Understanding the Benefits of Pine Bark Extract
Pine bark extract is a well-researched natural remedy with a wide range of applications. It is a food supplement rather than a drug, and only a few, insignificant, side effects have been observed when taken in approved dosages. In over three hundred studies, of which more than seventy were human studies, pine bark extract has been found to be extremely effective in the treatment of allergies, arthritis, diabetes, erectile dysfunction and menopausal complaints1.
The Origin of Pine Bark Extract
Pycnogenol® is the best known brand of pine bark extract. It is sourced from the French Maritime Pine, whose botanical name is Pinus Pinaster Atlantica. There are also generic versions of pine bark extract.
Original or Generic?
The fresh bark of the French Maritime Pine is taken and mixed with water and ethanol to form an extract. A study that compared the branded Pycnogenol® with a generic pine bark extract of Chinese origin, which was taken from a different botanical species, found only slight differences in the composition of the active antioxidant substances2. No quality difference has been found between Pycnogenol and generics that use the botanical species of Pinus as the basis.
Application and Dosage
For general antioxidant purposes, at least 20 mg of pine bark extract should be taken daily. The usual dosage is between 30 mg and 200 mg daily. Clinical studies have indicated that an application period of two or three months will show results, and there is no scientific evidence to show any reason to avoid long-term use of pine bark extract.
Although the effect of Pycnogenol pine bark extract has been examined in many studies as an individual substance, it is usually recommended that it is taken in combination with vitamins and amino acids. In studies of preparations that combined pine bark extract with L-arginine or with coenzyme Q10, it was found that the action of the vitamins and amino acids with the Pycnogenol® was complementary and reinforcing.
Application Dosage Per Day
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) – 1mg/kg bodyweight
Osteoarthritis/arthritis – 100 mg – 150mg
Asthma – 2mg/kg body weight
High blood pressure – 100 mg – 200 mg
Cholesterol – 120 mg – 150 mg
Diabetes – 50 mg – 200 mg
Diabetic retinopathy – 20 mg – 160 mg
Endometriosis (inflammation of the lining of the uterus) – 60mg
Erectile dysfunction – 120 mg + L-arginine
Hyper-pigmenation – 75 mg
Menstrual cramps – 30 mg – 60 mg
Menopausal complaints – 200 mg
Muscle pains and cramps – 200 mg
Platelet formation disorder – 25 mg – 200 mg
Venous insufficiency – 150 mg – 360 mg
For purely preventative purposes the dosage should typically be from 30 mg to 80mg, but in acute cases of malfunction a higher dosage of up to 150mg is recommended. A 100mg dose is recommended for arthritis, asthma or allergic rhinitis. If using drugs for high blood pressure, reduce the usage.
Three major clinical trials have demonstrated that the use of pine bark extract may improve the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. The extract must be taken for at least six to eight weeks.
1) In a study by Faird, pain was reduced after three months of usage in 43 per cent of cases, stiffness of the joints was reduced by 35 per cent and mobility was increased in 49 per cent3.
2) In a study by Belcaro a similar decrease in pain was reported and the use of painkillers was reduced by 58 per cent4.
3) A similar study by Saur produced very similar, successful results5.
The recommended intake for arthrosis and arthritis is 100 mg to 150 mg of pine bark extract daily, and this should be combined with the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, MSM, glucosamine, chondroitin and trace elements such as selenium and manganese. Side effects have not been observed in these studies.
Pine bark extract was found to alleviate the symptoms of asthma and allergic rhinitis in three studies.
1) In 2004, a study by LAU looked at the effect on children between the ages of six and eighteen years of age. After three months of taking 1 mg per kg of body weight (equivalent to 80 mg daily in adults), the maximum respiratory volume had improved by 70 to 87 per cent. Other asthma symptoms improved significantly, but remained the same in a placebo control group6.
2) A second study undertaken with adults resulted in similar improvements. This study only took place over four weeks, however, meaning that the statistical significance was too short for scientific analysis7.
3) A study in Ontario, Canada found that pine bark extract significantly relieved allergic reactions and symptoms in allergy sufferers. Regular intake of pine bark extract, started before the commencement of the birch blossom season, reduced the need for medications such as antihistamines by three quarters compared to patients who took a placebo. The reactions of antibodies in the blood were lowered by one third8.
Erectile dysfunction is relatively widespread in men over forty years old. The most common causes are circulation problems and loss of flexibility of the blood vessels.
The endothelial tissue on the inside wall of the arteries often produces insufficient nitric oxide to widen the artery, improve blood flow and regulate the blood pressure. Traditional medicine uses PDE-5 inhibitors, but a combination of pine bark extract and the amino acid, L-arginine can also help the body more easily product nitrogen oxide and increase blood flow in the male sex organ.
Several studies have confirmed this enhanced effect.
1) In 2003, Stanislavov undertook a clinical study of men between the ages of 25 and 45 with erectile dysfunction. Some were given arginine only, while others were given arginine combined with pine bark extract9. The intake of 1,700 mg of L-arginine alone with ineffective, but taking L-arginine together with 80-120mg of pine bark extract gave an improvement of erectile function in approximately 80 per cent of the men.
2) This study was replicated in 2008, taking 50 men with an average age of 40. The results showed an improvement in erective function in over 90 per cent of the men, and a significant increase in testosterone levels10.
3) Further, smaller studies have confirmed that the combination of pine bark extract with arginine is the best non-pharmacological method to tackle the main causes of erectile dysfunction without any side effects.11
The treatment of high blood pressure can be supported by taking pine bark extract. In double-blind and placebo-controlled studies of patients with moderate hypertension, it was found that systolic and diastolic blood pressure can be reduced significantly by taking pine bark extract.
Taking Nifedipine, a medication to lower blood pressure, together with pine bark extract reduced blood pressure by more than 25 per cent within 12 weeks12. Patients taking a placebo did not demonstrate these effects.
The effect of pine bark extract on the risk of thrombosis was examined in a study of 198 passengers on long-haul flights13. The participants took either 200 mg pine bark extract, or a placebo, two to three hours before departure. Ultrasound examinations after the flights showed that those who had taken a placebo had developed problems, while participants who had taken pine bark extract showed no symptoms of acute thrombosis.
There are four ways that pine bark extract has a positive effect on skin health and elasticity.
1. It can bind collagen and elastin thus preventing destruction by oxidative stress15.
2. The blood circulation in the fine capillaries is improved, increasing the amount of nutrients in the skin and speeding up the healing of wounds16.
3. Pine bark extract prevents excessive production of melanin, reducing age spots17.
4. The OPC of pine bark extract has an anti-inflammatory effect.
In a study undertaken by the University of Munster in Germany, a daily dose of 20mg of pine bark extract was combined with other antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, biotin, zinc, selenium, lycopene, bilberry extract, equisetum arvense extract and silica.18 After 12 weeks, skin elasticity was increased by 9 per cent, while a placebo had no effect.
Side Effects of Pine Bark Extract
The incidence of side effects was very low, with only 0.19 per cent of healthy participants, and 2.4 per cent overall, reporting mild digestive discomfort. There are no contra-indications of using pine bark extract and adverse effects in patients who had taken other drugs were not reported.
As with all natural remedies, as a general precautionary measure, pine bark extract should not be taken during the first three months of pregnancy.
- “Heather S. Oliff, PhD and Mark Blumenthal, “SCIENTIFIC AND CLINICAL MONOGRAPH FOR PROPRIETARY BOTANICAL INGREDIENT PYCNOGENOL® (French Maritime Pine Bark Extract), http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/DocServer/Pycnog_FullMono120809_LOW.pdf?docID=1741” ↩
- “Sang Min Kim, Suk-Woo Kang, Je-Seung Jeon and Byung-Hun Um, “A comparison of Pycnogenol® and bark extracts from Pinus thunbergii and Pinus densiflora: Extractability, antioxidant activity and proanthocyanidin composition”, Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 6(14), pp. 2839-2849, 16 April, 2012, http://www.academicjournals.org/jmpr/pdf/pdf2012/16Apr/Kim%20et%20al.pdf” ↩
- “Faird R, Mireizi Z, Mirheidari M, et al. Pycnogenol supplementation reduces pain and stiffness and improves physical function in adults with knee osteoarthritis. Nutr Res. 2007;27:692-697” ↩
- “Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Errichi S, et al. Treatment of osteoarthritis with Pycnogenol®. The SVOS (San Valentino Osteo-arthrosis Study), Evaluation of signs, symptoms, physical performance, and vascular aspects. Phytother Res. 2008;22:(4):518-523” ↩
- “Cisar P, Jany R, Waczulikova I, et al. Effect of pine bark extract (Pycnogenol®) on symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. Phytother Res. 2008;22(8):1087-1092” ↩
- “Lau BH, Riesen SK, Truong KP, Lau EW, Rohdewald P, Barreta RA. Pycnogenol as an adjunct in the management of childhood asthma. J Asthma. 2004;41(8):825-832” ↩
- “Hosseini S, Pishnamazi S, Sadrzadeh SM, Farid F, Farid R, Watson RR. Pycnogenol in the Management of Asthma. J Med Food. 2001;4(4):201- 209” ↩
- “Wilson D, Evans M, Guthrie N, Sharma P, Baisley J, Schonlau F, Burki C; “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled exploratory study to evaluate the potential of pycnogenol for improving allergic rhinitis symptoms.”;Phytother Res. 2010 Aug;24(8):1115-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3232” ↩
- “R. STANISLAVOV & V. NIKOLOVA (2003) “Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction with Pycnogenol and L-arginine”, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 29:3, 207-213” ↩
- “R Stanislavov1, V Nikolova1 and P Rohdewald, “Improvement of erectile function with Prelox: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial”; International Journal of Impotence Research (2008) 20, 173–180; doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3901597” ↩
- “Lamm S, Schönlau F, Rohdewald P. Prelox for improvement of erectile function: a review. Eur Bull Drug Res 2003; 11: 29–37” ↩
- “Hosseini et al., “A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled, prospective 16 weeks crossover study to determine the role of Pycnogenol in modifying blood pressure in mildly hypertensive patients; Nutr Res 21(9):67-76, 2001” ↩
- “Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Rohdewald P, et al. Prevention of venous thrombosis and thrombophlebitis in long-haul flights with pycnogenol. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2004;10(4):373-377” ↩
- “Koch R. Comparative study of Venostasin and Pycnogenol in chronic venous insufficiency. Phytother Res. 2002;16 Suppl 1:S1-5.; auch: Petrassi C, Mastromarino A, Spartera C. Pycnogenol in chronic venous insufficiency. Phytomedicine. 2000;7(5):383-388 and Arcangeli P. Pycnogenol in chronic venous insufficiency. Fitoterapia. 2000;71(3):236-244” ↩
- “Grimm T et al. Antioxidant activity and inhibition of matrix-metalloproteinases by metabolites of maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol®). Free Rad Biol Med 36: 811-822, 2004” ↩
- “Fitzpatrick et al. Endothelium-dependent vascular effects of Pycnogenol®. J Cardiovas Pharmacol 32: 509-515, 1998 und auch: Belcaro G et al. Venous ulcers: microcirculatory improvement and faster healing with local use of Pycnogenol®. Angiology 56: 699-705, 2005” ↩
- “Yasumuro M et al. Inhibition of melanogenesis by pine (Pinus pinaster) bark extract containing procyanidins. Manuscript in preparation 2006” ↩
- “Segger D et al. Supplementation with Evelle improves skin smoothness and elasticity in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 62 women. J Dermatol Treat 15: 222-226, 2004” ↩