What is pycnogenol?
Pycnogenol is another name for the extract of French maritime pine bark. It’s used as a natural supplement for several conditions, including dry skin and ADHD. Pycnogenol contains active ingredients that can also be found in peanut skin, grape seed, and witch hazel bark.
Benefits for skin
Pycnogenol provides many benefits to the skin, including reducing the signs of aging. A small 2012 study on postmenopausal women found that pycnogenol improved hydration and elasticity of skin. Study participants took pycnogenol as a supplement, and it was found to be most effective in women who started out with dry skin. The researchers concluded that pycnogenol may increase production of hyaluronic acid and collagen, which are both found in many popular antiaging products.
A 2004 animal study also found that applying a gel containing pycnogenol sped up the wound-healing process. It also reduced the size of scars.
A 2017 review reported on the many benefits of using pycnogenol to reduce the effects of aging on skin. Pycnogenol appears to reduce the creation of free radicals, which are molecules linked to several skin conditions. It also seems to help with cell regeneration and replication.
This review noted that pycnogenol may also help with:
- reducing wrinkles from UVB rays
- decreasing skin thickness
- reducing skin roughness
- improving visible signs of aging
- protecting from UV rays
- preventing inflammation
- reducing redness
- decreasing melasma areas
- reducing discoloration
- preventing photoaging
- protecting against skin cancer
Benefits for ADHD
In addition to its skin-healing properties, pycnogenol also shows promise for helping children manage ADHD symptoms. A 2006 study found that children who took a daily pycnogenol supplement for four weeks had significantly lower levels of hyperactivity. It also appeared to improve their attention span, visual motor skills, and concentration. The study participants’ symptoms started to return a month after they stopped taking pycnogenol.
Another 2006 study examined the effects of the antioxidant activity of pycnogenol on oxidative stress, which is thought to be one of the nongenetic factors contributing to ADHD. Children who took a pycnogenol supplement for one month had healthy antioxidant levels. While these results are promising, there isn’t enough research to fully understand the effect of antioxidant levels on ADHD symptoms.
The results of a 2013 animal study suggest that pycnogenol may help to reduce damage to nerve cells following a traumatic brain injury. This is thought to be due to pycnogenol’s ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Still, more research is needed to better understand these findings and pycnogenol’s role in reducing damage from head trauma.
Improves heart health
A small 2017 study examined the effects of pycnogenol in treating cardiovascular risk factors associated with menopause. Perimenopausal women who took pycnogenol for eight weeks noticed decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels. High levels of both of these are considered risk factors for heart disease. They also had normalized fasting glucose levels and blood pressure, which can also reduce a person’s risk of heart problems. However, this was a relatively small study, so larger ones are needed to fully understand pycnogenol’s role in these findings.
Treats metabolic syndrome
A 2015 review indicates that pycnogenol can be used to treat metabolic syndrome and related disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The review found evidence that pycnogenol may:
- reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes
- lower blood pressure
- reduce waist size
- improve kidney function
Similar to its neuroprotective benefits, the metabolic benefits of pycnogenol seem to be related to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
How do I use pycnogenol?
Pycnogenol is usually taken by mouth in capsule form. However, it can also be used topically. Regardless of what you’re using it for, it’s best to start with the lowest possible dose. You can gradually increase how much you take once you get a better idea of how your body reacts to it.
According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s safe for adults to take 50 to 450 milligrams of pycnogenol daily for up to one year. As a skin cream, it’s safe to use for about seven days. As a skin powder, however, you can use it safely for up to six weeks.
There haven’t been enough studies yet to change practice protocols for treating children. Work with your pediatrician to see if there are contraindications for each child. While pycnogenol is thought to be safe for children, they should only take it for a few weeks at a time. After taking a break for one to two weeks, they can start taking it again for several weeks. For children with ADHD, research suggests that symptoms start to return after about a month without taking pycnogenol, so taking periodic breaks shouldn’t make it any less effective. There haven’t been any studies looking at long-term liver damage.
You can refer to the National Institutes of Health’s dosage guidelines for specific conditions. If possible, try to get pycnogenol from a local supplier, such as a health food store. The staff there can often answer any questions you have and give you more information about specific brands.
Are there any side effects?
For most people, pycnogenol doesn’t cause any side effects. However, it’s always a good idea to start with a low dose so you can monitor how your body responds.
Possible side effects include:
- gastrointestinal issues
- mouth ulcers
- skin irritation
- lower blood sugar levels
- urinary issues
You should also avoid using pycnogenol without talking to your doctor first if you:
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- have an autoimmune condition
- have a bleeding condition
- have diabetes
- are within two weeks of a scheduled surgery
- have liver issues
- have a heart condition
You should also do additional research or talk to your doctor before taking pycnogenol if you also take:
- chemotherapy drugs
- diabetes medications
- medications, herbs, and supplements that affect the blood or clotting
The bottom line
While pycnogenol is a natural supplement, it can have powerful effects on your health, both positive and negative. Start with a low dose so you can be sure it doesn’t cause any side effects. Also, be sure to talk with your doctor first if you have an underlying medical condition or take other medications.