Pycnogenol is a well researched and patented extract of French maritime pine bark most commonly used for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting capacities as well as for its Nootropic effects.
What is Pycnogenol?
Pycnogenol (by Horphag Research) is a patented version of pine bark extract derived from French maritime pine trees, also known as Pinus maritime, that grows in southwest France. This supplement is linked to numerous health benefits and promising positive Nootropic effects for attention, memory, executive functions and mood.
This supplement contains flavonoids, catechins, phenolics acids and is rich in OPCs, oligomeric proanthocyanidin compounds (65%-75% content) which are flavonoid phytonutrients that are believed to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
The active compounds in this product may support cardiovascular function, greater energy levels, anti-aging effects and enhanced mental performance.
Pycnogenol is thought to be a potent pine bark extract and has especially gained a great amount of attention due to its strong antioxidant activity, protecting cells in the body from oxidative stress by scavenging reactive nitrogen and oxygen free radical species that can damage cells and encourage the chances of developing symptoms of premature aging and numerous diseases and conditions.
In addition, Pycnogenol contains active ingredients that may support healthy blood flow and circulation which may lead to several positive effects on human health and cognitive function.
It is available commercially online or in specialty health food stores in several forms including tablets, powders, skin creams and in multivitamins and health drinks. Generic pine bark extract products are also available which appear to have similar reported effects.
This article will examine the health and cognitive benefits associated with Pycnogenol, what it is used for, how it may work and this supplements safety profile.
How does Pycnogenol Work?
Pycnogenol and other pine bark extracts contain OPCs or procyanidolic oligomers that have been a subject of recent research since they seem to work at inducing anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antioxidant, anti-microbial actions and may stimulate the immune system, making them potentially valuable therapeutic tools for many conditions.
In addition, flavonoids such as catechin and taxifolin contained in this product promote the production of nitric oxide (NO) which may be in response to Acetylcholine stimulation acting to relax blood vessels and allowing them to dilate (widen) which means promoting improved circulation and having an anti-inflammatory effect.
This action may be responsible for many of the potential positive effects of Pycnogenol including alleviating erectile dysfunction (especially when taken in combination with L-arginine), boosting athletic performance, increasing blood flow, reducing muscle soreness, enhancing cognition and its link to cardiovascular health.
There are various other phytonutrient constituents in Pycnogenol which have yet to be tested for their potential therapeutic capacities.
Pycnogenol Uses and Possible Health Benefits
The reported benefits of Pycnogenol supplementation range across a diverse multitude of medicinal uses and conditions that may be largely due to its potential powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-infection and vasorelaxation capacities.
According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, Pycnogenol is used orally to help treat the following;
- Chronic venous insufficiency
- Diabetic microangiopathy
- Hypertension (High blood pressure)
- Tinnitus (Ringing in the ears)
- Leg cramps
- Muscle soreness & pain
- Symptoms of menopause
- ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
- Erectile dysfunction
- Sexual dysfunction in women
- IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome)
While they have rated Pycnogenol Possibly Effective for allergic rhinitis, asthma, enhancing exercise capacity, chronic venous insufficiency, cognitive function and retinopathy, they say there is not enough reliable evidence to rate other possible benefits that are associated with this supplement.
Pycnogenol is also used by individuals to help prevent stroke, cardiovascular conditions, varicose veins, jet lag and to maintain the health of the skin, improve sperm morphology, to boost sexual function and as an anti-aging supplement but not all these uses have been validated nor explored in human research trials.
There are over 350 studies on the effects of Pycnogenol and it has shown promise for certain health conditions, however, more clinical trials are needed to determine its efficacy for other uses. It is not approved by the FDA as a drug to treat or prevent any of these conditions.
Pycnogenol Effects on the Heart and Circulation
One notable area of research into the effects of Pycnogenol is in regards to its capacity to increase blood flow and support circulation which may be mediated by reducing oxidative stress and promoting increased nitric oxide (NO) availability.
Pycnogenol has shown to have positive effects on endothelial function. The endothelium is a layer of cells that lines the inside surface of blood and lymphatic vessels that release NO, which acts to relax blood vessels causing them to widen. In this way, nitric oxide plays an important role in enhancing blood flow, decreasing plaque growth and reducing the risk of blood clotting. Various cardiovascular diseases are caused by endothelial dysfunction.
In a double-blind, placebo-based trial, 23 patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD) were administered 200mg of Pycnogenol per day over an 8 week period. Patients in the treatment group showed improved endothelial function and blood delivery while subjects given a placebo showed no change.
In another study, 100 mg daily of Pycnogenol over a 12 week period in 58 patients with hypertension, had positive effects on their blood pressure.
Pycnogenol Benefits For Cognitive Function
The potential positive Nootropic or cognitive effects of Pycnogenol is another area receiving a great amount of attention.
In an 8 week study evaluating the effects of Pycnogenol on cognitive function and mental performance involving 53 healthy students, supplementation with this product resulted in improved memory, focus, executive functions and mood in test scores.
Another study was conducted to evaluate its effects on symptoms of ADHD. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 61 children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were administered 1 mg per 1 kg of weight of Pycnogenol over a four week period. Supplementation exhibited a compelling reduction of hyperactivity, improvements in attention and concentration when compared to the placebo group.
Pycnogenol For Menopause
Another benefit associated with Pycnogenol is in this products reported positive effects on symptoms of menopause. In a study conducted over an 8 week period involving menopausal women, 100mg daily of Pycnogenol resulted in an over 45% decrease in 6 of the most common symptoms including night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, loss of libido, vaginal dryness and irregular periods.
In addition, the results exhibited significant improvements in pain sensations related to menopausal transition including breast pain, headaches, burning tongue and itchy skin.
Is Pycnogenol Safe To Take?
Pycnogenol supplementation at a daily dosage of 100 mg-200 mg is regarded as safe, even for long-term use. Doses are typically dividing into two administrations of 100 mg taken with a meal, once at breakfast and once at dinner time.
Although side effects are rare, you may experience nausea and upset stomach when first using this supplement. Other side effects can occur when taking this supplement in conjunction with over the counter or prescription medications.
Pycnogenol can interact with medications used to treat immune system disorders, hypertension, bleeding conditions, diabetes, hepatitis and should not be taken at least two weeks prior to scheduled surgery.
It is advised to consult with your doctor first before taking this supplement or any Pine Bark extract especially if you are currently taking medications.
For healthy people, this supplement has not been associated with any negative persistent side effects even when used on a long-term basis. There are no standardized guidelines by the FDA for use of this supplement, please speak with your doctor first before taking this supplement and if you are taking any other medications, as they may interact with Pycnogenol.
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