Pine bark extract, which is used for its antioxidant properties, is made from the bark of the maritime pine tree, latin name: Pinus pinaster. The bark contains naturally occurring chemicals called proanthocyanidins. The maritime pine tree is native to the western Mediterranean. Pine bark extract is usually sold under the brand name Pycnogenol.
Pine bark was used by a French explorer named Jacques Cartier in the winter of 1535. The ship was in freezing conditions in the St. Lawrence River, in what is now Quebec. The crew became ill with scurvy, a disease resulting from vitamin C deficiency, because there were no fruits and vegetables for months. Several had already died when a Native American told them how to prepare a tea made from tree bark. Many of the crew members about his ship recovered and attributed miraculous qualities to the tea.
In 1951, French researcher Dr. Jacques Masquelier reportedly read this account in Cartier’s writings and began a search for the active ingredients in the tea. He was able to extract proanthocyanidins from the bark of the European coastal pine tree. He patented the process and named the compound Pycnogenol.
Pine bark extract is a powerful antioxidant, that blocks the actions of free radicals, slowing down the aging process. Some claim that pine bark extract supplements are much more effective in eliminating free radicals than vitamins C and E. Pine bark extract protects against arthritis, complications from diabetes, cancer, heart disease, circulation. It has antioxidant properties, which are sometimes helpful in reducing cancer risk. Some people have noticed improved memory, fewer effects from stress, improved joint flexibility, and decreased inflammation.
One study found that a single high dose of pine bark extract in the form of a bioflavonoid mixture was effective in reducing platelet clumping in patients who smoked for more than three days, which would be expected to reduce blood clotting. Studies are being conducted to determine if pine bark extract could lower risk for stroke or heart attack.