Why does Pycnogenol® offer such a wide range of health benefits? Its mechanisms of action explained

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Pycnogenol® French maritime pine bark is dubbed the “gold standard ingredient”, “a phenomenon” and a “natural all-rounder” (1, 2). Clinical studies have shown Pycnogenol® to be beneficial for heart health, cognitive function and respiratory health, as well as for eye health, skincare, women’s health and several other body functions (3-10). But how can one ingredient alone have such a wide range of benefits across multiple applications? Let’s shed some light on the holistic nature and efficacy of Pycnogenol®.

Pycnogenol® is much more than just an ingredient

First and foremost, Pycnogenol® stands apart from single compounds. Pycnogenol® is a naturally programmed combination of procyanidins, bioflavonoids and organic acids, which offer amazing properties. Pycnogenol®‘s unique blend of active compounds cannot be found in any other plant extract. Each of its compounds provides a different way of acting in the body. Some of the larger molecules get further processed in the gut into metabolites. Remarkably, these metabolites are also absorbed into our bloodstream, contributing to Pycnogenol®‘s overall efficacy.

Consequently, Pycnogenol® offers a comprehensive array of active compounds, distinguishing it from single-component alternatives. The key properties of Pycnogenol® on the body are its powerful antioxidant actions (3, 4, 11-16), its natural anti-inflammatory benefits (17-19), its effects on skin and tissues (8, 18, 20, 21) and its support for blood circulation (3, 7, 22-33).

Collectively, these mechanisms account for the extensive range of applications that Pycnogenol® holds in the realms of health and beauty. Ongoing research will continue to unveil further insights and potentially discover additional applications for the effects of Pycnogenol®.

Pycnogenol® improves blood circulation

Keeping the cardiovascular system healthy is key for maintaining good vitality, physical strength and for general well-being. Blood vessels bring oxygen and nutrients through arteries and small microvessels all over our body, providing beneficial effects from head to toe.

Pycnogenol® exerts some of its beneficial effects as it optimizes blood flow by improving endothelial function. Blood flow regulation involves maintaining an appropriate distribution of blood throughout the body to meet the metabolic demands of tissues and organs.

All blood vessels in the cardiovascular system are lined with the so-called endothelium. The endothelium is a single layer of cells lining the inner surface of blood vessels, including arteries and veins. This layer is significantly involved in many physiological functions, like controlling blood pressure by vasoconstriction and -dilation, regulating the exchange of substances between blood and tissues, preventing blood clotting, and signaling during inflammation. Endothelial function and blood flow regulation are crucial for overall health.

Many different studies have shown that Pycnogenol® has a positive effect on blood circulation and microcirculation (7, 28-31, 34-37) by improving endothelial function (3, 22-27) and by lowering platelet aggregation without increasing bleeding time (32, 33). In addition, Pycnogenol® has been shown to normalize blood pressure and to improve blood lipid profile as well as blood sugar values (12, 13, 15, 25, 26, 38-43). Interestingly, it was found that a metabolite of Pycnogenol® can be taken up in endothelial cells and can thus exert its anti-inflammatory effects directly in the endothelium (24).

Pycnogenol® for the endothelium

Numerous studies have consistently shown that Pycnogenol® improves endothelial function, resulting in a positive impact on both blood circulation and microcirculation.

In patients with coronary artery disease, the effect of Pycnogenol® on endothelial function was investigated by assessing “flow-mediated dilation” in the upper arm artery (3). For this, the expansion of the artery in response to an increase in the shear stress associated with blood flow is measured. An 8-week randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover, double-blind study showed an improvement in flow-mediated dilation by 32% in the Pycnogenol® group, while it deteriorated slightly in the placebo patients.

Pycnogenol® improves microcirculation

Healthy microcirculation is vital as it leads to a well-functioning supply of nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body. In several studies, Pycnogenol® was shown to improve blood circulation in small blood vessels in the body, like the fine microvessels in skin, fingertips and in the inner ear or the retinal capillaries in the eye (7, 28-31, 34-37).

Pycnogenol® helps break the cycle of inflammation and oxidative stress naturally

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of Pycnogenol® further contribute to the versatile nature of Pycnogenol® on body health and beauty. Inflammation and oxidative stress are closely linked processes in the body. Oxidative stress can trigger inflammation, which in turn can lead to more oxidative stress. (44). Initially, inflammation is a complex protective response of the body to harmful stimuli and is part of innate immunity. However, too much inflammation can lead to chronic inflammation – the basis of various diseases such as atherosclerosis, arthritis or allergies.

Pycnogenol® controls inflammation

In several studies, it was shown that Pycnogenol® has inflammation-reducing properties (17-19). Pycnogenol® was shown to significantly limit the activation of pro-inflammatory «master switch» NF-kB by 15.5% and matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9) release by 25% (18) – two important regulators in the inflammation process. In another study, Pycnogenol® prevented the up-regulation of the pro-inflammatory enzymes 5-LOX and COX-2, also providing a significant contribution for lowering pain (17).

These beneficial effects of Pycnogenol® were also observed in clinical studies with patients, suffering from different chronic inflammatory conditions like knee osteoarthritis (45, 46), endometriosis (47, 48) or allergic rhinitis (6, 49). Pycnogenol® was shown to promote joint mobility and flexibility and naturally relieve pain.

Pycnogenol® is a powerful antioxidant

Pycnogenol® has been investigated in various clinical studies and shown to possess potent antioxidant properties (3, 4, 11-16). Pycnogenol® has been shown to both increase plasma antioxidant capacity (“oxygen radical absorbance capacity”, ORAC) (13) and decrease plasma oxidative stress measured as plasma free radicals (50). Pycnogenol® has further been shown to protect lipids from peroxidation by free radicals (3, 4). The protective effect of Pycnogenol® on DNA oxidation was shown in another clinical study (11).

Pycnogenol® strengthens the extracellular matrix in skin, joints and other tissues

The extracellular matrix plays a vital role in various connective tissues, functioning as a supportive framework, regulates cell behavior, and influences tissue development and repair. The skin’s extracellular matrix consists of different molecules like collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid. Collagen provides structural support and firmness to the skin, while elastin ensures its elasticity. Hyaluronic acid contributes to skin hydration by retaining moisture. These molecules collectively promote youthful, healthy skin and can help address issues related to skin aging processes.

In addition, collagen is a significant component of cartilage, which covers and protects the ends of bones in joints. It contributes to joint stability and flexibility. Hyaluronic acid is also found in joint fluid and lubricates and cushions the joints, allowing for smooth movement.

Pycnogenol® improves skin hydration and elasticity

Pycnogenol® was shown to increase skin elasticity and reduce skin fatigue by stimulation of the synthesis of new collagen and hyaluronic acid in the skin and inhibiting the activity of destructive enzymes (metalloproteinases 1,2 and 9) that break down collagen and elastin (8, 18, 20, 21). Pycnogenol® further protects skin proteins by selectively binding to elastin and collagen (21).

Clinical investigations of Pycnogenol® supplementation for 12 weeks revealed increased hyaluronic acid synthase levels within the skin by 44%, leading to improved skin hydration by 21% (20). In this study, Pycnogenol® was also shown to improve skin elasticity by 25% and decrease skin fatigue by 30%. In addition, Pycnogenol® increased the generation of collagen by 40%.

These beneficial effects of Pycnogenol® on the maintenance of an elastic and smooth skin have been confirmed in several clinical studies.

Pycnogenol® has beneficial effects on joint function

Pycnogenol® has been shown to act beneficially in patients with joint problems by downregulating pro-inflammatory markers and enzymes, that are responsible for destroying cartilage in joints specifically in the knee joint fluid (45, 46, 51-53). These results confirm previous findings on the anti-inflammatory activities of Pycnogenol® (17-19, 21).

In most cases, joint pain is due to damage to the articular cartilage. Hyaluronic acid contributes to the shock-absorbing abilities of cartilage. As Pycnogenol® significantly increased gene expression of hyaluronic acid synthase, this is helpful not only for skin but also for articular cartilage (20). Additionally, the abilities of Pycnogenol® to increase the synthesis of collagen and to protect collagen from degradation are crucial for joint health as collagen is an important component of articular cartilage. These results are backed up by the finding of a strong increase of the concentration of Pycnogenol®’s metabolites in the synovial fluid, surrounding articular cartilage in the joints in osteoarthritis patients (46, 54). This comprehensively explains how Pycnogenol® contributes to restoring health in damaged joints.

Pycnogenol® French pine bark extract is one of the most widely investigated natural supplements worldwide with convincing data for various fields of application, including heart health, skin care, cognitive function and allergy control. Pycnogenol® is a standardized complex mixture of many molecules and has shown beneficial efficacy on blood circulation, strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and impressive action on the integrity of tissues.

For further information on Pycnogenol® please visit www.pycnogenol.com .

Article written by Dr. Franziska Weichmann, Manager of Scientific Communications and Product Development at Horphag Research.

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