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Pycnogenol in Men’s Health

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Dr Frank Schoenlau, Ph.D. and Scientific Director at Horphag Research writes about how Pycnogenol French maritime pine bark extract can enhance multiple aspect of health for men

Good physical and cognitive health attributes represent the backbone of a fulfilling lifestyle. Pycnogenol® French maritime pine bark extract, a registered trademark of Horphag Research, represents an interesting natural health ingredient and a category of its own. Pycnogenol®’s evidence-based health benefits are remarkably versatile, as it offers four key properties which work in synergy with our main body functions. Pycnogenol® acts as a potent blend of antioxidants, it is a natural anti-inflammatory, it stimulates generation of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid, and it helps with blood vessels elasticity by supporting production of nitric oxide. Over the past 40 years, Pycnogenol® has been the subject of extensive research which has resulted in more than 160 published clinical studies and 450 scientific publications. This impressive body of research shows Pycnogenol® is a safe, powerful and efficacious solution for a variety of health benefits for men’s health.

Blood Circulation and cardiovascular health
Pycnogenol® relaxes constricted arteries by stimulating greater nitric oxide release from the endothelium, the thin layer coating the interior of arteries. The more nitric oxide is released from the endothelium, the more arteries may widen and the more oxygen and nutrients an artery may carry (fig. 1). [Nishioka et al., 2007]. In a double-blinded, cross-over study it was verified that supplementation with Pycnogenol® increased the ability of arteries to relax by 46 per cent. A double-blinded, placebo controlled cross-over study with cardiac patients demonstrated that supplementation with Pycnogenol® increases flow dilated arterial relaxation by 23 per cent (from 5.7 to 7 per cent) [Enseleit et al., 2012].
Through this mode of action, Pycnogenol® supports maintaining a healthy blood pressure, better supplying the tissues with oxygen and nutrients, and helping prevent the risk of blood clots.

Fig. 1 Illustration on how Pycnogenol® relaxes arterial constriction for better blood flow

2.1 Pycnogenol® normalises high blood pressure
In most cases an elevated blood pressure coincides with a compromised endothelial function. The improved endothelial function with Pycnogenol® allows for healthier vasodilatation which in turns aids to normalize elevated blood pressure.

Pycnogenol® was investigated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over- study for patients presenting with borderline hypertension, who were not yet receiving hypotensive medication. Pycnogenol® supplementation over a period of 8 weeks significantly lowered blood systolic blood pressure as compared to placebo and diastolic pressure was found to be lowered as well [Hosseini et al, 2001].

2.2 Pycnogenol® prevents thrombosis
Pycnogenol® was shown to dose-dependently lower platelet activity in individuals typically presenting with increased platelet aggregation: cigarette smokers. Blood was drawn before and 2 hours after administration of a single Pycnogenol® dose. The results clearly showed a dose-dependent reduction of platelet activity. Already the lowest dose of 25 mg Pycnogenol® noticeably lowered the blood platelet activity [Pütter et al., 1999]. Further research revealed that Pycnogenol® inhibits release of thromboxane from platelets of cigarette smokers to levels of healthy non-smokers [Araghi-Niknam et al., 1999].

Pycnogenol® was also tested in a group of 200 individuals at risk for developing thrombosis [Belcaro et al., 2004]. Subjects were remaining in sedentary position for prolonged time during long-haul travel exceeding 8 hours. These conditions are known to cause pooling of venous blood in the legs, involving blood stasis, which contributes to the development of thrombosis. The results showed 5 incidents of transitional thrombosis in total 97 subjects (5.15 per cent) in the placebo group. In contrast, none of the 101 high-risk subjects in the Pycnogenol®-treated group developed thrombosis during the long-haul flight

2.3 Pycnogenol® improves blood lipid profile
Pycnogenol® was found in controlled clinical trials to improve blood lipid profile. A significantly improved blood lipid profile was initially discovered in young healthy subjects [Devaraj et al, 2002]. Supplementation with Pycnogenol® for 6 weeks significantly increased HDL and lowered LDL cholesterol.

Blood triglyceride levels were unaffected. A substantial improvement of blood lipids was discovered in a study with patients treated with Pycnogenol® for venous insufficiency (Koch 2002). These patients presented with serious dyslipidemia, with total cholesterol at 264 mg/dL, LDL at 169 mg/dL and HDL at 46 mg/dL. After taking Pycnogenol® for only four weeks, blood lipids decreased to 212, 147 and 51 mg/dL for total, HDL and LDL cholesterol, respectively. In men with mild hypercholesterolemia supplementation with Pycnogenol® over a period of three months significantly lowered both total cholesterol and LDL by 9.4 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively. HDL increased by 5.5 per cent during this time period [Durackova et al., 2003].
A study with type II diabetic patients found a significant reduction by 12 per cent of LDL cholesterol from baseline 106.4 mg/dL to 93.7 mg/dL after three months treatment with Pycnogenol®. HDL values were not investigated in this trial [Zibadi et al., 2008]. Thus, Pycnogenol® significantly improves the atherosclerotic index and thus contributes to protection from atherogenesis.

Recently, a new double-blind placebo-controlled study showed the efficacy in reducing LDL-cholesterol in men with and without diabetes [Trebaticky et al., 2019].

2.4 Pycnogenol® improves glycemia in diabetes
In diabetes, the excess amounts of glucose remaining unused in the blood stream may impact the vascular system. Pycnogenol® may help normalize blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates, which results is a reduced glucose load of the blood stream.
Pycnogenol® significantly delays uptake of complex sugars such as starch. It potently inhibits the digestive enzyme α-glucosidase in the duodenum. Other α-glucosidase inhibitors such as green tea extract, pure catechin and the oral antidiabetic medication acarbose (Precose, Glucobay) are dramatically less potent. Pycnogenol® delays the uptake of glucose from a meal 190 times more potently than prescription medications, preventing the typical high glucose peak in the blood stream after a meal [Schafer and Hogger, 2007].

Pycnogenol® taken in addition to medications, significantly further reduces blood glucose and cardiovascular risk factors in two independent studies 48 individuals medicating with metformin and/or sulfonylurea, as well as thiazolidinediones, received in addition either Pycnogenol® or placebo [Zibadi et al., 2008

2.5 Pycnogenol® improves Metabolic Syndrome
Research suggests that Pycnogenol® helps arrest progression of metabolic syndrome to manifest type II diabetes [Belcaro et al., 2013]. One hundred and thirty-seven participants with metabolic syndrome, presenting with all five risk factors (central obesity, high blood triglycerides, high LDL, low HDL and hypertension) were counselled for healthier lifestyle including dietary advice, an educational programme and a moderate exercise programme. Seventy-one subjects were additionally supplemented with Pycnogenol®. All subjects were surveyed for six months. This study identified significant fasting glucose improvements after three and six months of daily supplementation with Pycnogenol®.

Cognitive Function
Pycnogenol® likewise definitely augments cognitive function by supporting greater oxygen, glucose delivery and antioxidant protection, series of clinical studies have proven:
A most recent study verified the effect of Pycnogenol® supplementation for individuals, who have early stage cognition problems. Though the study participants were at higher age (55-75 years), daily supplementation with Pycnogenol® increased cognitive performance by 18 per cent, which was significantly greater than the improvement in the control group, with meagre 2.5 per cent [Hosoi et al. 2018].

A further clinical investigation verified that regular Pycnogenol® intake over a period of twelve months, significantly benefits cognitive performance in healthy individuals, aged 55 to 70 years and concomitantly quenched oxidative stress [Belcaro et al. 2015].

Pycnogenol® is demonstrated to improve cognitive function and performance in 53 healthy students, upon supplementation with Pycnogenol® for eight months. This study proposes that regular supplementation with Pycnogenol® will generally support greater brain performance [Luzzi et al.2011].

A double-blind placebo-controlled study with 101 elderly participants verified that the antioxidant protection activity of Pycnogenol® correlates with protection of delicate lipids in brain, which in turn benefits significantly better, cognition [Ryan et al. 2008].

A further clinical investigation explored the efficacy of Pycnogenol® for improving cognition, as well as with better mood, in 60 healthy professionals aged 35 to 55 years [Belcaro et al. 2014]. Another double-blind, placebo- controlled study is currently ongoing in Australia [Simpson et al. 2019].

Erectile Function
The arterial relaxation of the corpus cavernosum facilitates engorgement with blood for an erection.

A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, with 53 participants (25 with early stage diabetes mellitus), were assigned to one of two groups, one assigned to the placebo group and the second group supplemented with Pycnogenol®.

The study outcome revealed that supplementation with Pycnogenol® significantly improved erectile function by 45 per cent. The placebo control group presented with a decreased erectile function by 20 per cent. Total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol significantly decreased with Pycnogenol® intake [Trebaticky et al., 2019].

Benign prostate hypertrophy represents a normal development in ageing males. However, the benign prostatic enlargement may be counteracted, such as with regular supplementation with Pycnogenol®, a study comprising 75 healthy men with benign prostate hypertrophy suggests. Two comparable groups with benign prostate hyperplasia, were either provided standard attention, or a second group receiving the same attention, yet with additional supplementation with Pycnogenol®. Compared with the group of men which were not supplemented with Pycnogenol®, the Pycnogenol® benefitted group presented with a remarkable improvement for emptying their bladders and relieving the symptoms after 60 days supplementation. [Ledda et al. 2018].

Sport and Fitness
For all men who like to do sports, Pycnogenol® is the supplement of choice. Series of studies have corroborated that Pycnogenol® improves physical performance:

  • One hundred and twenty-five recreational sports people were distributed to one of two groups. The group w supplemented with Pycnogenol® and amino acids (isoleucine, arginine and valine) readily outperformed the control group. The researchers concluded that the antioxidant performance of Pycnogenol® contributed also to lesser cramping incidents [Vinciguerra et al. 2019].
  • Further studies corroborated the finding that supplementation with Pycnogenol® elevates physical performance capacity in a triathlon. Two groups of athletes, of both genders, were trained for 4 weeks, one with 32 participants in the control group, and a second group with 22 participants supplemented with Pycnogenol®.
  • The study outcome presented a significant greater performance in the group which supplemented with Pycnogenol®, with the control group gaining less performance [Vinciguerra et al. 2013].

Joint Support
A very sophisticated research project showed that Pycnogenol® consumption leads to an accumulation of Pycnogenol® active metabolites within joint tissues, where they exert their pronounced anti-inflammatory potency. Further investigations, exploring joint synovial fluid, pointed to improved joint inflammation arrest and greater cartilage regeneration within joints [Jessberger et al. 2017; Mülek et al. 2017]. Further to the exploration of mechanisms of action, the most important outcome for a suffering individual remains to be the pain relief and regaining mobility. The latter is commonly judged from the maximum walking distance of an individual on a treadmill. The corresponding controlled, double-blinded clinical trial found that joint pain continuously subsides with significant improvement after 60 days and even better results after 90 days of daily supplementation with Pycnogenol® [Farid et al., 2007].

Three further, from another independent, controlled clinical trials, have unilaterally reached to the conclusion, that supplementation with Pycnogenol® significantly benefits a person’s joint health recovery. Within 30 days of daily supplementation with Pycnogenol®, knee joints recovered, with pain and knee-stiffness subsiding and walking distance extended. [Belcaro et al. 2008; Cisar et al. 2008, ; Feragalli et al. 2019].

Muscle loss
A peer-reviewed, published study shows French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol®, may be effective in curbing muscle loss that occurs with aging – a natural process that leads to sarcopenia, a common condition affecting adults as early as age 65. The study, published in the September 2016 Journal of Orthopedics and Traumatology, revealed that daily supplementation with Pycnogenol® helps to stabilize muscles through this natural process and supports muscular function and endurance [Belcaro Dugall, 2016].

In the study, participants between ages 70 – 78 and exhibiting symptoms of muscle loss, sarcopenia and fatigue but otherwise healthy, reported feeling increased muscle endurance in completing daily task such as walking and stair climbing and improved overall muscular function by 30 percent. After just 8 weeks of taking 150 mg of Pycnogenol® the study results showed:

  • Participants who took Pycnogenol® daily demonstrated greater muscular function and endurance in daily tasks such as carrying it