Hailing from southern France, pine bark is a tree that boasts many health-promoting properties. Its earliest use dates back to the 1500s, when it was used to treat scurvy affecting French explorers.
Today, the extract from its bark is used as a herbal supplement for treating a long list of conditions because it shows promise of anti-allergic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and even some antimicrobial activity in the body.
So, how well does it fare in meeting these claims? Let’s find out.
- What is Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol)?
- Pine Bark Extract vs. Pycnogenol: What’s The Difference?
- What Makes Pine Bark Extract Effective?
- What Are The Benefits of Pine Bark Extract?
- How To Take Pine Bark Extract
- Does Pine Bark Extract Have Any Side Effects?
What is Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol)?
Maritime Pine Bark is a pine tree native to France and goes by its scientific name of Pinus pinaster.
Historically, the bark of Pinus pinaster has been used for several conditions other than cognitive functioning, and its entry into the biohacking community is relatively recent.
Nootropic enthusiasts also know pine bark as pycnogenol, which is its patented form.
In the capacity of a nootropic, pine bark is supposed to help improve different cognitive aspects and prevent the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.
Pine Bark Extract vs. Pycnogenol: What’s The Difference?
Pycnogenol is the trade name for the pine bark extract of the French maritime pine trees. It is a standardized extract that contains 60-75% of the most active compounds present in pine bark.
Many of the studies done on pine bark have been on pycnogenol. It remains the most reliable form of pine bark for research purposes, with around 400 publications dedicated to its effects.
What Makes Pine Bark Extract Effective?
The extract derived from pine bark has a very specific blend of antioxidants known as oligomeric proanthocyanidin compounds (OPCs). However, proanthocyanidins are not exclusive to french maritime pine bark extract but can also be found in grape seed, peanut skin, and witch hazel bark.
The extract contains several antioxidant plant compounds and polyphenols, including procyanidins, catechins, and phenolic acids as its main active components.
- Procyanidins are the main active ingredients of French maritime pine bark extract, boasting much of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Catechins are natural antioxidants that help prevent cell damage, reducing free radical formation in the body, and protecting cells and molecules from oxidative stress.
- Phenolic acids are another type of antioxidants that also carry out antiviral, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory activities.
Maritime pine bark extract works with a dual mechanism. Not only does its OPC content improve the antioxidant potential of cells, but it also targets free radical agents found in the bloodstream. In a nootropic capacity, this translates into improved blood flow in the brain which can help boost cognition.
While many oxidant agents struggle to reach the brain, proanthocyanidins do this seamlessly by crossing the blood-brain barrier.
This enables them to work on free radicals in the brain and eliminate them. It also lowers the effect of oxidative damage on brain cells, promoting long-term brain health and performance.
What Are The Benefits of Pine Bark Extract?
Many of the health benefits of pine bark extract come from its fantastic antioxidant compounds.
It shows a diverse profile for managing conditions from lowering LDL cholesterol and treating inflammation to improving brain function.
Improves Brain and Cognition Function
Pine bark supplementation seems to affect memory, focus, and mood positively.
Regarding brain function, studies show that people who received pine bark extract supplements exhibited a higher reduction in free radicals than the placebo group.
The same people also showed improved spatial memory, alertness, contentedness with reduced anxiety levels after 12 weeks of supplementation (1).
Another similar study investigated the effects of pycnogenol administered to study participants daily for three months. At the end of the trial period, those who took the extract should improve in the areas of attention, episodic and working memories, and psychomotor performance (2).
Several studies have investigated the effectiveness of pycnogenol on inflammation and inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). Regarding inflammation, one of the mechanisms is to block the release of enzymes that damage cartilage.
One study looked at its effects on OA patients, with results showing a significant improvement in pain management symptoms, swelling, joint stiffness, and physical function compared to the placebo group.
In a second similar study, participants with mild knee OA received 150mg pycnogenol versus placebo for three months. Study results showed the pycnogenol group experienced lower pain and inflammation and improved function than the placebo group (3).
These studies show that pycnogenol can help enhance mobility and provide pain relief for OA patients. It can be considered an anti-inflammatory add-on supplement.
Another inflammatory concern is the presence of a protein made by the liver known as C reactive protein (CRP). CRP increases in the blood when there is inflammation somewhere in the body.
Research shows that pycnogenol can lower the level of CRP and yield an anti-inflammatory effect (4).
Supports Heart Health
Another OPC mechanism is to stimulate Nitric Oxide(NO) in the body. Nitric oxide is essential for the optimal functioning of blood vessels as it lets them dilate to retain healthy blood pressure levels.
This activity is vital to ensure oxygen and nutrient-rich circulation to the body, including the heart and brain.
A steady supply of healthy blood to the heart can prevent the issues of clotting and arterial restriction. Some studies also indicate that the OPC content of pine bark extract may strengthen the lining of blood vessels and capillaries.
In the same way, improved circulation to the brain prevents the risk of blood vessel degradation that can lead to age-related cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s disease.
Helps To Manage ADHD Symptoms
The antioxidant profile of pine bark extract may also help balance the immune system by lowering inflammation and reducing oxidative stress in people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Typically, people diagnosed with ADHD have higher than normal dopamine and adrenaline levels which can aggravate oxidative stress.
One study gave a controlled dose of pine bark extract to children diagnosed with ADHD for one month. At the need of the trial, results showed reduced hyperactivity symptoms due to a lowering of dopamine and adrenaline levels and an increase in glutathione (5).
Treats Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, that put an individual at a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.
Several studies show that pycnogenol can benefit people with this condition. Continuous treatment using pycnogenol has shown a reduction in triglyceride levels, waist circumference, and blood pressure. At the same time, it also presents an increase in HDL cholesterol levels in people with the condition.
One study in this area showed that supplementing with pycnogenol for six months reduced the risk factors of metabolic syndrome (6).
Previous research has already established pycnogenol as a natural treatment for metabolic syndrome, especially kidney function, and this study further validates its benefits for the condition.
Reduces The Effects of Skin Aging
The French maritime pine bark tree has such an impressive antioxidant status that it has naturally received attention for its skin health benefits.
Because the skin is exposed extensively to pollutants, toxins, UV rays, and other factors, there is a lot of potential damage. Research shows that pine bark extracts may help reduce skin damage such as hyperpigmentation while promoting collagen to boost skin elasticity, strength, and hydration.
It may also offer protection against UVB rays responsible for producing sunburn and may even lead to skin cancer.
One study on skin health looked at the effects of pine bark extracts on elasticity and hydration and showed positive results. Women who use the supplements showed improved gene activity, promoting hyaluronic acid and collagen in the body (7).
Enhances Exercise Performance
Because it’s an antioxidant with vasorelaxant and anti-inflammatory properties, pine bark extract may also be beneficial for boosting physical performance.
The cumulative effect of these mechanisms can support athletic performance by delivering oxygen and energy more effectively to the muscles.
Not only this, but it will also speed up recovery post-exercise and reduce cramping and aching after the workout is done.
Alongside performance, pine bark extracts also seen to have a positive effect on athletic stamina. One study investigating this aspect of its health benefits showed athletes improve endurance by taking supplements (8).
Lowers Blood Glucose and Blood Pressure
Some research indicates that pine bark may lower blood sugar levels and provide help with type 2 diabetes management. However, this effect is only seen when pine bark supplementation continues for at least 12 weeks.
In one study, people received pine bark extract daily for 12 weeks, with evidence showing a drop in their blood sugar levels and HbA1c, a marker for long-term glucose levels and an important indicator for people with diabetes (9).
Another study that recruited people with diabetes and high blood pressure showed that participants taking the extract were able to normalize their blood pressure and reduce blood pressure medication. This effect also reduced the risk of heart disease complications (10).
Studies on pycnogenol have also investigated other areas of health, including its effects on scurvy caused by a vitamin C deficiency, asthma, tinnitus, and vision health.
Since pine bark contains excellent levels of vitamin C, it is seen as a natural treatment method for healing scurvy.
Taking daily supplements of pycnogenol may improve symptoms of asthma.
One study that researched these claims gave 100 mg of pycnogenol to asthmatic individuals along with their use of ICS. the second group in the study continued with their regular ICS without additional supplements.
After six months of intervention, improvements were observed in the pycnogenol group in the areas of fewer doctor consultations, fewer night awakenings, and lesser use of salbutamol inhalers (11).
Another area is tinnitus treatment, where the use of pycnogenol has been linked to improving blood supply to the inner ear. However, research is limited, and the study sizes small.
But with regards to vision health, particularly in diabetic individuals, evidence is more supportive. Known as diabetic retinopathy, the condition typically develops without symptoms until it progresses to a point where vision worsens, and the damage is irreversible.
Several eye health products add pycnogenol as an ingredient in their formulas to treat diabetic retinopathy.
How To Take Pine Bark Extract
Pine bark extract is a natural supplement for different health conditions, but dosages vary based on the state you are trying to treat.
As a supplement, pine bark extract can be purchased as a powder, liquid, capsules, or tablets, each with a varying OPC concentration.
As a nootropic, it may also be included as part of a preformulated stack with other ingredients.
The daily dose recommended for pine bark with a 95% OPC content is up to 100 mg taken three times daily. Being a water-soluble compound, it’s easy to take it with water or mix it with a smoothie.
The dosage for the extract depends on the condition you use it for. Clinical studies and trials have used it in the following amounts, but it’s best to consult with your primary health care professional before taking any supplements.
- For hypertension, take 50-200mg daily
- Diabetes patients should use 50-200mg
- For menstrual pain, take 30-100mg
- Managing joint health issues requires 30-150mg
- For sports endurance, the recommended dose is 50-500mg
Pycnogenol does not present immediate effects but can take up to six hours to kick in. Once you continue taking it for a couple of weeks, you will feel increased energy levels, cognitive function, and getting more done.
Other benefits include improved skin, hair, and nail health. You may not get bruised as easily as before and feel your sinuses and allergies clearing up.
Does Pine Bark Extract Have Any Side Effects?
Evidence shows that Maritime pine bark extract is generally considered safe without presenting any severe side effects.
What some people have reported is experiencing mild digestive distress, headaches, or dizziness.
There are risk factors for people using immune suppressants, though. If you are taking any prescription medications for immunosuppression, you should not use pine bark to boost the immune system and may cause some side effects.
Likewise, people with diabetes also need to be careful when using pine bark to lower blood glucose levels.
People undergoing radiation therapy or others taking chemotherapy drugs may also experience negative interactions.
Pycnogenol is an excellent supplement for people looking for sustained, long-term benefits. Active compounds found in pine bark improve antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory potential and boost cerebral circulation for overall health benefits.
Users report it makes them feel calmer and think quicker over time. And along with providing cognitive and exercise benefits, pycnogenol is also suitable for joints, skin, and eye health.
So, if your doctor says it’s safe for you to use after studying your medical history, you could give pine bark a try to optimize cognitive function over time.
- Can I take pycnogenol every day?
Pycnogenol is considered safe to take every day in doses of 50-450mg for up to one year.
- Should I take pycnogenol on an empty stomach?
Manufacturers recommend taking pycnogenol with food as there may be some gastric discomfort if taken on an empty stomach.
- Does pine bark increase testosterone?
Some research indicates that pine bark may increase testosterone production when taken in combination with l-arginine.
- Is pycnogenol good for erectile dysfunction?
Early research indicates that pycnogenol may improve sexual function in men with erectile dysfunction or ED.