Pine Bark Extract - An Overview
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French maritime pine bark extract is a nootropic supplement found in the bark of the French Maritime Pine Tree (Pinus pinaster).
It contains a powerful antioxidant called proanthocyanidin which has many positive benefits for neurological health.
Pine Bark Extract
Pine bark extract may have a positive effect on
- Overall cognitive function
The bark is typically made into an extract that concentrates the benefits into an easy-to-consume capsule or powder. It is often sold under the trademarked brand name “Pycnogenol.”
We will use the terms pine bark extract and pycnogenol interchangeably, as they are the same thing. It is also sometimes sold under the name “Flavangenol.”
What Does Pine Bark Extract Do?
Pine Bark Extract And Mental Performance
Pine bark extract can have a nootropic effect on overall cognitive abilities.
One large study conducted in 2015 concluded that pycnogenol could improve cognitive function and oxidative stress in healthy subjects between 55 and 70 years of age.
Although this effect pronounces more in older populations, we would expect to see a similar impact on younger people as well.1Belcaro G. The COFU3 Study. Improvement in cognitive function, attention, mental performance with Pycnogenol® in healthy subjects (55-70) with high oxidative stress, J Neurosurg Sci. 2015
A study on 106 healthy students aged 18 to 27 backs this up. This double-blind study gave half the group pycnogenol for eight weeks, and a placebo to the other half.
This study is interesting because they looked at the actual results of their university finals to measure the student’s mental performance.
The research team concluded that “pycnogenol supplementation improved sustained attention, memory, executive functions, and mood ratings in the students. The improvement was statistically significant.”
In short, the students who took pine bark extract were more likely to ace their exams, and the placebo group was more likely to flunk.2Luzzi R, et al. Pycnogenol® supplementation improves cognitive function, attention and mental performance in students, Panminerva Med. 2011
Another placebo-controlled study gave pycnogenol to a group of busy professionals with no pre-existing severe health conditions.
They subjected both groups to a battery of mental tests and tested them for biomarkers of stress.
They concluded that supplementing pine bark extract for 12 weeks appeared to significantly improve cognitive function, mood, and oxidative stress versus the control group.
This result would indicate pine bark extract can improve general performance for otherwise healthy people looking for a nootropic boost.3Belcaro G, et al. Pycnogenol® improves cognitive function, attention, mental performance and specific professional skills in healthy professionals aged 35-55, J Neurosurg Sci. 2014
There is some preliminary evidence that Pycnogenol may be useful in treating ADHD. A trio of new studies, all from Slovakia, indicates that this could be the case.
One study looked at a group of children who w diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Disorder.
This disorder is partially characterized by increased excretion of catecholamines (such as dopamine and norepinephrine) and reduced levels of the antioxidant glutathione.
After supplementing with pycnogenol for several weeks, researchers saw lower concentrations of catecholamines and a higher concentration of glutathione in their urine.
They concluded that the pine bark extract “normalized catecholamine concentrations, leading to less hyperactivity, and, consequently, to reduced oxidative stress.” 4Dvoráková M, et al Urinary catecholamines in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): modulation by a polyphenolic extract from pine bark (pycnogenol), Nutr Neurosci. 2007
A similar study supports the findings of the first one. They found that pycnogenol increased the Total Antioxidant Status (TAS) of children who have ADHD.
Low TAS is linked to hyperactivity and inattention, so by increasing antioxidants such as glutathione pine bark extract could ease symptoms of this disorder.5Dvoráková M, et al.
The effect of polyphenolic extract from pine bark, Pycnogenol on the level of glutathione in children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Redox Rep. 2006
In another randomized, double-blind trial, sixty-one children supplemented 1 mg of pycnogenol (or placebo) per kg of body weight per day for four weeks.
Patients were examined at the start of the trial, one month after treatment, and one month after the end of treatment for symptoms of ADHD.
In the words of the researchers: “Results show that 1-month Pycnogenol administration caused a significant reduction of hyperactivity, improves attention and visual-motoric coordination and concentration of children with ADHD.
In the placebo group, no positive effects were found. One month after the termination of Pycnogenol administration, they observed a relapse of symptoms. Our results point to an option to use Pycnogenol as a natural supplement to relieve ADHD symptoms of children.”6Trebatická J, et al Treatment of ADHD with French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol, Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006
Although both studies focused on children, there is a reason to believe this therapeutic effect could also translate for adults. More study is needed, but the initial findings are promising.
Pycnogenol has a noticeable effect on working memory. Working memory is the ability to remember and use relevant information while in the middle of an activity, and it is critical for overall mental performance.
One study looked at 101 elderly participants (60-85 years) consuming a daily dose of 150 mg of Pycnogenol or placebo for a three-month treatment period.
They had the participants perform tests of cognition, memory, and motor skills at the beginning and end of the treatment period. They noted that the pycnogenol group displayed improved working memory.
This is a good indicator that pine bark extract could have considerable nootropic benefits. This may also be related to its effects on ADHD. 7Ryan J, et al. An examination of the effects of the antioxidant Pycnogenol on cognitive performance, serum lipid profile, endocrinological and oxidative stress biomarkers in an elderly population, J Psychopharmacol. 2008
Pycnogenol for ED
Although anecdotal, some male users report better erections after supplementing with pine bark extract. This could be due to its ability to improve blood flow and nitrous oxide. No formal research has been done on this topic.
French Maritime Pine Bark For Skin Care
Clinically significant improvement in photodamaged skin could be achieved with French maritime pine bark.
One study looked at 112 women with ultraviolet-damaged skin who were given pine bark extract for 12 weeks. Almost all the women saw improvements to their conditions.
Researchers concluded that pycnogenol could “reduce ultraviolet radiation damage to the skin and may protect human facial skin from symptoms of photoaging.”8 Minao Furumura, et al. Oral administration of French maritime pine bark extract (Flavangenol®) improves clinical symptoms in photoaged facial skin, Clin Interv Aging. 2012
Vascular And Endothelial Protection
Pine Bark Extract contains catechin, taxifolin, and proanthocyanidins, which are all organic compounds that improve vascular function.
Many diseases (diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome) can cause inflammation of the endothelium, or inner membrane of the blood vessels.
Pine bark extract’s anti-inflammatory powers may help ease this symptom. Researchers have found that flavangenol supplementation may be a promising candidate for the improvement of endothelial dysfunction and the prophylactic treatment of vascular diseases.9Ohkita M, Kiso Y, Matsumura Y Pharmacology in health foods: improvement of vascular endothelial function by French maritime pine bark extract (Flavangenol), J Pharmacol Sci. 2011
How Pine Bark Extract Works In The Brain
Pine bark extract has nootropic benefits and can boost mental performance. It achieves this effect through a variety of different pathways and mechanisms.
Procyanidins are the main active ingredient in French maritime pine bark. Procyanidins are powerful antioxidants that are also found in foods such as grapes, berries, pomegranates, red wine, and various nuts.
French maritime pine bark extract, sold under the brand name Pycnogenol, is standardized to contain 70% procyanidin. This is considered to be the main source of pine bark extracts therapeutic and nootropic benefits.
Antioxidants are an extremely important aspect of staying healthy as you age. They neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS; frequently referred to as “free radicals”) which, apart from performing important bodily functions, can cause damage to cells and tissues if present in excessive amounts.
Pycnogenol is a proven vasodilator that improves blood flow to the brain. The more blood circulating through the brain, the more oxygen is available for cognitive processes, and the better you will be able to perform mentally.
Improved blood flow is also associated with anti-aging effects, warding off age-related neurodegeneration.10Fitzpatrick DF1, Bing B, Rohdewald P Endothelium-dependent vascular effects of Pycnogenol., J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 1998
Pine bark extract improved markers of insulin resistance and body fat, both of which have been shown to lower cognitive abilities.11Tsutomu Shimada, et al. Preventive Effect of Pine Bark Extract (Flavangenol) on Metabolic Disease in Western Diet-Loaded Tsumura Suzuki Obese Diabetes Mice, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011 12Jesper S. Neergaard, et al. Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Resistance, and Cognitive Dysfunction: Does Your Metabolic Profile Affect Your Brain?, Diabetes 2017
Reducing brain inflammation can improve cognitive function. Oxidative damage caused by stress and aging can significantly reduce mental abilities.
Luckily, antioxidants like pine bark extract can repair and prevent this damage, restoring healthy operation.
Pine Bark Extract Potential Side Effects
Maritime pine bark extract is non-toxic, and seems to be very well tolerated. We rarely hear of any adverse effects, but you should always pay attention to your body, as everyone reacts differently.
Here are some (fairly uncommon) side-effects to watch out for.
- Mouth sores
- Gastrointestinal issues
Keep in mind that pine bark extract boosts your immune system. This means it could exacerbate any auto-immune diseases you may have, such as arthritis, MS or lupus.
It also improves vascular function. This could increase bleeding and slow blood clotting in some people, especially in high doses. This may not be good for people with certain illnesses, or if you plan on having surgery.
We recommend consulting a doctor before taking pine bark extract if you have any of these conditions.
We strive to bring you the most up to date, research-based information about Pine Bark Extract and other nootropics.
Something we missed? Do you use Pine Bark Extract? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
About the author:
Erik Levi is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.