In southern France, the beautiful and lush forests are home to a species of French pine trees (Pinus pinaster) that contain unique health-promoting properties. Its use dates back to the 1500s when French explorer Jacques Cartier and his sailors struggled with scurvy – frank vitamin C deficiency – during their long sailing voyages from France to the New World. The story goes that First Nations tribes shared their ancestral wisdom with Cartier and used the local pine tree bark as a decoction (e.g. herbal tea) to prevent scurvy.
Today, we know that pine bark is a good source of vitamin C (the cure for scurvy) as well as numerous phytochemicals, natural plant compounds that support better health. The “all-stars” of the group are proanthocyanidins, powerful antioxidant compounds (more potent than Vitamin C and E) that provide a wealth of added health benefits. Let’s take a closer look below.
Boost Antioxidant Status
If you’re overweight, out of shape, or in poor health, your body will produce an excess of free radical compounds that trigger inflammation throughout the body, damaging your DNA and compromising your health. Antioxidants extinguish these internal fires. Research has shown that Pycnogenol – a patented formula of pine bark extract – is able to prevent and minimize this oxidative damage from free radicals.1Ensuring you eat a diet high in vegetables and fruit is also important to lay the foundation for robust antioxidant intake (coffee is another great source, just remember to ditch the sugar!).
Improve Erectile Dysfunction (Blood Flow)
Pine bark extract has a significant impact on nitric oxide (NO) levels in the body, which are responsible for vasodilation and improving blood flow. A recent study found the combination of pine bark extract and arginine (an amino acid that also boosts NO production) were effective for improving mild to moderate erectile dysfunction.2 If you struggle with low libido or erectile dysfunction, or suffer from high blood pressure, boosting NO levels in the body is an effective strategy for helping to reverse these conditions.
Balance Blood Sugars
Pine bark extract may provide some added benefits for you if you struggle with high blood sugar, pre-diabetes, or diabetes. A double blind, placebo-controlled study of 77 diabetic patients taking their prescription medications, along with 100mg of supplemental Pycnogenol, found greater improvement in blood sugar control and cardiovascular health when pine bark extract was combined with diabetic medications.3 (Make sure to talk to your doctor before combining any supplements with current medications you’re taking.)
Fight Off Common Colds
There is nothing more annoying than a nagging cold; it stalls your productivity at work and in the gym. A study of 146 people suffering from a common cold found supplementing with Pycnogenol was able to reduce the duration (i.e. the number of days) and severity (i.e. the intensity of the symptoms you experience) of the colds.4 This is great news for keeping up your pace, even if you’ve got the sniffles.
Boost Brain Function
If you’ve been struggling with forgetting small details – like where you put your car keys or what you’re supposed to pick up for dinner – you may be suffering from the early signs of age-related cognitive decline. Stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep can all contribute to sub-optimal brain function, and while diet and exercise are fantastic for boosting healthy brain function, so too is pine bark extract. New research shows that adults over the age of 55, supplementing with Pycnogenol over the course of one year, showed superior results in brain related tasks compared to placebo groups.5 The researchers believe the benefits stem from pine bark extract’s antioxidant effects and ability to reduce oxidative stress (associated with poor diet, high stress, lack of exercise, etc.).
Protect Skin From Sun Damage
Getting enough sun exposure and vitamin D is crucial for your health and vitality. New research shows that not getting enough sun exposure is as dangerous to your health as smoking.6 Unfortunately; you don’t want to sacrifice your skin along the way. The addition of supplemental pycnogenol has been shown to offer protection from harmful UVB rays and may reduce hyperpigmentation and improve skin barrier function.7 If you spend a lot of time in the sun, this can be a nice added skin support.
Cytokines are a group of pro-inflammatory molecules that are released when you get a cold or flu, suffer from a fall or injury (or train too hard in the gym!), or if you’re struggling with a chronic health condition. Research shows that pine bark extract is capable of reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1 and IL-6, responsible for many of the adverse effects of chronic inflammation.8
Pine bark extract can make a great addition to your nutritional arsenal for its potent antioxidant support, as well as its added support for blood flow, blood sugar, inflammation, immunity, brain function and skin support. Pycnogenol is a standardized supplement formula guaranteed to contain at least 65-75% proanthocyanidins, the active ingredient that triggers all these benefits. Remember, a good diet and regular exercise should always be the foundation for building your best health. However, sometimes the body needs a little added support and supplemental Pycnogenol can go a long way to keeping your brain and body sharp this winter.
By Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
Dr. Marc Bubbs is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor, Sports Nutrition Lead for the Canadian Men’s Basketball Team, and author of The Paleo Project.