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Top Five Reasons to Take Pine Bark Extract

Article at-a-glance:

  • Pine bark benefits the entire vascular system and has been shown to promote healthy blood pressure and improve blood flow.
  • A review of 24 different studies looking at nearly 1600 individuals found that pine bark promoted healthy systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
  • Clinical trials also show pine bark supports healthy cholesterol levels
  • This versatile plant can also benefit people with osteoarthritis since studies show it promotes a healthy joint range of motion and reduced pain.
  • Pine bark benefits sleep in perimenopausal women.
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There are over 60,000 species of trees on earth, and their bark, fruit, and leaves are the sources of many foods and medicines. One of the most popular extracts comes from the bark of pine trees, which is rich in health-promoting flavonoids, antioxidants, and polyphenols.[1] It has been utilized in many cultures, from Chinese to Native American.[2] The polyphenols, known as oligomeric proanthocyanidins, have been widely studied for their nutritional and health properties.

Amazingly, the timber industry considered pine bark to be a useless waste product, and only over time did it become clear that the bark is a rich source of potent, health-promoting nutrients.[3] The proanthocyanidins help pine trees fight off insects and microorganisms, and in humans, they offer antioxidant activity as well as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective, and neuroprotective action.

Pine bark extracts have been widely studied in osteoarthritis, asthma, cardiovascular health, cognition, perimenopause, diabetes, inflammatory conditions, varicose veins, lupus, hypertension, sleep, and many other conditions.[4] Many of the studies have been randomized, controlled clinical trials and research shows that pine bark extract is well absorbed and significantly increases blood levels of healthy polyphenols.[5]

Better Blood Pressure

Nearly half of all U.S. adults have some type of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.[6] This includes hypertension (high blood pressure) and atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries). Unfortunately, these conditions often have no obvious symptoms, which is why heart disease is called a silent killer.[7] Some common annoying ailments, including cold hands and feet or erectile dysfunction may indicate poor circulation.

One major contributor to coronary artery disease is often overlooked: ‘sticky’ blood. Think of your blood as a river, and imagine it clear and flowing; or sluggish, muddy and slow. The thickness of blood predicts how easily it moves through your blood vessels and how well it can deliver oxygen and nutrients. This thickness is called blood viscosity. High blood viscosity is a contributing factor to high blood pressure, strokes, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).[8]

Fortunately, there are many natural approaches to improve blood viscosity, and pine bark extract provides important support for optimal blood flow. The many vascular conditions that pine bark benefits—from hemorrhoids to varicose veins to coronary artery disease and hypertension—demonstrate its ability to support healthy blood flow and blood pressure.

Several reviews and meta-analyses conclude that pine bark helps lower blood pressure. In one 2018 review of nine studies involving 549 individuals, pine bark exerted beneficial effects on blood pressure.[9] The combined data from these studies revealed an overall benefit of pine bark on blood pressure, with the systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) decreasing by 3.22 mmHg and the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) decreasing by 3.11 mmHg.

Another review of 24 randomized, controlled clinical trials with nearly 1600 volunteers found that pine bark significantly decreased both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Their analysis showed that overall systolic blood pressure decreased 2.54 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure decreased 1.76 mmHg. The reduction was greater in individuals already suffering from hypertension.[10]

Another study looked at the effect of pine bark on stage 1 hypertension, which is defined as a systolic blood pressure of 130 to 139, and a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89.[11]

Healthier Cholesterol

Twenty-five people took 150 mg per day of pine bark extract for six weeks. Pine bark significantly lowered LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 7% and raised ‘good’ HDL cholesterol by 10.4%.[12] Additionally, the total blood polyphenol levels increased 23% compared to baseline and their blood ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score, which indicates the ability to quench free radicals, increased by 40%.

A large-scale double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial with 200 perimenopausal women with high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) gave them either 200 mg pine bark extract per day or placebo for six months. In women taking pine bark, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol significantly decreased by 9.9%, and HDL (“good”) cholesterol increased by 4.6%.[13]

Improved Circulation

Pine bark also promotes healthy circulation. A 2004 study in the journal Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis looked at pine bark extract on long plane flights averaging around eight hours. A total of 211 individuals were randomized to take 200 mg pine bark extract or placebo before, during, and after a flight. In the control group there were five thrombotic events (one DVT and four superficial blood clots) but none in any of the volunteers taking pine bark extract.[14]

The study results were similar to another study in which volunteers on a long flight were given a combination of pine bark extract and nattokinase or placebo.[15] In this study, participants took 182.5 mg (3650 fibrinolytic units) nattokinase plus 300 mg pine bark extract or placebo. In volunteers who were not taking the combination of nutrients, 7.6% of them experienced blood clots versus none of those taking the nutrients. Additionally, compared to those not taking the nutrients, people taking nattokinase and pine bark extract decreased leg swelling by 27%, indicating improved circulation.

Finally, pine bark protects cells that line our blood vessels—called the endothelial cells. Damage to these cells is a significant risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Pine bark has been shown to help clear free radicals from these cells, increase their antioxidant activity, enhance nitric oxide production and dilate blood vessels, which allows more blood flow and can improve blood pressure.[16]

In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of 23 patients with coronary artery disease (CAD), eight weeks of taking 200 mg of pine bark extract or placebo followed by a 2-week washout period, pine bark improved in blood flow. In the volunteers taking pine bark extract, flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), a measurement of blood flow, significantly increased by 5.4% while it didn’t improve at all in the placebo group. This was demonstrated by a noninvasive ultrasound that examined the blood flow in the brachial artery (in the upper arm).[17]

Decreased Joint Pain

Osteoarthritis leads to reduced mobility and increased pain and is increasingly common as our population ages. Though it primarily affects the hips and knees, it can be found in other joints as well. Pine bark supports joint health by countering the inflammation and destructive inflammatory enzymes that block the synthesis of collagen and damage joints.

In three separate clinical trials of pine bark extract, all randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled, middle-aged sufferers of osteoarthritis were given either 100 or 150 mg of pine bark extract or a placebo. Pain and stiffness were reduced, and physical functioning was improved. In one of the studies, which looked at 156 individuals for three months, participants on pine bark were able to nearly triple their distance walking on a treadmill, while their pain was reduced by 56% (as compared to only 10% in the placebo group). This improvement was so marked that it affected mood and well-being, with a significant decrease in irritability, frustration, depression, and insomnia for those taking pine bark extract. These individuals also took far less NSAIDs.[18]

In a randomized, placebo-controlled study of 100 individuals suffering from mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis, 150 mg of pine bark taken with meals led to a significant reduction in pain, compared to no reduction for placebo. The study lasted 3 months, and the researchers found numerous inflammatory molecules and free radicals were inhibited.[19]

Better Sleep

Pine bark extract has been shown to promote healthy sleep in women suffering from insomnia during perimenopause. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 170 perimenopausal women aged 42-58, taking 60 mg pine bark taken daily for three months was effective at reducing insomnia and improving poor sleep, including difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, and waking up too early in the morning with the inability to fall back asleep. Many other symptoms associated with perimenopause, such as hot flashes, sweating, and moodiness also significantly decreased.[20]

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References
[1]Cui Y, Xie H, Wang J. Potential biomedical properties of Pinus massoniana bark extract. Phytother Res. 2005 Jan;19(1):34-8.  [Article]

[2]Tümen I, E.K. Akkol, H. Tastan, I. Süntar, M. Kurtca, Research on the antioxidant, wound healing, and anti-inflammatory activities and the phytochemical composition of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster Ait), J. Ethnopharmacol. 211 (2018) 235–246.

[3]Jerez M, Selga A, Sineiro J et al. A comparison between bark extracts from Pinus pinaster and Pinus radiata: antioxidant activity and procyanidin composition. Food Chem 100:439–444. [Article]

[4]Alternative Medicine Review. Monograph, Thorne Research. 2003 (8):4; 442-450 [Report]

[5]Devaraj S, Vega-López S, Kaul N, et al. Supplementation with a pine bark extract rich in polyphenols increases plasma antioxidant capacity and alters the plasma lipoprotein profile.Lipids 2002, 37(10):931-934. [Article]

[6]American Heart Association. Cardiovascular diseases affect nearly half of American adults, statistics show. January 2019 [Report]

[7]Memorial Care Medical Group. Coronary Artery Disease Can Be a Silent Killer. [Report]

[8]Naghedi-Baghdar H, Nazari SM, Taghipour A, et al. Effect of diet on blood viscosity in healthy humans: a systematic review. Electron Physician. 2018;10(3):6563–6570. [Article]

[9]Zhang Z, Tong X, Wei YL, et al. Effect of Pycnogenol Supplementation on Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Iran J Public Health. 2018 Jun;47(6):779-787. [Article]

[10]Malekahmadi M, Moradi Moghaddam O, Firouzi S et al. Effects of pycnogenol on cardiometabolic health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pharmacol Res. 2019 Dec;150:104472 [Article]

[11]Valls RM, Llauradó E, Fernández-Castillejo S, Puiggrós F, Solà R, Arola L, Pedret A. Effects of low molecular weight procyanidin rich extract from french maritime pine bark on cardiovascular disease risk factors in stage-1 hypertensive subjects: Randomized, double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled intervention trial. Phytomedicine. 2016 Nov 15;23(12):1451-1461 [Article]

[12]Devaraj S, Vega-López S, Kaul N, et al. Supplementation with a pine bark extract rich in polyphenols increases plasma antioxidant capacity and alters the plasma lipoprotein profile. Lipids 2002, 37(10):931-934. [Article]

[13]Yang HM, Liao MF, Zhu SY, Liao MN, Rohdewald P. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on the effect of Pycnogenol on the climacteric syndrome in peri-menopausal women. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2007;86(8):978-985. [Article]

[14]Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Rohdewald P, et al. Prevention of venous thrombosis and thrombophlebitis in long-haul flights with pycnogenol(r). Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2004;10(4):373-377. [Article]

[15]Cesarone MR, Belcaro G, Nicolaides AN, et al. Prevention of venous thrombosis in long-haul flights with Flite Tabs: the LONFLIT-FLITE randomized, controlled trial. Angiology. 2003;54(5):531-539. [Article]

[16]Nishioka K, Hidaka T, Nakamura S et al. Pycnogenol, French maritime pine bark extract, augments endothelium-dependent vasodilation in humans. Hypertens Res. 2007 Sep;30(9):775-80. [Article]

[17]Enseleit F, Sudano I, Périat D et al. Effects of Pycnogenol on endothelial function in patients with stable coronary artery disease: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over study. Eur Heart J. 2012 Jul;33(13):1589-97 [Article]

[18]Rohdewald PJ. Review on Sustained Relief of Osteoarthritis Symptoms with a Proprietary Extract from Pine Bark, Pycnogenol. J Med Food. 2018 Jan;21(1):1 [Article]

[19]Cisár P, Jány R, Waczulíková I et al. Effect of pine bark extract (Pycnogenol) on symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. Phytother Res. 2008 Aug;22(8):1087-92. [Article]

[20]Kohama T, Negami M. Effect of low-dose French maritime pine bark extract on climacteric syndrome in 170 perimenopausal women: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Reprod Med. 2013 Jan-Feb;58(1-2):39-46. [Article]

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