Pine bark extract has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.
Pycnogenol is derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. Studies have shown that it is effective in treating many inflammatory conditions, skin disorders, and poor blood circulation because of its antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties. It was also shown to be effective in treating erectile dysfunction when used in combination with L-arginine. Animal studies indicate that pycnogenol exhibits protective effects against cardiac toxicity caused by the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin, but human data is lacking.
Chronic venous insufficiency
Several clinical trials support this use.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
One study found pycnogenol is not effective in treating ADHD in adults.
This use has not been proven by clinical studies.
A preliminary study supports this use. More clinical trials are needed.
There are limited clinical data showing pine bark extract can be used together with standard blood pressure medication.
Limited studies have been conducted and more trials are needed to establish this use.
Do Not Take If
You have hypersensitivity to pine bark
You are using anticoagulant and/or antiplatelet drugs: Pine bark extract can inhibit platelet aggregation and may increase risk of bleeding when used with these drugs.
Lowered energy levels
Many pine bark extracts on the market are not standardized and the concentration of active components and bioactivities are hard to determine.
Obtained from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, Pinus maritima, pine bark extract consists of proanthocyanidins and is marketed under the tradename Pycnogenol®.
In vitro and animal studies indicate that pine bark extract has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory (6), immunostimulant (1), and neuroprotective (31) effects. Pine bark extract may also have antiviral and antimicrobial activities. It inhibits HIV attachment and replication (15), suppresses encephalomyocarditis virus (EMV) replication (16), and represses Helicobacter pylori growth and adherence to gastric cells (17).
Pine bark extract has been studied in humans for various conditions. Preliminary research suggests that it reduces menopausal symptoms in peri-menopausal women (8), relieves symptoms of dysmenorrhea (27), and improves osteoarthritic symptoms (9)(10). It is also used to treat skin disorders such as hyperpigmentation (11), erythema (12), endometriosis (13), and systemic lupus erythematosus (14).
Pine bark extract can improve endothelial dysfunction (2)(33) and chronic venous insufficiency (5). Chewing gum containing pine bark extract may reduce gingival bleeding and plaque accumulation (19). When used in conjunction with L-arginine, Pycnogenol is effective in improving symptoms of erectile dysfunction (18)(29). Pycnogenol supplementation also enhanced memory in elderly participants (7). Studies of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults and in children yielded mixed results (3)(4). A systematic review concluded that large-scale studies are needed to establish the value of Pycnogenol in the treatment of chronic disorders (34).
In vitro studies show antimetastatic effects of pine bark extract (32). Pycnogenol may also protect against cardiotoxicity caused by doxorubicin without antagonizing its cytotoxic activity (20). Preliminary findings from a study involving cancer patients suggest usefulness of pycnogenol is reducing adverse effects associated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy (30). Further research is needed.
Adverse effects may include irritability and decreased energy especially when used for ADHD.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Chronic venous insufficiency
Mechanism of Action
The primary constituents of pine bark extracts are procyanidins and phenolic acids (35). Pine bark extract acts as an antioxidant by scavenging reactive oxygen and nitrogen species and suppressing production of peroxides (21). It increases the activities of antioxidant enzymes by increasing the intracellular glutathione levels (22). In addition to increasing NO production which induces vasodilation (2), pine bark extract also blocks the NF-kB activation stimulated by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and inhibits production of adhesion proteins that cause inflammation and atherosclerosis (22).
An in vitro study suggests that Pycnogenol induces apoptosis in human breast cancer cells and not in normal breast cells although the mechanism is not clear (23). Other in vitro studies have also shown that it reduces neuronal apoptosis, an important feature of Alzheimer’s disease, by decreasing free radical generation (24). In animal studies, pine bark extract exhibits a protective effect on cardiotoxicity caused by antitumor drugs, such as doxorubicin, due to its ability to act as a free-radical scavenger (20).