Eating tree bark might not sound appetizing. But taking a pine bark extract supplement, some believe, is one of the most powerful disease-fighters on the planet.
What is Pine Bark?
Here’s the short story on the extract….
It’s a supplement that’s sometimes marketed under the trademark of Pycnogenol®.
Some limited research suggests pine tree extract benefits include:
- Killing free radicals, thus, possibly helping prevent disease
- Improving blood flow
- Reducing inflammation
- Increasing athletic performance
- Lowering blood sugar levels
- Making menopause more tolerable
Pine bark extract is becoming more popular. This, despite the fact that it’s one of the more expensive supplements on the market.
Taking it may be helpful if you don’t eat healthy. That’s because it’s rich in a certain kind of antioxidant that may help kill cell-damaging free radicals.
However, a Cochrane review (the gold-standard of research analysis) could not conclude Pycnogenol is effective or safe. But the conclusion doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t work….
Want to learn more about Pycnogenol? Read on….
Where does Pine Bark Extract come from?
There are over 100 different types of pine tree species throughout the world. But when it comes to “pine bark extract supplement,” it usually refers to the species, Pinus pinaster.
This type of pine grows throughout the Mediterranean. The company that has the exclusive rights to sell Pycnogenol® to other companies sources P. pinaster from southwest France. The company that sells the trademarked name, Pycnogenol® is Horphag Research.
According to Nutra Ingredients USA, a news website devoted to the supplement industry, Pycnogenol® is available in more than 700 products. This includes dietary supplements, multi-vitamins, cosmetic and functional foods and beverages.
What Are The Benefits of Taking a Pine Bark Supplement?
If you’re to believe the supplement companies that sell a pink bark extract (aka Pycongenol, aka French Maritime Pine Bark) product, the selling points are that they improve or benefit:
- cardiovascular and circulatory health
- joint health
- skin care
- memory and brain health
- blood glucose
- eye health
- sports nutrition
How Does Pine Bark Extract Work?
It contains a certain type of antioxidant, procyanidins. Procyanidins are also called OPCs. OPC’s are also naturally-found in grapes, berries, pomegranates, red wine and various nuts.
Which begs the question….
If you’re drinking a glass of wine (or two) every night, do you really need to take a pine bark extract supplement?
Well, besides placing a dent in your checking account, there’s likely no harm in taking extra. In fact, if you get extra OPCs from a supplement, it may act as a sort of health insurance. This is because stress in all forms (environmental, emotional and physical) can make you vulnerable to disease.
Thus, even if you’re eating plenty of grapes and other antioxidant-rich foods, it might not be enough.
OPCs are thought to be very effective at killing reactive-oxygen species. Also known as ROS, you can think of reactive-oxygen species as microscopic monsters that harm your cells. When your body is bombarded by ROS, you become susceptible to disease.
Nutra Ingredients claims Pycongenol acts as a powerful antioxidant and natural anti-inflammatory. It also selectively binds to collagen and elastin, which benefits the skin. And it also works by opening the blood vessels.
Does Pycnogenol Work?
Nutra Ingredients seems to think so. It’s web listing on Horphag Research, the exclusive distributor of Pycnogenol®, says that there have been more than 340 scientific articles and clinical trials on the supplement. And the research widely confirms its safety, absence of toxicity and clinical efficacy over the past 40 years.
“Today, Pycnogenol® is one of the most researched ingredients in the natural product marketplace with over 7,000 patients being studied in more than 130 clinical studies,” says the listing on Horphag.
However, Consumer Lab, an independent supplement testing company, found two problems with Pycnogenol….
First, “The current method of testing for [OPCs] can be easily fooled by the addition of tea catechins.”
Catechins are another type of antioxidant. Perhaps what Consumer Lab is suggesting is that drinking a couple cups of green matcha tea is just as good as taking a pine bark supplement.
“Until a more reliable, validated method is developed, ConsumerLab.com is unable to test and review these products,” the independent testing organization concludes.
Research on Pine Bark Extract: A Mixed Bag?
The second strike against Pycnogenol, according to Consumer Lab is this Cochrane review.
If you’re not familiar with Cochrane reviews, they are considered the gold-standard of research analysis. The Cochrane review on pycnogenol analyzed its effectiveness for treating chronic disorders.
The review identified 15 eligible randomized controlled trials. The trials involved nearly 800 participants. The test participants had one or more of the following: asthma (two studies); attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (one study), chronic venous insufficiency (two studies), diabetes (four studies), erectile dysfunction (one study), hypertension (two studies) and osteoarthritis (three studies).
The conclusion of the Cochrane study was this:
“No definite conclusions regarding the efficacy and safety of Pycnogenol® are possible.”
Is Pine Bark Extract Overrated?
In light of the Cochrane conclusion, should you just eat a bunch of grapes, drink green tea and enjoy a glass of wine? And isn’t it enough to take a shot of turmeric every morning?
Consumer Lab acknowledges that clinical evidence shows pine park may be beneficial. In fact, for a number of different conditions. It also appears to be quite safe.
And as mentioned above, even if you are eating very healthy, that may not be enough to prevent disease. There are thousands of additives in the food supply. Well over two million tons of proven cancer-causing toxins are released into the air every year. (SOURCE)
Pine Bark vs. Pycnogenol
Just to remind you, Pycnogenol is the trademarked name of a certain type of pine bark.
A French researcher, Jacques Masquelier, discovered OPCs in the mid-20th century. Masquelier realized that P. pinaster from coastal southwest France is especially rich in OPC.
Masquelier remains at the center of a controversy over pine bark extract quality. This, despite the fact that he’s been dead for nearly a decade. (He passed away in 2009.)
According to science writer, John Russo, Jr., the company that was supposed to distribute Masquelier’s brand trademarked the name without his approval in the U.S.
Moreover, the broker, switched the extraction company. This, too, was done without Masquelier’s approval.
As a result, Dr. Masquelier claimed that what was being sold in the U.S. was not the same high-quality pine bark extract his company was selling.
In fact, Russo reports Masquelier warned that without proper extraction, the OPCs transform from a super antioxidant to a dangerous one!
How do you know if you’re buying the highest-quality pine bark extract? That’s a tough question.
You really have to do your due diligence. On the other hand, one sure bet is to buy OPC extracts directly from the source. You can visit the inventor’s eponymously named website, Masquelier.com. (The Masquelier brand of OPC extracts are also available on Amazon.)
Pine Bark Extract for Flying on an Airplane
The OPCs in pine bark extract latch onto collagen in the blood vessels. Consequently, this makes your tiny vessels stronger and stretchier. As a result, your blood pressure lowers because blood is better able to travel through the vessels and capillaries.
Moreover, pink bark extract increases nitric oxide. Not to be confused with nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas, nitric oxide, is a gas in human blood. It helps blood vessels open up (dilate).
Ever taken a long flight without getting up to stretch? Doing so puts you at risk for a potentially-lethal condition, deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
If you develop DVT, you’re at risk for blood clots in the legs. These clots can break off and travel. Clots can lodge in the lungs or heart. But Pycnogenol comes to the rescue in cases of DVT. In fact, according to this study, the extract from pine bark helps relieve swelling from long flights.
Pine bark extract side effects
According to WebMD, pine bark extract is “possibly safe” when taken as a supplement (capsule) for up to one year. There’s also skin creams that contain the extract. WebMD says creams with it are safe to take for up to 7 days in a row.
However, WebMD does not list any potential side effects if you take it for longer than a year. In addition, WebMD also mentions that the extract powder can be taken for up to six weeks. Again, it’s not clear what will happen if it’s taken for longer.
Listed adverse effects on WebMD for Pycnogenol include dizziness, gut problems, headache, and mouth ulcers.
In addition, WebMD advises not taking Pycnogenol if you have an autoimmune disease. People with bleeding disorders and diabetes may want to avoid it. Same goes for those about to have surgery.
Pine bark extract dosage
Supplementation of 100 mg French maritime pine bark extract over a three month period may help normalize blood pressure, according to this study. The same dosage taken twice a day may help alleviate menstrual disorders, another study finds.
It’s difficult to say exactly what dosage you should take. Consult with a health professional to first make sure Pycnogenol is safe for you. If so, a proper dosage will be recommended. Or, if you’re going to buy French maritime pine bark extract online, simply follow the instructions for the recommended dosage.
Pine Bark Extract Reviews
On the Consumer Lab article on Pycnogenol mentioned above, there are a few comments from people who have taken the supplement.
“My integrative medicine doc uses pine bark extract for kidney patients. I have been taking 100 mg for about a year after being diagnosed with stage 3 kidney disease. My Globular Filtration Rate has increased from 51 to 64, so now I am a stage 2! This is good progress! “
“I can submit first-hand anecdotal evidence on the use of Pycnogenol for tinnitus. I’ve had that condition for at least 15 years. Reading about a study whereby taking 150 mg of Pycnogenol daily for at least 4-6 months reduced symptoms in about 85% of sufferers, I gave it a try. I took 150 mg daily. Results: zero, zip, none. No improvement whatsoever. Guess I’m a 15%-er.
“I do not know whether I have reduced the size of my enlarged prostate but within only a couple of weeks of taking stabilized electrolytes of oxygen I now have normal and pain free urination. It also quickly eliminated a persistent and inflamed sore on my leg by applying it externally.”
Here’s one more pine bark extract review. It’s on the website of a supplement company that sells it:
“I’ve been taking two 40mg tablets of pycnogenol per day, since 1999. Was 45 then, now 65. Difficult to tell precisely what effect they’ve had, but suffice it to say, I’m still in good health.”
Have you taken Pycnogenol? What’s your feedback? Leave a comment….