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Why does Pycnogenol® offer such a wide range of health benefits?

Dr Franziska Weichmann, Manager, Scientific Communications and Product Development at Horphag Research, explains Pycnogenol's wide range of benefits across multiple applications and its mechanisms of action explained

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Pycnogenol® French maritime pine bark is dubbed the “gold standard ingredient”, “a phenomenon” and a “natural all-rounder” (1, 2). Clinical studies have shown Pycnogenol® to be beneficial for heart health, cognitive function and respiratory health, as well as for eye health, skincare, women’s health and several other body functions (3-10). But how can one ingredient alone have such a wide range of benefits across multiple applications? Let’s shed some light on the holistic nature and efficacy of Pycnogenol®.

Pycnogenol® is much more than just an ingredient

First and foremost, Pycnogenol® stands apart from single compounds. Pycnogenol® is a naturally programmed combination with constant proportions of procyanidins, bioflavonoids and organic acids, which offer amazing natural properties. Pycnogenol® French maritime pine bark extract’s unique blend of active compounds cannot be found in any other plant extract. Each of its compounds provides a different way of acting in the body. Some of the larger molecules get further processed in the gut into metabolites. Remarkably, these metabolites are also absorbed into our bloodstream, contributing to Pycnogenol® overall efficacy.

Consequently, Pycnogenol® offers a comprehensive array of active compounds, distinguishing it from single-component alternatives. The key properties of Pycnogenol® on the body are its powerful antioxidant actions

(3, 4, 11-16) , its natural anti-inflammatory benefits (3, 4, 11-17- 19), its effects on the skin and tissues (8, 18, 20, 21) and its support to blood circulation (3, 7, 22-33).

Collectively, these mechanisms account for the extensive range of applications that Pycnogenol® holds in the realms of health and beauty. Ongoing research will continue to unveil further insights and potentially discover additional applications for the effects of Pycnogenol®.

 

Pycnogenol® improves blood circulation

Keeping the cardiovascular system healthy is key for maintaining good vitality, physical strength, mental health and for general well-being. Blood vessels bring oxygen and nutrients through arteries and the tiniest micro vessels all over our body, providing beneficial effects from head to toe.

Pycnogenol® exerts some of its beneficial effects as it optimises blood flow by improving endothelial function. Blood flow regulation involves maintaining an appropriate distribution of blood throughout the body to meet the metabolic demands of tissues and organs.

All blood vessels in the cardiovascular system are lined with the so-called endothelium. The endothelium is a single layer of cells lining the inner surface of blood vessels, including arteries and veins. This layer not only serves as a simple delimitation of the vessel wall but is also significantly involved in many physiological functions, like controlling blood pressure by vasoconstriction and-dilation, regulating the exchange of substances between blood and tissues, preventing blood clotting, and signaling during inflammation. Endothelial function and blood flow regulation are crucial for overall health.

Many different studies have shown that Pycnogenol® has a positive effect on blood circulation and microcirculation (7, 28-31, 34-37) by improving endothelial function (3, 22-27) and by lowering platelet aggregation without increasing bleeding time (32, 33). In addition, Pycnogenol® has been shown to normalize blood pressure and to improve blood lipid profile as well as blood sugar values (12, 13, 15, 25, 26, 38-43). Interestingly, it was found that a metabolite of Pycnogenol® can be taken up in endothelial cells and can thus exert its anti-inflammatory effects directly in the endothelium (24).

 

Pycnogenol® for the endothelium

Numerous studies have consistently shown that Pycnogenol® improves endothelial function, resulting in a positive impact on both blood circulation and microcirculation, firmly establishing its effectiveness.

In patients with coronary artery disease, the effect of Pycnogenol® on endothelial function was investigated by assessing “flow-mediated dilation” in the upper arm artery (3). For this method, the expansion of the artery in response to an increase in the shear stress associated with blood flow is measured. An 8-week randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover, double-blind study showed an improvement in flow-mediated dilation of 32 per cent in the Pycnogenol® group, while it deteriorated slightly in the placebo patients.

In another study, the flow-mediated dilation of patients with borderline high blood pressure, high blood lipid levels and increased blood sugar levels improved significantly after 8 and 12 weeks of Pycnogenol® intake (27). These studies, among several others, confirm the positive effects of taking Pycnogenol® on endothelial function in patients with cardiovascular diseases.

Pycnogenol® improves microcirculation

Healthy microcirculation is vital as it leads to a well-functioning supply of nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body. In several previously published studies, Pycnogenol® was shown to improve blood circulation in small blood vessels in the body, like the very fine micro vessels in the skin, fingertips and in the inner ear or the retinal capillaries in the eye (7, 28-31, 34-37).

In a 3-month study on diabetic retinopathy, Pycnogenol® supplementation improved the retinal blood flow by around 30% compared to no change in the control patients (7). In another study with patients suffering from coronary heart disease, microcirculation on the fingertip improved significantly in 54% of the patients, taking Pycnogenol® and in 33% of the placebo patients after 4 weeks (31).

Pycnogenol® helps break the cycle of inflammation and oxidative stress naturally

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of Pycnogenol® further contribute to the versatile nature of Pycnogenol® on body health and beauty. Inflammation and oxidative stress. Inflammation and oxidative stress are closely linked processes in the body. Oxidative stress can trigger inflammation, and inflammation, in turn, can lead to more oxidative stress. (44). Initially, inflammation is a complex protective response of the body to harmful stimuli and is part of innate immunity. However, too much inflammation can lead to chronic inflammation – the basis of various diseases such as atherosclerosis, arthritis or allergies.

Pycnogenol® controls inflammation

In several studies, it was shown that Pycnogenol® has inflammation reducing properties (17-19). Consumption of Pycnogenol® was shown to significantly limit the activation of the pro-inflammatory «master switch» NF-kB by 15.5% and matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9) release by 25%. These are two important regulators in the inflammation process. This positive effect thus helps prevent the mobilization of proinflammatory molecules, which play a destructive role in arthritis. In another study, Pycnogenol® significantly prevented the up-regulation of the pro-inflammatory enzymes 5-LOX and COX-2 after only five days of daily intake (17). (18). In addition, the consumption of a single dose of 300 mg Pycnogenol® was found to naturally inhibit generation of COX-2 enzymes during inflammation in humans, thus providing a significant contribution for lowering pain (19).

These beneficial effects of Pycnogenol® were also observed in clinical studies with patients, suffering from different chronic inflammatory conditions like knee osteoarthritis (45, 46), endometriosis (47, 48) or allergic rhinitis (6, 49). Pycnogenol® was shown to promote joint mobility and flexibility and naturally relieve pain.

Pycnogenol® is a powerful antioxidant

Pycnogenol® has been investigated in various clinical studies and shown to possess potent antioxidant properties (3, 4, 11-16). Pycnogenol®, when taken orally has been shown to both increase plasma antioxidant capacity, expressed as oxygen radical absorbance capacity (13), and decrease plasma oxidative stress measured as plasma free radicals (50). Pycnogenol® has further been shown to protect lipids from peroxidation by free radicals in elderly people and people with coronary artery disease (3, 4). The protective effect of Pycnogenol® on DNA oxidation was shown in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of children with ADHD, by measuring the level of oxidized purines(11).

Pycnogenol® strengthens the extracellular matrix in skin, joints and other tissues

The extracellular matrix consists of a complex mixture of proteins, glycoproteins, proteoglycans, and other molecules. It plays a vital role in various connective tissues, functioning as a supportive framework. It provides mechanical support to tissues, regulates cell behavior, and influences tissue development and repair. Collagen and elastin are crucial components of the skin’s extracellular matrix. Collagen provides structural support and firmness to the skin, while elastin ensures its elasticity. Hyaluronic acid contributes to skin hydration by retaining moisture. These molecules collectively promote youthful, healthy skin and can help address issues related to aging and skin aging processes.

In addition, collagen is a significant component of cartilage, which covers and protects the ends of bones in joints. It contributes to joint stability and flexibility. Hyaluronic acid is also found in joint fluid and lubricates and cushions the joints, allowing for smooth movement.

Pycnogenol® improves skin hydration and elasticity

Pycnogenol® was shown to increase skin elasticity and reduce skin fatigue by stimulation of the synthesis of new collagen and hyaluronic acid in the skin and inhibiting the activity of enzymes that break down collagen and elastin (8, 18, 20, 21). Pycnogenol® further protects skin proteins against enzymatic degradation by selectively binding to elastin and collagen (21).

Clinical investigations of Pycnogenol® supplementation for 12 weeks with female volunteers, aged 55 to 68 years revealed increased hyaluronic acid synthase levels within the skin by 44%, leading to improved skin hydration (20). Hyaluronic acid synthase is the natural source of water-binding hyaluronic acid in the dermis, which moisturizes the skin and keeps it taut and smooth. Consequently, an average skin-hydration increase by 21% in the group of Pycnogenol® supplementation was found, particularly in women presenting with dry skin prior to Pycnogenol® intake. In this study, Pycnogenol® was also shown to improve skin elasticity by 25% and decrease skin fatigue by 30%. Interestingly, the results were paralleled by Pycnogenol®’s ability to generate skin´s connective tissue collagen in average by 40%.

In addition to stimulating the synthesis of new collagen, Pycnogenol® metabolites can inhibit the release and activity of destructive enzymes (metalloproteinases 1,2 and 9), which break down dermal tissue proteins, like collagen or elastin (18, 21). The reduced activity of these lytic enzymes saves the connective tissues from degradation, representing the basis for maintaining an elastic, smooth and youthful looking skin.

 

The beneficial effects of Pycnogenol® on the skin have been confirmed in several clinical studies.

 

Pycnogenol® has beneficial effects on joint function

Pycnogenol® has been shown to act beneficially in patients presenting with joint problems (45, 51-53). In a study with 33 patients suffering from severe osteoarthritis, a joint cartilage damaging condition, the level of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) enzymes, that are responsible for destroying cartilage in joints was significantly downregulated in the fluid around the knee joints after taking Pycnogenol® (46). These results confirm previous findings that regular intake of Pycnogenol® leads to a potent decrease of pro-inflammatory markers like NF-κB and COX-enzymes and MMPs (17-19, 21).

In most cases, joint pain is due to damage to the articular cartilage. Hyaluronic acid contributes to the shock-absorbing abilities of cartilage. As Pycnogenol® significantly increased gene expression of hyaluronic acid synthase, this is helpful not only for skin but also for articular cartilage(20). Additionally, the abilities of Pycnogenol® to increase the synthesis of collagen and to protect collagen from degradation are crucial for joint health as collagen is an important component of articular cartilage. These results are backed up by the finding of a strong increase of the concentration of Pycnogenol®’s metabolites in the synovial fluid, surrounding articular cartilage in the joints in osteoarthritis patients (46, 54). In this way, the active ingredients of Pycnogenol® can act directly where they are needed. This comprehensively explains how Pycnogenol® contributes to restoring health in damaged joints.

 

Pycnogenol® French pine bark extract is one of the most widely investigated natural supplements worldwide with convincing data for various fields of application, including heart health, skin care, cognitive function and allergy control. Pycnogenol® is a standardized complex mixture of many molecules and has shown beneficial efficacy on blood circulation, strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and impressive action on the integrity of tissues.

 

For further information on Pycnogenol® please visit www.pycnogenol.com .

 

Article written by Dr. Franziska Weichmann, Manager of Scientific Communications and Product Development at Horphag Research.

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1 Comment
  1. zahid says

    Fascinating insights! Exploring the diverse health benefits of Pycnogenol® is truly intriguing. Thanks for shedding light on the science behind its wide-ranging positive impacts

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