Pine Bark Extract: Benefits for Brain and Body

Pine bark extract, (you may have heard it called pycnogenol in the supplement world), is a natural extract that can be used to treat several conditions, from ADHD to dry skin to metabolic disorders and more. Find out how this plant compound can benefit your brain and your body when you include it in your diet.

What Is Pine Bark Extract?

French maritime pine bark extract is a natural substance that has similar beneficial nutrients as those found in witch hazel bark, grape seeds, and peanut skins. Obtained from the Pinus pinaster or Pinus maritima trees (fast-growing pine trees of the Mediterranean Basin of Europe), pine bark extract has been consumed and used to treat diabetes-related health problems and heart and blood vessel issues, and is included in many anti-aging skincare products.

How to make pine bark extract involves little more than warm water and pressurization to produce the extract from trees that were otherwise considered waste up until the 1950s. That is when French researcher Jacques Masquelier discovered an abundance of flavonols and bioflavonoids in these trees and coined the name pycnogenol for the substance.

So: if you’re wondering what is the difference between pine bark extract and pycnogenol, the distinction lies in Pycnogenol® being a trademarked name for pine bark extract, much the same way Tylenol is a trademarked name for an acetaminophen product. When someone says pycnogenol, they are talking about pine bark extract.

Pine bark extract benefits and uses.

The Top 6 Benefits of Pine Bark Extract

What is pine bark extract good for? Here are its top six beneficial uses.

1. Skin Health

Let’s start on the surface: pine bark extract can be used to care for your skin. This study on pycnogenol published in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology found that postmenopausal women who consumed pine bark extract as a supplement showed improved elasticity and skin hydration. Researchers attributed these results to pine bark extract’s ability to increase the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid, two more ingredients often found in anti-aging skincare products.

An animal study from 2004 showed that applying a topical gel with pine bark extract reduced scar size and sped up wound healing, while a 2017 review of studies found that pine bark extract did indeed exhibit anti-aging effects on skin due to its ability to inhibit free radical creation. The studies reviewed have also found that pine bark extract may be useful in skin regeneration, wrinkle reduction, skin smoothing, redness reduction, and skin cancer protection.

2. Metabolic Aid

Pine bark extract may be used to treat metabolic syndrome and its surrounding conditions like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. According to a review from 2015, pine bark extract may be useful for lowering blood pressure, reducing body weight and waist size, lowering blood sugar levels in those with diabetes, and improving kidney function. Again researchers suggest this is due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities of pine bark extract.

3. ADHD Assistance

A study from 2006 found that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who consumed a pycnogenol supplement once a day for 4 weeks had significantly reduced levels of hyperactive behavior. Improvements appeared in the areas of concentration, visual motor skills, and attention spans. Moreover, when the children stopped taking the supplement, their ADHD symptoms returned, which suggests that prolonged pine bark extract supplementation could be a safe way to manage ADHD in children.

Another study conducted in the same year also investigated the effects of pycnogenol’s antioxidant activity on reducing oxidative stress, which is largely thought to be a contributor to ADHD symptoms. The children taking a pine bark extract had beneficial antioxidant levels during the 1-month duration of the clinical trial.

4. Heart Health

The beneficial effects of pine bark extract on cardiovascular disease risk factors are significant. A study from 2017 conducted on perimenopausal women found that those who took pycnogenol over a span of 8 weeks had decreased triglyceride and cholesterol levels, two huge risk factors for developing heart disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide.

Above and beyond the heart benefits, the above-linked study also found that pycnogenol normalized the women’s fasting glucose levels and helped stabilize their blood pressure levels as well. This is due to pycnogenol’s ability to increase the production of nitric oxide, a substance that relaxes our blood vessels and increases blood flow and endothelial function throughout the body. This reduces the risk of coronary artery disease caused by platelet aggregation in your blood vessels, and can help treat chronic venous insufficiency.

5. Neuroprotective Benefits

The potential effect of pycnogenol on cognitive function does not stop at ADHD symptoms. This animal study from 2013 suggests that pine bark extract may reduce the damage done to the brain’s nerve cells after traumatic injury. Again, the ability of pine bark extract to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress is believed to be the power behind these results.

6. Erectile Dysfunction

A combination of pine bark extract and the amino acid L-arginine has been used to treat and improve erectile dysfunction. Other studies show that this combination successfully treats ED without adverse side effects.

If you’re wondering when is the best time to take pine bark extract and L-arginine, one of the above-linked studies administered 1.7 grams of L-arginine per day, and over a 3-month period increased daily doses of pycnogenol from 40 milligrams twice a day to 40 milligrams 3 times per day. By the third month, 92.5% of the men in the clinical study experienced normal erections. Ask your doctor for a specific recommendation on dosage if you are interested in using dietary supplements like pine bark extract and L-arginine to treat ED.

Possible Pine Bark Extract Side Effects

While pine bark extract is safe enough to give to children and often has no adverse side effects, there are some potential risk factors you should take into consideration before deciding to supplement with it. Some have reported side effects that include:

Vertigo Dizziness
Fatigue Headache
Nausea Skin rash
Drowsiness Mouth ulcers
Irritability Urinary issues
Gastrointestinal issues Lowered blood sugar levels

It’s recommended to start with a small dose and monitor yourself for anything resembling an allergic reaction. If you do notice any issues, discontinue taking the product and consult with a health care professional immediately. It’s also recommended to take pine bark extract or pycnogenol under a doctor’s advisement if you are:

  • Diabetic
  • Taking any other medications
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Managing an autoimmune disorder
  • Have had surgery in the past 2 weeks
  • Managing a liver, heart, or bleeding condition

How Do I Use Pycnogenol?

Pine bark extract or pycnogenol supplementation can be used as an herbal medication with little-to-no adverse effects. It is most often taken orally in capsule form, but for skin treatment it can be applied topically. Start with the lowest dose and slowly increase your intake of pine bark extract so you can monitor its effects on your immune system in case you experience allergic reactions.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine says adults may safely consume 50-450 milligrams of bine park extract each day for as long as a year and as a skin cream it’s safe up to a week. Though children have been given pine bark extract as a supplement, consult with a pediatrician for recommended dosages.

Pine Bark Ecstatic

Pine bark extract is a largely safe, natural plant compound that can improve your health both inside and out, including treating serious conditions like erectile dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes due to its anti-diabetic effects. Check with your doctor if you’re taking any other medications, and you may even find that pine bark extract is an herbal replacement for some of your pharmaceutical meds that comes with far fewer side effects.

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