Pycnogenol is a flavonoid-rich dietary supplement marketed for its heart and circulatory health and its ability to treat erectile dysfunction.
Pycnogenol is a proprietary bark extract of the French maritime pine tree that has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties and anti-platelet effects. As such, it may have the potential to treat a range of conditions.
Pycnogenol may help improve cardiovascular health. In a recent study, scientists set out to examine the effects of Pycnogenol on endothelial dysfunction — a precursor of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular events — in patients with coronary artery disease.
Endothelial cells release substances that control vascular relaxation and contraction as well as enzymes that control blood clotting, immune function and platelet adhesion.
Coronary artery disease is a common type of heart disease that occurs when the arteries that supply blood to heart become hardened and narrowed. This hardening and narrowing is due to the buildup of plaque on the inner walls.
According to the results published in a 2012 issue of the European Heart Journal, Pycnogenol improves endothelial function in patients with coronary artery disease by reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is an excess production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) relative to antioxidant defense, and has shown to play a role in cardiovascular disease. (1,2)
Pycnogenol may help treat erectile dysfunction. Pycnogenol has been shown to increase the effects of nitrous oxide in the body, which relaxes muscles around the penis and allows for increased blood flow.
In one study (including 40 men, aged 25-45 years), supplementation of L-arginine in combination with Pycnogenol (40mg/2 times a day) increased the number of men with restored sexual ability to 80 percent. In the following month, the daily dosage of Pycnogenol was increased to 40mg/3 times a day; at this dosage, 92.5 percent of the men experienced a normal erection.
The researchers concluded that treatment causes a significant improvement in sexual function in men with erectile dysfunction without any side effects (3).
In another study, supplementation with L-arginine and Pycnogenol treated not only erectile dysfunction, but improved the quality of sperm in infertile men.
Forty-seven men with low sperm count (oligozoospermia), poor sperm motility or movement (asthenozoospermia) and abnormal sperm shape and mild erectile dysfunction participated in the Japanese study (4).
It is important to note, that many of the studies backing pycnogenol’s ability to treat erectile dysfunction have also included treatment with L-Arginine; the effects of Pycnogenol alone on erectile dysfunction are still unknown.
Pycnogenol may help alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis. In a three-month study of patients with osteoarthritis, 100 mg of Pycnogenol a day improved several symptoms. To assess symptoms, researchers used the global WOMAC Osteoarthritis Index — a questionnaire to evaluate pain, stiffness and physical function in patients.
At the end of the study, the global WOMAC score decreased by 56 percent in the treatment group versus 9.6 percent in the placebo group; walking distance in the treadmill test was prolonged from 68 minutes at the start to 198 minutes after 3 months of treatment; the use of anti-inflammatory drugs decreased by 58 percent in the treatment group versus 1 percent in the placebo group.
Finally, foot edema decreased in 79 percent of the patients treated with Pycnogenol (5).
In patients with knee osteoarthritis, supplementation of Pycnogenol (50mg/3 times a day for 90 days) showed a reduction in self-reported pain, stiffness, physical function and composite WOMAC score by 43 percent, 35 percent, 52 percent and 49 percent, respectively. The placebo group showed no significant changes.
While further studies are needed, this beneficial effect of Pycnogenol is believed to be due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (6).
Pycnogenol is associated with improved cognition and mood in healthy students. In one study, researchers compared the effects of supplementation with Pycnogenol on cognitive function, attention and mental performance in students for 8 weeks.
Fifty-three students (range 18-27 years) were included in the study. At the end of the study, supplementation significantly improved sustained attention, memory, executive functions and mood ratings in the students (7).
Pycnogenol may lower LDL cholesterol. Lowering elevated levels of LDL cholesterol is important as high levels lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. This increases one’s risk of coronary artery disease (8).
According to the results of one study, 6 weeks of Pycnogenol supplementation (150 mg/day) significantly reduced LDL cholesterol levels and increased HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol) in two-thirds of the participants.
When supplementation was discontinued, LDL cholesterol levels reversed while HDL cholesterol remained increased for several weeks (9).
In a comparative study of horse chestnut seed extract and Pycnogenol, the latter significantly decreased LDL cholesterol, while horse seed extract had no effect.
In addition, supplementation decreased chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) symptoms and leg swelling (10). CVI is a condition that occurs when the valves in the leg veins are not working properly, making it difficult for blood to return to the heart from the legs (11).
Pycnogenol improves the elasticity of aging skin. As interest in the use of nutritional supplements to improve aging skin grows, researchers have placed their focus on Pycnogenol. Twenty postmenopausal women, who took Pycnogenol for 12 weeks, saw a significant improvement in the hydration and elasticity of their skin.
The effects were most noticeable in women with dry skin prior to starting the study (12).
Supplementation may also be used to help improve skin barrier function and treat hyperpigmentation of the skin — a common condition in which patches of skin become darker in color than the normal surrounding skin (13).
Supplementation appears to be safe when taken as directed and for up to one year.
There have been some reports of dizziness, stomach problems, headache and mouth sores.
In most studies, the standard effective daily dose appears to be in the range of 50-200mg, depending on the condition being treated.
Pycnogenol is a flavonoid-rich dietary supplement known primarily for its ability to improve cardiovascular health and to treat erectile dysfunction. It is made from extracts from pine tree bark and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet effects.
Studies show that it also has the potential to alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis, lower LDL cholesterol, improve cognition and mood in students and improve the skin quality in older adults.
Supplementation thus far appears to be safe with a few mild side effects.