Pycnogenol: Antioxidant Superstar? (Part 1)

By Amy Campbell | August 6, 2007 2:05 pm

Pinus pinaster, more commonly known as Pycnogenol, is a lesser-known antioxidant that has quietly hit the nutrition supplement scene. Pycnogenol is extracted from the bark of the French maritime pine, grown in coastal southwest France. This supplement contains a handful of phytonutrients, including proanthocyanidins, bioflavonoids, and organic acids. And while you may not have heard too much about this supplement, its list of possible health benefits is quite impressive. Let’s take a look.

Pycnogenol may help people with diabetes in a couple of different ways. First, there’s evidence that it can directly impact blood glucose levels. In one study published in Diabetes Care in 2004, people with Type 2 diabetes who took Pycnogenol had both lower fasting and postmeal blood glucose levels. Another study showed that taking Pycnogenol along with metformin (brand name Glucophage and others) and acarbose (Precose) lowered blood glucose levels even more than metformin and acarbose alone.

Pycnogenol may play a role in eye health, too, by preventing or slowing down the progression of diabetic retinopathy. In France, Pycnogenol is commonly prescribed to people with retinopathy. The theory is that the proanthocyanidins in this supplement strengthen small blood vessels in the retina, making them more elastic, which helps improve circulation. A study with 30 people who had diabetic retinopathy showed promising results. Participants were given 50 milligrams of Pycnogenol three times daily, while a control group of 10 people took a placebo. After two months, the folks in the Pycnogenol group had either no worsening of their retinopathy or showed some improvement compared to the placebo group, whose retinopathy progressed.

Blood pressure
Pycnogenol may help lower blood pressure. A study of 58 people with high blood pressure taking a calcium-channel blocker drug showed that adding 100 milligrams of Pycnogenol each day helped to lower blood pressure levels, enabling the people to reduce their dose of blood pressure medicine. Researchers believe that Pycnogenol’s antioxidants help blood vessel walls to relax, or dilate, thereby helping to lower blood pressure.

Next week, we’ll look at the role of Pycnogenol in fighting deep vein thrombosis and asthma, as well as side effects and dose recommendations for the supplement.


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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.

Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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