What is pycnogenol?
Pycnogenol is the brand name for a standaridized herbal extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. The extract contains a potent blend of active phenolic compounds including: catechin, taxifolium, procyanidins, and phenolic acids. Pycnogenol is known to be one of the most potent anti-oxidant compounds currently known (Packer et al., 1999). In fact, research has demonstrated that Pycnogenol is atleast 50-100 times more powerful than vitamin E (Nelson et al., 1998). It is extremely effective at inactivating and neutralising free-radicals (molecules that damage any structure they come into contact with – but in addition it also has the ability to recycle and prolong the life span of key vitamins C and E.
Research has demonstrated many positive benefits from Pycnogenol supplementation including: 1) prevention of blood clots; 2) protects DNA from damage; 3) lowers blood sugar levels; 4) lowers blood pressure; 5) reduces the risk of cancer; 6) protects cells from the damage of UV radiation; 7) protects against the damaging effects of cigarette smoke; 8) improves sperm quality; 9) improves wound healing; 10) improves lung function in asthmatics; 11) increase the break down of fats; 12) reduces the storage of fats within fat cells. It may also be of benefit to sports people by reducing the amount of damage caused by free radicals during exercise.
Pycnogneol is known to be one of the most potent anti-oxidants currently known, and is many times more powerful than both vitamins C and E (Nelson et al., 1998; Packer et al., 1999). As well as being an extremely potent anti-oxidant it actually recycles vitamins C and E, allowing them to be re-used, and prolonging their life span. In addition, Pycnogenol increases the production of our own natural anti-oxidant defenses (Wei et al., 1997).
Anti-oxidants protect against the cell damaging effects of free-radicals. Free-radicals are by products of normal physiological processes that cause damage to any substance they come into contact with. Since free-radicals are thought to be a major cause of aging and play a key role in the development of many diseases associated with aging, like heart disease and dementia, the use of powerful anti-oxidants, like Pycnogenol, are believed to help to slow the ageing process and counteract some of the problems associates with aging.
Research looking at the effects of Pycnogenol on blood pressure, found that it is able to significantly lower blood pressure in moderately hypertensive patients (Hosseini et al., 2001a). In this study just 200mg daily was enough to have a significant reduction on both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The four patients that had the highest systolic blood pressure (average 150mmHg) showed the most significant decrease in systolic pressure (average 134mmHg), following supplementation. The researchers believed that it was Pycnogenol’s ability to elevate nitric oxide production that was the primary reason for reduced blood pressure. Previous research has shown that Pycnogenol can increase nitric oxide production (Fitzpatrick, 1998). Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to relax, increasing blood flow, and decreasing blood pressure. Further research also supports the use of Pycnogenol in moderately high blood pressure patients (Liu et al., 2004a).
Pycnogenol has also proved to be effective at reducing the risk of blood clots (Belcaro et al., 2004). This study looked at the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during long haul flights (average flight time was 8 hours 15 minutes). In the Pycnogenol group there was no cases of DVT whereas in the group without placebo there were five cases of thrombosis. The researchers concluded that Pycnogenol was effective at reducing the risk of blood clots. Pycnogenol is believed to have this beneficial effect by relaxing blood vessels which increases blood flow, and through a reduction in the stickiness of the blood (Putter et al., 1999; Araghi-Niknam et al., 2000). A reduced risk of blood clots is particularly important since when blood clots can cause strokes and heart attacks and therefore present a very serious health threat.
Research also shows that Pycnogenol can help to keep blood vessels functioning properly. When we age our blood vessels lose their natural elasticity, can start to leak fluid, and start to lose their natural shape. Pycnogenol is able to bind to collagen – a key protein that gives strength and elasticity to blood vessels – protecting it from damage caused by free radicals. It can also help to repair worn out capillaries, reducing the leakage of fluids from them (Gapalti, 1999). As such it has proved effective in the treatment of the painful swelling around the ankles during long haul flights (Cesarone et al., 2005) and is often taken to reduce the risk of developing thread veins and to slow their progression.
Pycnogenol appears to be effective at preventing the build up of fatty deposits within artery walls. When low density lipoprotein – the bad form of cholesterol – is oxidised by a free-radical it becomes sticky and accumulates on the inner lining of blood vessels. As we age, particularly if we eat unhealthily, the inner lining of blood vessels get more and more clogged with fatty deposits, and reduces blood flow. When this occurs to the capillaries supplying the heart it is a particular concern as it can eventually lead to a heart attack if blood supply is completely blocked. However, researchers have found that Pycnogenol, inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and therefore helps to prevent the build up of fatty deposits on the inner lining of blood vessels (Nelson et al., 1998).
It also appears to be effective at controlling blood sugar levels. Research by Liu et al., (2004b) found that just 100mg daily of Pycnogenol significantly lowered blood sugar levels in Type II diabetes patients. The blood sugar lowering effect also suggests that Pycnogenol may also prove to be beneficial for weight management. In fact research has found that pycnogenol stimulates the break down of fats from within fat cells (Hasegawa, 1999; Mochizuki and Hasegawa, 2004) as well as inhibiting the build up of fats within fat cells (Hasegawa, 2000).
Asthmatics may also benefit from Pycnogenol. Researchers studied the effects of consuming 1mg of Pycnogenol, per pound of body weight, per day, in asthmatic patients (Hosseini et al., 2001b). The researchers found that the subjects total lung volume increased significantly following Pycnogenol consumption. Asthma is known to be caused by an immune reaction that reduces airflow into the lungs. The researchers found that improved airway function corresponded with a reduced immune reaction following supplementation. Therefore, Pycnogenol could prove effective in the treatment in other inflammatory immune diseases such as the inflammatory skin disorder psoriasis (Rihn et al., 2001).
Research has also shown that pycnogenol may prove to be effective at reducing the risk of some types of cancer (Peng et al., 2004; Sime and Reeve, 2004). It also appears to help to prevent sunburn and photoaging caused by ultraviolet radiation (Saliou et al., 2001).
It may even prove to beneficial for reducing cramps and pain associated menstrual disorders (Kohama and Suzuki, 1999), and may improve both sperm quality and sperm function, and could therefore be of benefit to couples looking to improve their fertility naturally (Roseff, 2002).
Even sports people may benefit from Pycnogenol. When we exercise, the number of free-radicals, in our bodies, increases dramatically. Since, free-radicals damage everything they come into contact with, including muscle fibres. Research has shown that free-radicals caused by exhaustive exercise can cause muscle cells to completely rupture (Vina et al., 2000). By taking a potent anti-oxidant like Pycnogenol you can counteract the damage caused by free-radicals and thus gain more benefit from exercise. Researchers have found that Pycnogenol may even enhance human exercise performance (Pavlovic, 1999). In this study, athletes improved endurance by 21%, following consumption of 200mg of Pycnogenol.
One of the most interesting pieces of research with regards to sport was a paper looking at the effects of Pycnogenol on human growth hormone (HGH) (Buz’Zard et al., 2002). The researchers found that Pycnogenol was extremely effective at enhancing growth hormone secretion in cultured cells. The authors stated: “It is tempting to sugest that Pycnogenol is up to 1000 times more effective than the other compounds we studied. They also suggested that some of the positive effects often seen with Pycnogenol could in fact be due to enhanced growth hormone secretion. Enhancing human growth hormone naturally, with Pycnogenol, would be very beneficial for anyone looking to improve recovery from exercise. Since growth hormone increases lean muscle mass, and decreases fat mass, Pycnogenol could be of benefit to people looking to increase muscle mass and decrease fat mass.
Pycnogenol side effects
Pycnogenol appears to be well tolerated with few adverse side effects (Liu et al., 2004a; Liu et al., 2004b).
A large number of research studies have found pycnogenol to be effective for a large number of health benefits, including: hypertension; reducing the risk of blood clots; reducing the build up of fatty deposits within arteries; controlling blood sugar; improving lung function in asthmatics; reducing risk of some cancers; protecting skin from sun damage; improving fertility; and may be beneficial to sports people.
- Extremely potent anti-oxidant (50-100 times more powerful than vitamin E) that protects against cell damage
- Recycles Vitamin C and E, thereby prolongs their effectiveness
- It can lower blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide production
- Reduces the risks of blood clots
- Protects and strengthens blood vessels and capillaries
- Can lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels
- May increase fat breakdown whilst decreasing fat storage
- May improve lung function
- Reduce inflammatory diseases like psoriasis
- May protect skin against sunburn and reduce risk of some cancers
- May reduce menstrual cramps
- Improves sperm quality and function
- May Enhance exercise performance
- May increase human growth hormone levels
- Appears to be safe and non toxic
Most researchers have used 100-200mg of pycnogenol, daily, for specific health conditions like raised blood pressure, type II diabetes. For general health benefits 50-100mg should be effective.
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