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What is Pine Bark Extract?

Pycnogenol is a common name for pine bark extract, and it is used in several ways. Pycnogenol® refers to a trademarked compound extracted from the bark of the French maritime pine tree (Pinus pinaster) that contains naturally occurring chemicals called proanthocyanidins, as well as others.

Pycnogenol is also the name of a group of compounds that contain proanthocyanidins taken from a number of natural sources, such as grape seeds (see Grapes) and other plants. There are several other pine bark extract supplements available in addition to the brand called Pycnogenol, which may use different types of pine bark and have different formulations.

Although interest in pine bark extract is growing among medical researchers, only limited data from clinical trials supports the health claims made for any form of it. A few small early studies in humans have been done that show possible benefits in helping reduce swelling from chronic venous insufficiency (a circulation disorder).

Some early studies have suggested it may help lower blood sugar for some diabetics. In addition, several quick studies have been done on a number of possible benefits of pycogenol, but most have been very limited. It appears to have some antioxidant properties in lab studies.

How is it promoted for use?
Proponents claim that pine bark extract is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that block the action of activated oxygen molecules, known as free radicals, which can damage cells.

Supporters believe that pine bark extract protects against arthritis, complications from diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and problems with circulation such as swelling and varicose veins. Other reported benefits include improved memory, fewer effects from stress, better joint flexibility, and less inflammation.

Some claim that pycnogenol supplements are much more effective in eliminating free radicals than vitamins C and E (see Vitamin C, Vitamin E). Available scientific evidence does not support most of these claims.

What does it involve?
Pine bark extract is available as tablets and capsules in a range of strengths. Practitioners may use 25-300 mg/day for up to 3 weeks. After that, some suggest a maintenance dose of 50-100 mg/day, while others recommend continuing a "saturation dose" of 20 to 30 mg per 20 pounds of body weight. Others recommend doses of 600 mg or more per day, depending on the reason for taking it.

What is the history behind it?
In the winter of 1535, a French explorer named Jacques Cartier found his ship ice-bound in the St. Lawrence River, in what is now Quebec. Having no fruits or vegetables, the crew began developing scurvy (symptoms of vitamin C deficiency).

Several had already died when one of the Native Americans told them how to prepare a tea made of bark from a particular tree. Whether the tree was white pine, cedar, or some other variety is not known, but many crew members recovered, probably due to vitamin C in the tea, and attributed miraculous qualities to it.

In 1951, French researcher Dr. Jacques Masquelier reportedly read this account in Cartier's writings, and began searching for the active ingredients in the tea. He was able to extract proanthocyanidins from the bark of the European coastal pine tree. He patented the process and named the compound Pycnogenol.

In 1970, proanthocyanidins were also extracted from grape seeds. The compound found in grape seeds and plants is referred to as either proanthocyanidins or pycnogenol. However, it differs somewhat from the pycnogenol extracted by Dr. Masquelier.

Solgar's Pycnogenol

Natural Factors Pycnogenol® Pine Bark

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