What is it?
Pycnogenol is the US registered trademark name for a product derived from the pine bark of a tree known as Pinus pinaster. The active ingredients in pycnogenol can also be extracted from other sources, including peanut skin, grape seed, and witch hazel bark.
Pycnogenol is used for treating circulation problems, allergies, asthma, ringing in the ears, high blood pressure, muscle soreness, pain, osteoarthritis, diabetes, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a disease of the female reproductive system called endometriosis, menopausal symptoms, painful menstrual periods, erectile dysfunction (ED), and an eye disease called retinopathy.
It is also used for preventing disorders of the heart and blood vessels, including stroke, heart disease, and varicose veins.
Pycnogenol is used to slow the aging process, maintain healthy skin, improve athletic endurance, and improve male fertility.
Some people use skin creams that contain pycnogenol as “anti-aging” products.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for PYCNOGENOL are as follows:
Possibly effective for...
- Allergies. Some research in people with allergies to birch shows that taking pycnogenol starting before allergy season begins might reduce allergy symptoms.
- Circulation problems. Taking pycnogenol by mouth seems to significantly reduce leg pain and heaviness, as well as fluid retention in people with circulation problems. Some people use horse chestnut seed extract to treat this condition, but pycnogenol alone appears to be more effective.
- Disease of the retina in the eye. Taking pycnogenol daily for two months seems to slow or prevent further worsening of retinal disease caused by diabetes, atherosclerosis, or other diseases. It also seems to improve eyesight.
- Improved endurance in athletes. Young people (age 20-35) seem to be able to exercise on a treadmill for a longer time after taking pycnogenol daily for about a month.
- High blood pressure. Pycnogenol seems to lower systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) but does not significantly lower diastolic blood pressure (the second number).
- Asthma in children.
- Varicose veins.
Possibly ineffective for...
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Blood clots in the vein (deep vein thrombosis, DVT). There is some evidence that taking a specific combination product (Flite Tabs) might help to prevent DVT during long-haul plane flights. The product combines a blend of 150 mg of pycnogenol plus nattokinase. Two capsules are taken 2 hours before the flight and then again 6 hours later.
- High cholesterol. Pycnogenol seems to lower “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol).
- Pelvic pain in women. There is preliminary evidence that pycnogenol might help reduce pelvic pain in women with endometriosis or severe menstrual cramps.
- Pain in late pregnancy. Preliminary research suggests that taking 30 mg of pycnogenol daily reduces lower back pain, hip joint pain, pelvic pain, and pain due to varicose veins or calf cramps in the last three months of pregnancy.
- Erectile dysfunction (ED). Limited research suggests pycnogenol, used alone or in combination with L-arginine, might improve sexual function in men with ED. It seems to take up to three months of treatment for significant improvement.
- Heart disease.
- Stroke prevention.
- Muscle soreness.
- Leg cramps.
- Circulation problems in diabetes.
- Menopausal symptoms.
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate pycnogenol for these uses.
Pycnogenol contains substances that might improve blood flow. It might also stimulate the immune system and have antioxidant effects.
Pycnogenol is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken in doses of 50 mg to 450 mg daily for up to 6 months. Pycnogenol can cause dizziness, gut problems, headache, and mouth ulcers.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Preliminary research suggests pycnogenol might be safe in late pregnancy. But until more is known, pycnogenol should be avoided by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
“Auto-immune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Pycnogenol might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using pycnogenol.
Be cautious with this combination.
Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)
Pycnogenol seems to increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system, pycnogenol might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.
Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
There are no known interactions with foods.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For allergies: 50 mg twice daily.
- For asthma in children: 1 mg per pound of body weight given in two divided doses.
- For poor circulation: 45-360 mg daily, or 50-100 mg three times daily.
- For diseases of the retina, including those related to diabetes: 50 mg three times daily.
- For mild high blood pressure: 200 mg of pycnogenol daily.
- For improving exercise capacity in athletes: 200 mg daily.
Condensed Tannins, Écorce de Pin, Écorce de Pin Maritime, Extrait d’Écorce de Pin, French Marine Pine Bark Extract, French Maritime Pine Bark Extract, Leucoanthocyanidins, Maritime Bark Extract, Oligomères de Procyanidine, Oligomères Procyanidoliques, Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins, OPC, OPCs, PCO, PCOs, Pine Bark, Pine Bark Extract, Pinus pinaster, Pinus maritima, Proanthocyanidines Oligomériques, Procyanidin Oligomers, Procyanodolic Oligomers, Pycnogénol, Pygenol, Tannins Condensés.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).
To see all references for the Pycnogenol page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/1019.html.
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Last reviewed - 08/15/2011
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