD [R].
People with ADHD also have higher than normal adrenaline and dopamine levels, which worsen oxidative stress. Daily pycnogenol (1 mg/kg) for one month reduced hyperactivity symptoms by lowering dopamine, adrenaline, and increasing the master antioxidant glutathione in a clinical trial of 57 ADHD children [R].
In 61 ADHD children, pycnogenol reduced hyperactivity, improved attention, and motorics after 1 month. But a month after pycnogenol was stopped, the symptoms came back, suggesting that it may need to be used regularly to achieve the benefits [R].
In one trial of children with ADHD, pycnogenol improved attention by increasing the total antioxidant status and reducing DNA damage. In another, pycnogenol increased glutathione levels and total antioxidants after a month in children with ADHD [R, R].
In 24 adults with ADHD, pycnogenol improved symptoms after 3 weeks, but not better than placebo. Low pycnogenol dosage and short study duration may explain the lack of benefits in this study [R].
10) Boosts Cognitive Function and Helps with Brain Fog
Pycnogenol is a promising and safe nootropic. It seems to work remarkably well both for middle-aged professionals, students, and people with mild cognitive decline like brain fog.
In a clinical trial of 60 health professionals, pycnogenol (150 mg/day) improved cognitive function, attention, mental performance and specific professional skills after 12 weeks. It boosted sustained attention, memory, executive functions, mood, and reduced oxidative stress [R].
In a trial of 53 students, pycnogenol improved cognitive function, memory, attention, mood, and mental performance after 8 weeks [R].
Pycnogenol (100 mg/day) given to 44 older healthy people with high oxidative stress improved cognitive function, attention, mental performance, and reduced oxidative stress by 28% after 12 months [R].
Pycnogenol also improved cognitive function in 78 people with mild cognitive impairment. All included participants had “subclinical” cognitive impairment, which looks like typical brain fog. The mean cognitive boost after 8 weeks of pycnogenol at 150 mg/day was 18%, which was significant [R].
Enzogenol, a slightly different pine bark extract, improved cognitive function in a clinical trial of 42 older men after just 5 weeks of supplementation [R].
Overall, the evidence is convincing. Pycnogenol at a dose of 100-150 mg/day can safely and potently boost cognition and reduce oxidative stress if used for at least 5-8 weeks, although there seems to be no harm to longer use either.
11) Reduces Inflammation and Osteoarthritis Symptoms
According to a large analysis, pycnogenol greatly reduces osteoarthritis symptoms and pain short-term. It acts as a sustained-release formulation, so taking it just once daily is enough to alleviate the pain and reduce inflammation [R, R].
In 33 people with severe osteoarthritis, pycnogenol (200 mg/day) reduced inflammatory markers after just 3 weeks. It epigenetically turned off genes responsible for joint damage (ADAMTS), reduced inflammation enzymes (MMP3) and cytokines (IL 1-beta). Its active components could enter the circulation, joints, and white blood cells to achieve these effects [R, R].
In one clinical trial of 156 osteoarthritis patients, pycnogenol reduced pain, stiffness, swelling, and improved joint function after 3 months. In a smaller study of 58 people, pycnogenol reduced the important inflammatory marker CRP from 3.9 mg/l to 1.1 mg/l [R, R].
Pycnogenol (150 mg/day) reduced pain in a study of 100 people with osteoarthritis after 3 months, reducing the need to take painkillers [R].
Similar to NSAID drugs, pycnogenol blocks key inflammatory enzymes (COX1 and COX2). In one study, people who took pycnogenol had reduced activity of these enzymes in the blood. According to the labs of 10 volunteers, a higher pycnogenol dose (300 mg) impacts these enzymes after just 30 minutes [R].
In a study of 11 patients with lupus, pycnogenol reduced symptoms, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Since lupus is an autoimmune disease with a strong inflammatory component, pycnogenol could help reduce some of its key symptoms [R].
12) Reduces Pain In Pregnancy
Low-dose pycnogenol (30 mg/day) reduced the pain in pregnant women, particularly hip, joint, lower back, groin, and calf cramps in the third trimester [R].
13) Fights Viruses
Pine bark extract helped fight a viral heart infection in mice. It reduced the amount of viruses in the bloodstream, suppressed inflammatory markers, and prevented heart damage [R].
Pycnogenol may potentially also help with hepatitis C by reducing oxidative stress. In cellular studies, it could directly block hepatitis C from dividing [R].
14) Protects Boosts Oral Health
Chewing gum with pycnogenol (2.5 mg/piece) for 4 weeks reduced bad breath and mouth bacteria in a trial of 22 people [R].
15) May Heal Wounds and Scarring
Pycnogenol improved wound healing time and reduced skin scarring after by 20% in rats [R].
16) Reduces Menstrual Pain
In a clinical trial of 116 women, pycnogenol (60 mg/day) reduced menstrual pain and the need for additional painkillers, taken over 2 cycles. The longer it was taken, the stronger it reduced pain, while the benefits were maintained for a while even after stopping supplementation [R].
In another study of 47 women, supplementing with 30 mg Pycnogenol twice daily reduced menstrual pain used over 1 month [R].
17) Helps with Vein Diseases and Swelling
Pycnogenol (100 mg/day) reduced leg swelling, spider veins, and cramps in 133 women with varicose veins who recently gave birth over 6 months. It had stronger benefits than elastic compression stockings. Plus, women taking pycnogenol were more satisfied and compliant to the regimen [R].
Pycnogenol (150 mg/day) helped heal vein ulcers from surgery and reduced swelling in 30 people after 3 months [R].
When pycnogenol cream was added to oral supplements in 18 people with vein ulcers, it helped ulcers heal even quicker [R].
In one study, pycnogenol even helped prevent edema and ankle swelling from long flights in a study of 211 people with no side effects [R].
Pycnogenol improved symptoms, circulation, and reduced complications in 156 people with deep vein thrombosis (blot clots in deep leg veins) over one year. It had the best results when combined with compression stockings, but worked just as well alone [R].
18) Fights Common Cold
Pycnogenol (100 mg/day) supplementation decreased symptoms of the common cold and sped up recovery in a clinical trial of 146 people. It reduced cold symptoms and complications, the number of lost working days, and the use of over-the-counter medications compared to those who did not supplement with the extract [R].
19) Helps with Hemorrhoids
In a trial of 84 people, both Pycnogenol supplements and creams (0.5%) completely prevented hemorrhoids from bleeding during acute attacks after 7 days. In contrast, bleeding still occurred in the control group [R].
20) Reduces Melasma (or Chloasma)
Pycnogenol can help reduce symptoms of melasma, a form of hyperpigmentation, because it protects against UV rays. Pycnogenol (75 mg/day) reduced the skin area affected by melasma as well as lowers symptoms of fatigue, constipation, body pain, and anxiety in 30 women after 30 days [R].
21) Reduces Free Radicals
Pycnogenol can boost antioxidative defense, according to both human and animal studies. Pycnogenol supplementation (150 mg/day) increased antioxidant status and reduced free radicals and oxidative damage in a clinical trial of 25 people after just 3 weeks [R, R, R].
In 78 smokers, pycnogenol (50mg/day) lowered free radicals in the blood after 8 weeks of supplementation. After the supplementation was stopped, the levels went back up. So smokers and people exposed to environmental toxins may need to supplement on a consistent basis to boost their antioxidant defense [R].
22) Improves Skin Health
Dermatologists have long realized the benefits of natural antioxidants for the skin. Pycnogenol protects the skin against UV damage, reduces hyperpigmentation, prevents uneven tanning, and improves skin strength, hydration, and elasticity [R].
Pycnogenol may also be able to reduce skin damage from the ever-increasing amounts of toxins we are exposed to and may help prevent skin cancer [R].
Pycnogenol supplementation reduced skin redness from UV rays in a trial of 21 people over 8 weeks. With time, the participants were able to handle more UV radiation without experiencing skin damage. Pycnogenol achieved this by epigenetically blocking inflammatory pathways (Nf-kB) [R].
Pycnogenol may be a great skin anti-aging agent. In 20 postmenopausal women, 12 weeks of pycnogenol supplementation improved hydration and elasticity of the skin. It also increased the activity of genes that make collagen and hyaluronic acid in the body [R].
23) Protects the Brain
Pycnogenol protected nerve cells and prevented brain inflammation in mice. It reduced inflammation markers in supportive brain cells – microglia – and protected dopamine neurons, preventing Parkinson’s disease [R].
24) Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
The combination of two strong antioxidants – l-arginine and pycnogenol – is gaining popularity as a safe and natural method to overcome erectile dysfunction. Pycnogenol also works by boosting nitric oxide, which restores obstructed blood flow in men with erectile dysfunction.
In a clinical trial of 40 men with erectile dysfunction, 92.5% of the men on this combination regained normal erections after 3 months. Pycnogenol was gradually increased to 120 mg/day over this time period, while the l-arginine was maintained at 1.7 g/day throughout. Another group of men who took just l-arginine didn’t improve [R].
In another trial, a combination supplement (Pycnogenol 60 mg/day, L-arginine 690 mg/day and aspartic acid 552 mg/day) improved erectile dysfunction and sexual satisfaction in men after 8 weeks. It also slightly decreased blood pressure and increased testosterone [R].
25) Reduces Menopausal Symptoms
Pycnogenol (100 mg/day) improved menopausal symptoms and quality of life in a clinical trial of 35 women after 8 weeks. It could also reduce homocysteine and inflammation, which worsen overall health and menopause severity [R].
A combination product with pycnogenol (Lady Prelox) improved sexual function in a clinical trial of 83 healthy postmenopausal women after 8 weeks. Overall, it increased desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and reduced pain with no adverse effects [R].
26) Enhances Male Reproductive Health
In rats, pycnogenol prevented the development of benign prostate overgrowth and increased prostate health [R].
27) Improves Sexual Function in Women
In 100 healthy women mostly in their early 40s with mild sexual dysfunction, a combination product with pycnogenol (Lady Prelox) improved all aspects of sexual function over 8 weeks. It was used along with a diet and stress reduction program and no side effects occurred [R].
28) Reduces Crohn’s Disease in Children
Pycnogenol improved symptoms of Crohn’s disease and increased antioxidants in a clinical trial of 30 children after 10 weeks. It increased two of the most important antioxidants – glutathione and SOD – that can help fight inflammation and oxidative stress in Crohn’s [R].
29) Helps with IBS
In 77 people with symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), pycnogenol (150 mg/day) improved symptoms, reduced the frequency of attacks, protected the gut, and prevented IBS worsening similar to IBS drugs such as Papaverine and Buscopan. It may be a great option for people with IBS, since it’s very safe and easy to tolerate [R]
30) Reduces Chemotherapy Side Effects
Pycnogenol (150 mg/day) reduced all side effects in 59 cancer patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. It reduced mouth soreness and ulcers, mouth and eye dryness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss [R].
In 72 children undergoing cancer chemotherapy, pycnogenol reduced painful mouth ulcers, both alone and in combination with vitamin E [R].
31) Helps with Tinnitus
In a clinical trial of 92 people with tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, pycnogenol (100-150 mg/day) helped reduce symptoms and improve blood flow in the ears after 4 weeks [R].
32) Helps Prevent Glaucoma
In combination with Mirtoselect, pycnogenol improved blood flow to the eye and reduced eye blood pressure in a trial of 38 people after 2 months. It may help prevent glaucoma and eye damage if used early on in people with high eye blood pressure [R].
33) May Help with Depression
In mice with stress-induced depression, pycnogenol reduced inflammation in the brain and improved mood, reducing overall depression symptoms [R].
No humans studies backed this up yet.
34) May Help with Concussions and TBI
Enzogenol, a slightly different pine bark extract, may help improve brain function after mild concussions. It decreased concussion symptoms in 42 student-athletes with a history of sport-related concussions after 6 weeks. Enzogenol also reduced mental fatigue and sleep problems [R].
Pycnogenol protected the brain from traumatic brain injury (TBI) in several rat studies. It could prevent damage to brain regions important for cognition and memory – the cortex and hippocampus – given right after the trauma [R, R].
Pycnogenol could also maintain synapses after injury, which help brain cells effectively communicate [R].
35) May Help with Sleep
In mice, pine bark extract enhanced the sleep-inducing effects of sedatives (barbiturates) with no side effects. Active compounds in this extract probably enhance GABA activity in the brain, which promotes sleep and relaxation [R].
36) May Boost Longevity and Slow Down Aging
Due to such wide-ranging beneficial effects, some researchers got the idea that pycnogenol may boost longevity and slow down the aging process. As hard as this is to prove, some researchers have attempted it:
- In elderly people, pycnogenol enhances DNA repair and reduces oxidative stress [R]
- In 101 elderly people, pycnogenol (150 mg/day) improved cognition and reduced free radicals [R]
- Pycnogenol improved mobility in older people with osteoarthritis
- Plus, we know that it reduces symptoms of menopause and erectile dysfunction
So all the evidence points to the fact that pycnogenol can certainly promote healthy aging [R].
Pycnogenol Side Effects and Caution
Pycnogenol acts as a sustained-release formulation. But the actual bioavailability of this complex mixture is still unknown. Since components of Pycnogenol can be modified during digestion and absorption as well as by the liver, disease that affects the gut or liver may increase or decrease its effects [R].
Caveats and Limitations
Some studies used combination products, so it’s unknown what the contribution of pycnogenol itself was. Certain benefits are still limited to animal or cellular studies, which can’t be extrapolated to humans.
Two heart disease studies were funded by Horphag Research, the original developers and exclusive marketers of Pycnogenol. These studies still appear to be methodologically sound and reliable, with no blatant errors in the study design and data collection.
One user found that Pycnogenol helped them with symptoms of von Willebrand disease, a blood coagulation disorder. It also helped them reduce the frequency of nosebleeds. They felt better circulation, warmer hands and feet, even in cold environments. After about two weeks, they noticed clearer, more even and smooth than it has ever been before.
Another user read about it in Life Extension magazine. They have many age-related problems that pycnogenol helped with. The most exciting and was that their tinnitus finally completely disappeared, and they felt quiet in their head for the first time in years.
Pycnogenol and Pine Bark Extract Supplements
Various brands of pycnogenol are available. Some pycnogenol supplements are mixed with other antioxidants, such as vitamin C.
- Pycnogenol is standardized to contain 70 ± 5% procyanidins, which should be on the label
- Pycnogenol standardization doesn’t determine other major active compounds, which can vary
Pine bark extracts other than pycnogenol are also sold. Although these may still be high quality, the active compounds are more likely to vary.
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