Pycnogenol Health Benefits & Side Effects: Effective vs. High Blood & Aging?

Numerous studies
Drugs Information Online lists 77 studies that have shown pycnogenol to be not only an effective antioxidant, but also a treatment for many diseases.

It can be used to:

  • • Boost the immune system.
  • • Support cardiovascular health.
  • • Support blood circulation.
  • • Act as an anti-inflammatory.
  • • Reduce the risks of UV radiation.
  • • Clear skin discoloration.
  • • Prevent blood clotting.
  • • Improve joint flexibility.
  • • Reduce high cholesterol (maybe)
  • • Improve sperm quality and function.
  • • Increase endurance when exercising.
  • • Improve asthma and lung function.

These peer-reviewed studies show that the extract is proven to be effective for:
High blood pressure. Pycnogenol seems to lower systolic blood pressure but does not significantly lower diastolic blood pressure.

Allergies. Taking pycnogenol before the allergy season begins may reduce allergy symptoms.

Circulation problems. Pycnogenol seems to significantly reduce leg pain and heaviness, as well as fluid retention in people with circulation problems.

Disease of the retina in the eye. Taking pycnogenol daily for two months seems to slow or prevent retinal disease caused by diabetes, atherosclerosis, or other diseases. It also seems to improve eyesight.

Improved endurance in athletes. Young people (20-35 years old) seem to be able to exercise on a treadmill for a longer time after taking pycnogenol daily for about a month.

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) and inflammation or varicose veins. Insufficient blood in the deeper leg veins caused by damaged or missing valves in varicose veins, can in turn, cause veins to remain filled with blood. This puts sufferers at risk for a deep vein thrombosis or a dangerous blood clot in the deep veins.

Numerous studies have found some, but insufficient evidence that pycnogenol can lower “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol).

Ex vivo studies have shown pycnogenol to be antiodicative in endothelial or blood vessel and lymphatic lining cells, white blood cells, nerve cells, lung and liver cells, and cells of the cerebellum.

Animal studies have found that it protects against dementia and enhance T- and B-cell function, and there is some evidence to indicate that pycnogenol has cancer-fighting traits, inducing cell death in breast cancer cells.

Wonder cream for ageless beauty
But pycnogenol is most famous for its anti-aging properties—it helps slow the aging process in skin.

It’s been available in Europe for some time, where it is taken as a supplement or incorporated into topical anti-aging creams. In the United States, it’s available over-the-counter in health food stores and pharmacies.

Numerous clinical studies (see for a more thorough discussion) shows that pycnogenol fights wrinkles, helps keep skin taut and its mildly antimicrobial properties can help you keep your skin acne-free.

A recent study showed that pycnogenol improved skin elasticity by 25 percent and hydration by eight percent. Wrinkles were also reduced by three percent and skin smoothness increased by six percent—all in women from 55 to 68 years old. The changes were particularly noticeable in women who had dry skin from the start.

The study, reported in January 2012 issue of the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, involved 20 healthy, elderly women.

Researchers from the Leibniz Research Institute in Dusseldorf, Germany gave the participants 75 mg of Pycnogenol per day over a period of 12 weeks. At the trial start and after six and 12 weeks, skin hydration, skin elasticity and skin fatigue were assessed by non-invasive biophysical methods.

A biopsy was also obtained, at the beginning and again after 12 weeks of Pycnogenol supplementation, to assess gene expression of hyaluronic acid HAS-1 and COL1A1 and COL1A2—known to be beneficial to the skin. Researchers found that production of the acid was increased by 44 percent.

“To date, Pycnogenol is the only natural supplement that stimulates hyaluronic acid production in human skin,” Dr. Jean Krutmann, the study’s lead author tells The Daily Mail in a news report.

“We are encouraged by the molecular evidence confirmed in this study that shows nutritional supplementation with Pycnogenol benefits human skin,” he adds.

Victor Ferrari of Horphag Research says: “This exciting and technically advanced investigation with women representing actual consumer profiles greatly supports our efforts for targeting the skin beauty category for both dietary supplements and functional foods.”

Side effects
WebMD says pycnogenol is “possibly safe” when taken in doses of 50 mg to 450 mg daily for up to six months. No studies have yet been undertaken on the effects of long-term or lifetime use of the extract, but so far, no reports of clinically important adverse reactions from Pycnogenol have been published.

Pycnogenol can cause dizziness, gut problems, headache, and mouth ulcers. Some children taking Pycnogenol for ADHD became irritable and showed decreased energy

Special precautions
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Preliminary research suggests pycnogenol might be safe in late pregnancy. “But until more is known, pycnogenol should be avoided by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding,” WebMD says.

Auto-immune diseases: Pycnogenol might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and others. Warns WebMD: “If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using pycnogenol.”

Drug interactions
Immunosuppressants, or medications that decrease the immune system, interact with pycnogenol, which seems to boost the immune system. By increasing the immune system, pycnogenol might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.

Don’t take pycnogenol if you are taking: azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.

Pycnogenol is composed of proanthocyanidins (80 percent to 85 percent), the monomers catechin and taxifolin (5 percent), and phenolic acids (2percent to 4 percent), which are derivatives of benzoic and cinnamic acids.

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