Use this “bark” to take the bite out of heart disease…
Would you scrape the bark from a tree and eat it?
Well, what if you were stranded without fresh food supplies, weakened and facing death? If a stranger told you the bark could save your life, would you consume it then?
These days, you may not need this plant-based substance to survive – but it still offers a bevy of benefits that may improve your health.
In fact, it appears to offer a one-two antioxidant punch that may make this substance an important piece of many people’s supplement regimen.
So just what is this powerful product?
A Surprising Lifesaver…
The scenario I just described isn’t fiction. See, pine bark really did save people from seemingly certain death several centuries ago.
During a voyage to the New World in 1535, explorer Jacques Cartier’s ship became trapped in the icy St. Lawrence River near what is now Quebec. He and his crew eventually ran out of fresh provisions and became ill with scurvy. Soon, 25 men had died.
Enter the local natives, who served the remaining men a traditional brew extracted from pine bark and needles. After drinking the potion, the crew regained their health – an experience so incredible that Cartier later wrote about it.
Yet this amazing discovery went ignored for more than 400 years. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a French professor, intrigued by this lore, began to study pine bark in earnest.
Pine bark – especially the bark of a French maritime pine that grows along the Atlantic Ocean between France and Spain – is especially rich in antioxidant compounds called proanthocyanidins.
By 1987, the substance had been named Pycnogenol and patented.
Today, a growing body of evidence suggests that Pycnogenol may really live up to claims that it can help improve certain health concerns.
Laboratory studies have identified a number of antioxidant compounds in the supplement, including caffeic acid, gallic acid, and ferulic acid, as well the bioflavonoids catechin, epicatechin, and taxifolin. It also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties.
But how do these compounds benefit health?
Let’s take a look at the research.
Pining for Heart Health…
Pycogenol has been studied for a wide range of conditions, but it seems to be most effective in preventing and treating problems that affect the cardiovascular system.
For example, several studies have reported findings that Pycnogenol may improve cholesterol profiles when taken orally, reducing LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol. In one study, 25 healthy people received 150 mg of Pycnogenol. After 6 weeks, two-thirds of the people had a better lipid profile – lower LDL and higher HDL – when taking Pycnogenol.1
Pycnogenol may also benefit people with diabetes: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, multi-center study, researchers looked at the effects of Pycnogenol on 77 men and women with type 2 diabetes.
They found that supplementation with 100 mg of Pycnogenol for 12 weeks, along with standard anti-diabetic treatment, was associated with significantly lower blood sugar levels compared to a placebo.2
There’s also good evidence that Pycnogenol may help prevent deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), dangerous blood clots that often occur after long periods of inactivity, such as flying in an airplane.
To test the supplement’s effects on DVT, researchers gave 198 people either Pycnogenol or a placebo pill at several points before, during, and after long-haul flights that lasted an average of about 8 hours. They found that people who took Pycnogenol were significantly less likely to develop DVT than those who took the placebo.3
A Promising Future…
It seems clear that Pycnogenol can help promote a healthy cardiovascular system, but what about other concerns?
Well, more research is necessary before we can say for sure, but the supplement appears to show promise for a variety of health problems.
For instance, one study examined the effects of up to 200 mg of Pycnogenol a day in 22 people with asthma. The result: All patients responded favorably to the supplement, compared to those taking a placebo.4 Another study found that Pycnogenol significantly improved lung function and asthma symptoms in 60 children with mild-to-moderate asthma.5
The substance may even benefit skin – at least in lab animals. Research shows that mice who received daily topical applications of Pycnogenol were better protected from skin inflammation, damage, and risk of cancer from ultraviolet light.6
If you’re simply interested in trying Pycnogenol as a generally healthy supplement, I’d wait until we have more research. But if you have or are at risk for high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, DVT, or similar cardiovascular concerns, this product may be worth a shot.
Most experts recommend a dose of 25 mg to 400 mg of Pycnogenol a day: Start by taking 150 mg to 200 mg a day for a few weeks to build up levels in your body. Thereafter, you should reduce the daily intake to the 25 mg to 100 mg daily dosage.
The supplement appears safe and typically causes few side effects, including mild stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, and headaches.
You shouldn’t take Pycnogenol if you have an autoimmune disease (such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis), as it could worsen these conditions. Also pass on Pycnogenol if you take anticoagulant drugs like Coumadin (warfarin), since both can interfere with blood clotting.
Otherwise, consider adding Pycnogenol to your supplement regimen if you have or are at risk for cardiovascular conditions.
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1Devaraj S, Vega-Lopez S, Kaul N, Schonlau F, Rohdewald P, Jialal I. Supplementation with a pine bark extract rich in polyphenols increases plasma antioxidant capacity and alters the plasma lipoprotein profile. Lipids. Oct 2002;37(10):931-934.
2Liu X, Wei J, Tan F, Zhou S, Wurthwein G, Rohdewald P. Antidiabetic effect of Pycnogenol French maritime pine bark extract in patients with diabetes type II. Life sciences. Oct 8 2004;75(21):2505-2513.
3Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Rohdewald P, et al. Prevention of venous thrombosis and thrombophlebitis in long-haul flights with pycnogenol. Clinical and applied thrombosis/hemostasis : official journal of the International Academy of Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis. Oct 2004;10(4):373-377.
4Hosseini S, Pishnamazi S, Sadrzadeh SM, Farid F, Farid R, Watson RR. Pycnogenol((R)) in the Management of Asthma. Journal of medicinal food. Winter 2001;4(4):201-209.
5Lau BH, Riesen SK, Truong KP, Lau EW, Rohdewald P, Barreta RA. Pycnogenol as an adjunct in the management of childhood asthma. The Journal of asthma : official journal of the Association for the Care of Asthma. 2004;41(8):825-832.
6Sime S, Reeve VE. Protection from inflammation, immunosuppression and carcinogenesis induced by UV radiation in mice by topical Pycnogenol. Photochemistry and photobiology. Feb 2004;79(2):193-198.