Pine Bark Extract
Pine bark extract is made from the bark of a European coastal pine tree called the Landes or maritime pine, whose scientific name is Pinus maritima. The maritime pine is a member of the Pineaceae family. Pine bark extract is a new nutritional supplement used for its antioxidant properties, which are believed to be effective for a wide range of healing and preventative purposes. Pine bark extract has been patented by a French researcher under the name Pycnogenol (pronounced pick-nah-jen-all).
Pine bark extract has a 450-year-old legend surrounding it. There is a written account of an event that happened in 1534, when a French ship led by explorer Jacques Cartier became stranded in ice near Quebec, Canada. Cartier's crew became severely sick from scurvy, which used to be a fatal disease caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet. Cartier's crew was saved when a Quebec Indian instructed them to drink a brew made from pine bark and needles. Four centuries later, a French researcher named Jacques Masquelier discovered the reason for the effectiveness of this remedy. A substance found in pine bark acts as an antioxidant in the body, and greatly increases the effectiveness of the vitamin C found in the pine needles.
During the 1950s, Masquelier had heard the story of Cartier when he was in Canada performing research. He was investigating a group of substances called flavonols, which he originally found in peanut skins. Flavonols and bioflavonoids are substances in fruits and vegetables that give them their color. Masquelier found that these substances have beneficial effects in the body, particularly in improving circulation and repairing tissue. He later found that an abundant source of these substances was the bark of pine trees that grew on the coasts of southern France. Pine bark was also the most efficient source of the substance, because it took only warm water and pressure to extract the substance from trees that were considered a waste product. Masquelier called his pine bark extract Pycnogenol, and continued his research on pine bark extract and bioflavonoids for decades. In 1987, the United States awarded him a patent. Only Masquelier's pine bark extract can legally claim to have antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants play a key role of repairing and protecting cells in the body. They help protect against free radicals, which are damaging byproducts of metabolism and exposure to environmental pollutants. Free radical damage is believed to contribute to aging, as well as too severe conditions including heart disease and cancer. Common antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral selenium. Researchers have termed the group of antioxidants found in pine bark extract oligomeric proanthocyanidins, or OPCs for short. OPCs (also referred to as PCOs) are some of the most powerful antioxidants available.
OPCs are found in many common foods. In fact, OPCs are at the center of what has been called the French paradox. The French paradox has to do with the fact that the French eat as much cholesterol as Americans, yet have a significantly reduced incidence of heart disease. Researchers have theorized that one reason for this paradox is the French consumption of red wine with meals. Red wine is rich in bioflavonoids, including OPCs, which have been shown to protect blood vessels from cholesterol. Another OPC supplement on the market besides pine bark extract is grape seed extract, which is the cheapest and most widely used source of OPCs.
Much research has been conducted on OPCs and on pine bark extract. In France, pine bark extract and OPCs have been rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness, and pine bark extract is a registered drug. Pine bark extract has been shown to contain a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from free radical damage and increases the effectiveness of vitamin C. Pine bark extract has been shown to help lower cholesterol, and to decrease the risk and severity of atherosclerosis, or damage to the arteries. It has been demonstrated to help strengthen and repair tissues made of collagen, a protein that builds blood vessels, skin, and connective tissue.
The OPCs in pine bark extract have also been shown to help reduce swelling and inflammation in the body.
Pine bark extract is used to reduce the risk and severity of heart disease, strokes, high cholesterol, and circulation problems. It is used in the nutritional treatment of varicose veins and edema, which is swelling in the body due to fluid retention and leakage of blood vessels. Arthritis and inflammation have also been improved in studies using pine bark extract, as well as the uncomfortable symptoms of PMS and menopause. The OPCs in pine bark extract are recommended for various eye conditions that are caused by blood vessel damage, such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Pine bark extract is recommended to improve the health and smoothness of the skin, including damage caused by overexposure to sunlight. Pine bark extract is a supplement used for anti-aging and preventive care as well.
Pine bark extract is available in health food stores as powder and capsules. For prevention and general health, a daily dosage of 50 mg (1–2 capsules) is recommended. For treatment of health conditions, the dosage may be increased to 300 mg or more, depending on the advice of a physician and the specific condition. Pine bark extract can be taken either with or between meals.
While pine bark extract is used in the nutritional treatment of many conditions, it is not meant to replace proper medical supervision.
Pine bark extract has been extensively tested for safety, and no dangerous side effects have been observed with its use.
The effectiveness of pine bark extract may be increased with the use of other antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral selenium. Diets rich in foods that contain antioxidants and bioflavonoids, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, may also contribute to its effectiveness.
Kilham, Chris. OPC: The Miracle Antioxidant. New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1997.
Passwater, Richard, PhD. The New Superantioxidant Plus. New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1992.