More than 100 different species of pine trees exist. They’re an ancient genus of evergreen trees that grow abundantly in many parts of the northern hemisphere and in some parts of the southern hemisphere as well.
In the 1940s, scientist Jacques Masquelier began studying the health effects of pine bark after learning that indigenous peoples of North America were using pine bark tea to heal scurvy and wounds (
Since then, pine bark extract has continued to increase in popularity as an herbal supplement.
This article explains what pine bark extract is, what it’s used for, and how to use it safely.
Pinus pinaster is a type of pine tree native to areas of the Mediterranean including Portugal, Spain, France, and Morocco. The trees are commonly called maritime or cluster pines.
The bark of maritime pines is thick and grows in various shades of brown, orange, and red.
Pine bark extract is sold under a variety of trade names with some of the most common being:
Sometimes these supplements contain other ingredients in addition to the bark, such as:
- vitamin C
- other plant extracts
- fillers like cellulose or glycerin
How it’s made
Maritime pine bark extract is made by first grinding pine bark, then washing and soaking it in hot water. Next, the solids are removed from the liquid extract (
The liquid extract can then be used as is or further processed by freeze-drying and grinding it into a powder.
Pine bark extract is made from the bark of maritime pine trees — many of which are harvested in the Mediterranean. The liquid extract is often processed into a powdered form.
Maritime pines are known to contain health-promoting plant compounds like vitamins, polyphenols, and other phytonutrients.
The following is a brief summary of the most notable polyphenol nutrients in pine bark extract and how they may benefit human health:
- Procyanidins. A type of flavonoid that acts as an antioxidant and appears to have medicinal properties. All Pycnogenol maritime pine bark extract is standardized to contain at least 75% procyanidins (
8, 11 12, 13).
- Catechins. Another antioxidant-like flavonoid family that protects cells from oxidation and damaging free radicals (
5, 8, 9, 12).
- Phenolic acids. A group of polyphenols that exhibit high antioxidant activity and are commonly found in plant foods (
2, 9, 13, 14).
These compounds are believed to be what makes pine bark useful as an herbal supplement, giving it the following effects:
It’s thought that the extract’s antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties have the potential to improve conditions like cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease — but more research is needed (
Pine bark extract is particularly rich in plant compounds called polyphenols, which are likely responsible for its health-promoting benefits.
Test-tube and animal studies from the past few decades have found encouraging results to support the health-promoting benefits of pine bark extract.
Many studies have been conducted on the trademark brand of French maritime pine bark extract known as Pycnogenol. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, researchers are beginning to investigate it as a possible therapeutic option for the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the disease COVID-19 (
Still, rigorous research on the effectiveness of pine bark extract in humans is lacking, and more randomized controlled-trial studies are needed. So, it’s too soon to say how safe and effective pine bark extracts are for treating specific illnesses (
As more research is conducted, we’ll gain a better understanding of the best ways to use pine bark extract.
Nevertheless, the extract continues to show potential. Here are some of the initial benefits of pine bark extract purported today.
May reduce inflammation
It appears that French maritime pine bark exerts much of its anti-inflammatory capabilities by influencing your body’s cellular pathways that regulate inflammation and your immune system (
Researchers are still investigating how this could benefit conditions like chronic heart disease, diabetes, traumatic brain injuries, and more (
The apparent ability of pine bark to alleviate inflammation has also led to studies on its potential as a therapeutic treatment for chronic airway inflammation conditions, like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (
A few older studies including humans found similar effects of Pycnogenol’s ability to alleviate asthma symptoms — though these studies were too small to make definitive conclusions about pine bark’s effectiveness as an herbal supplement (
One study including 76 asthma patients found that taking 100 milligrams of Pycnogenol daily for 6 months, in combination with inhaled corticosteroid medications, significantly improved coughing and wheezing and decreased dependency on the corticosteroids (
Further, human and animal studies have found that procyanidin-rich pine bark extracts may ease short- and long-term bone and joint inflammation associated with arthritis. However, larger randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm these findings (
May support heart health
One small 2016 study including 24 adults with high blood pressure found that taking 150 milligrams Oligopin pine bark daily for 5 weeks improved HDL (good) cholesterol measures and lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 6.36 mmHg (
Another small 2012 study including 23 adults with coronary heart disease associated taking 200 mg of Pycnogenol per day with improved blood flow through the arteries and lower levels of isoprostane — a measure of oxidative stress. No changes to blood pressure were noted (
Recent meta-analysis studies have determined that there’s not enough evidence to support a link between Pycnogenol and blood pressure (
So, although pine bark extract appears to support the mechanisms of heart health, it’s still unclear how safe and effective it is as a treatment for specific conditions.
Other potential uses
Pine bark extracts are also being investigated for a multitude of other uses in human, animal, and test-tube studies. These include:
- healthy aging (
- wound healing (
- menopause (
58, 59, 60)
- bone loss (
61, 62, 63, 64)
- Alzheimer’s disease (
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (
- skin health (
68, 69, 70, 71)
- athletic performance (
- improved cognition (
73, 74, 75, 76)
- erectile dysfunction (
77, 78, 79, 80)
That said, there’s not yet enough evidence to fully support these uses.
Pine bark extract is being studied as a therapeutic option to treat many different conditions. Its abilities to reduce inflammation and act as an antioxidant make it a strong candidate to treat chronic diseases.
So, pine bark is considered safe when used in recommended amounts.
Still, some people may have sensitivities to pine bark, and certain populations — including older adults, pregnant and breastfeeding people, and those who are immunosuppressed.
Because not enough research has been done supporting its safety in these groups, the use of pine bark extract should be avoided.
What’s more, some medications for blood clotting, diabetes, and immunosuppressants may interact with pine bark. Always check with your healthcare provider if you’re considering this supplement, especially if you have any medical conditions or are taking any medications (7)
When used as prescribed, pine bark extract is safe and tolerated by most people. Those who are pregnant, older, immunosuppressed, or taking other medications should avoid pine bark extracts.
Commercial pine bark extracts are typically sold as capsules or tablets, though powders and liquid tinctures are available, too.
Pycnogenol is one of the most common pine bark extracts on the market. It’s also a common ingredient in other supplement blends.
Most commercial supplements suggest a daily dosage. Still, the amount of pine bark you should take may vary depending on why you’re taking it and other factors like age and body weight (7).
That’s why pine bark is best used under the supervision of a trained healthcare provider, who can help you determine the best dosage for you.
Many pine bark supplements are sold commercially in liquid, capsule, and powder form. Check with your healthcare provider to determine how much pine bark extract you should take — if any.
Pine bark extract is an herbal supplement rich in healthy polyphenols like procyanidins, catechins, and phenolic acids.
These plant compounds appear to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects on the human body. As such, pine bark extract shows great potential as a therapeutic herbal supplement.
However, there isn’t enough evidence at this time to support specific health claims on the extract.
That’s why you should work with a trusted medical provider to ensure you’re using pine bark extract in the safest and most effective way.