Pycnogenol® versus pycnogenol

If you’ve been exploring nutritional supplements for very long, then you’re probably familiar with the word “pycnogenol” (pronounced phonetically pick-gnaw-gen-all). The word Pycnogenol® when spelled with an upper-case “P” is the most common usage and refers to a registered trademarked extract from French maritime pine bark that is standardized to contain 70 percent procyanadins (a group of flavonoid molecules).

Occasionally, “pycnogenol,” with a lower-case “p,” is used generically to refer to procyanidins that, in addition to pine bark, can be found in many edible plants, including grape seeds, grape skins, wine, cocoa beans, green tea, black tea, peanuts, apples, bilberries, and cinnamon. This blog focuses on Pycnogenol with a capital P.

Pycnogenol – more than 50 years of research

Inspired by a vision of healthy aging, Charles Haimoff, the founder of Horphag Research, was ahead of his time when he developed Pycnogenol in 1965. It has since been the subject of extensive research for more than 50 years, which has yielded over 160 studies and 420 publications.

A large body of research exists that substantiates Pycnogenol’s multiple benefits for, among others, cardiovascular health, women’s health, healthy skin, vein support, eye health, joint health, sports medicine, and cognitive function.*

Although entire books could be – and have been – written on the research supporting Pycnogenol, the focus of this article is on its benefits for healthy aging in women of all ages – with a particular focus on menopause. 

Support for signs and symptoms of menopause

Pycnogenol provides significant benefit for alleviating the unpleasant symptoms of menopause:

  • Decreases hot flashes*
  • Supports good mood and alleviates anxious feelings*
  • Improves fatigue commonly associated with menopause*
  • Promotes skin elasticity*
  • Helps reduce vaginal dryness and supports healthy libido*
  • Promotes good cognitive function and memory*
  • Supports cardiovascular health, which can suffer with menopause*
  • Alleviates discomfort associated with irregular menses*
  • Reduces night sweats and other sleep disturbances*

What does the research say? 

In one double-blind study, 170 perimenopausal women took 30 mg Pycnogenol twice daily or a placebo for 12 weeks. The women who took Pycnogenol experienced significant decreases in menopause symptoms – particularly hot flashes and sleep problems.*1

In another double-blind trial, 155 women with irregular menses signaling the approach of menopause took either 100 mg of Pycnogenol or a placebo twice daily for six months. The Pycnogenol group experienced improvement in a wide range of menopause-related symptoms, including improved sleep, memory/brain fog, fatigue, headaches, hot flashes, anxiousness, moodiness, and sexual function.*A small study of 38 women found similar results with half the dose – 100 mg of Pycnogenol once daily for eight weeks.*3

In summary, amounts of Pycnogenol between 60 mg and 200 mg daily can improve the unpleasant symptoms of menopause.*

In addition to the unpleasant symptoms, hormone shifts during menopause can also cause cardiovascular health to suffer. A large body of research supports Pycnogenol for heart health* – 21 clinical studies at last count – including in menopausal women.2,4 

Has menopause affected your heart health? Check with this simple home Heart Health Test.

Skin health

Skin elasticity or resilience can suffer during the aging process for several reasons:

  • Wrinkled and sagging skin can be caused by free radical damage to the skin’s outer layers, which can be accelerated by smoking and sun exposure. 
  • Loss of skin elasticity during aging is associated with an increased breakdown of elastin – an elastic protein in the skin that helps skin bounce back in place when it’s stretched.
  • Hormones, sun exposure, decreased renewal of new cells, and fewer natural oils contribute to dry and poorly hydrated skin.

It stands to reason that antioxidants, like the flavonoids present in Pycnogenol, can support healthy skin aging, in part by helping to neutralized those pesky free radicals before then do their dirty work.* Pycnogenol also appears to support collagen synthesis and potentially prevent breakdown of elastin.*

What does the research say? 

In a small study, 20 postmenopausal women took 25 mg of Pycnogenol three times daily for 12 weeks.5 Skin hydration improved and reached a plateau after six weeks (average of 8 percent; 21 percent in individuals with dry skin).* Skin elasticity significantly improved after six weeks and continued to improve throughout the 12-week study.* In addition, two genes associated with collagen synthesis (COL1A1 and COL1A2) increased by 41 and 29 percent, respectively.*

In research from the 1980s, procyanidins, such as the flavonoids found in Pycnogenol, were shown to slow the breakdown of elastin – in both a test tube and an animal model.6 If this also occurs when humans consume a pycnogenol source orally, then that could explain one of Pycnogenol’s mechanisms for improved skin elasticity.*

Melasma, a darkening discoloration of the skin, often of the face, is most common in women (90 percent of cases are in women). Melasma is often triggered by hormonal changes from pregnancy, oral contraceptives, or other hormone therapy. It can also be caused by stress or thyroid disorders and can be exacerbated by sun exposure. Could Pycnogenol also help this?

What does the research say? 

A study of 27 women found that oral supplementation of 100 mg of Pycnogenol daily, in addition to topical sunscreen applications for two months, lightened skin discoloration, in addition to decreasing the amount of skin affected.7 The study was conducted during the summer to rule out possible improvement from lack of sunshine exposure during winter.

Menstrual discomfort

One of Pycnogenol’s mechanisms of action is that it supports a healthy balance of inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers) in the body.* Dysmenorrhea – painful menses – has been attributed in part to an imbalance in the levels of some of these chemical messengers.

What does the science say? At least five studies have found Pycnogenol provides support for women who suffer from menstrual discomfort from various causes.* For example, in one clinical trial, 47 women (ages 21-45) who experienced discomfort during menses were given 30 mg of Pycnogenol twice daily for three menstrual cycles.8 Pycnogenol helped the discomfort in the abdomen, after both one and two cycles, with the most pronounced improvement after two cycles; improvement in back discomfort was not experienced until the second cycle.*

Support for healthy venous tone

Just like your skin can lose its elasticity due to aging, sun exposure, and other causes, so can your veins. Loss of venous tone occurs particularly in the lower legs and rectal area – resulting in varicose veins and hemorrhoids, respectively. Although aging certainly contributes to these conditions, pregnancy puts major stress on veins in the legs, while both pregnancy and delivery stress the rectal veins. Would Pycnogenol have application here as well?

What does the science say? 

Due to its benefit for supporting venous tone, Pycnogenol has been tested in 18 clinical studies to determine its benefits for healthy vein structure and function.*

In one study, women who had hemorrhoids after a second pregnancy were given the option of lifestyle modification that included a high fiber diet, 8-10 glasses of water daily, regular exercise, and Kegel exercises or this same regimen plus 50 mg Pycnogenol three times daily. While both groups benefited significantly, the lifestyle modification plus Pycnogenol offered greater support.9

In another study, 133 women with post-partum varicose veins in the lower limbs, divided into two groups, either wore compression stockings and took 100 mg Pycnogenol daily, or just wore compression stockings.10

After six months of follow-up, although significant improvements were seen in both groups, greater improvement occurred in the Pycnogenol group.* Results were tabulated by symptom questionnaires, number of spider veins, and leg swelling (13.3 percent of subjects who used compression stockings alone had lower leg swelling after six months, versus just 3.2 percent who used compression stockings plus Pycnogenol).*

Summary

Pycnogenol has clinical evidence for broad nutritional support for women’s health, including the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, cardiovascular health, healthy skin aging, menstrual discomfort, and healthy venous tone – overall, a good friend to women. That’s why Thorne chose to add Pycnogenol to our newly reformulated supplement for menopause – Meta-balance™.

References

  1. Kohama T, Negami M. Effect of low-dose French maritime pine bark extract on climacteric syndrome in 170 perimenopausal women. J Reprod Med 2013;58(1-2):39-46.
  2. Yang H, Liao M, Zhu S, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on the effect of Pycnogenol® on the climacteric syndrome in perimenopausal women. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 2007;86: 978-985.
  3. Errichi S, Bottari A, Belcaro G, et al. Supplementation with Pycnogenol® improves signs and symptoms of menopausal transition. Panminerva Med 2011;53:65-70.
  4. Luzzi R, Belcaro G, Hosoi M, et al. Normalization of cardiovascular risk factors in peri-menopausal women with Pycnogenol®. Minerva Ginecol 2017;69:29-34.
  5. Marini A, Grether-Beck S, Jaenicke T, et al. Pycnogenol® effects on skin elasticity and hydration coincide with increased gene expressions of collagen type I and hyaluronic acid synthase in women. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2012;25:86-92.
  6. Tixier J, Godeau GRobert AHornebeck W. Evidence by in vivo and in vitro studies that binding of pycnogenols to elastin affects its rate of degradation by elastases. Biochem Pharmacol 1984;33(24):3933-3939.
  7. Campos V. Oral administration of Pycnogenol® associated with sunscreen improves clinical symptoms of melasma. J Am Acad Dermatol 2014; AB19 (P8471).
  8. Kohama T, Suzuki N, Ohno S, Inoue M. Analgesic efficacy of French maritime pine bark extract in dysmenorrhea. An open clinical trial. J Reprod Med 2004;49:828-832.
  9. Belcaro G, Gizzi G, Pellegrini M, et al. Pycnogenol® in postpartum symptomatic hemorrhoids. Minerva Ginecologica 2014;66(1):77-84.
  10. Belcaro G, Dugall M, Luzzi R, et al. Postpartum varicose veins: supplementation with Pycnogenol® or elastic compression – a 12-month follow-up. Int J Angiol 2014; doi 10.1055/s-0033-1363784