Woman surrounded by French pine trees

7 Pycnogenol Benefits You Need to Know

Even if you don't consider yourself a "tree hugger," once you learn about the health benefits of the extract from one specific tree, the French maritime pine, you might find yourself driven to embrace this evergreen, which grows mainly in the Mediterranean and in parts of Europe.

Why? French maritime pine bark contains an extract called pycnogenol that is packed with health benefits for your brain, skin, respiratory system and more. Here's everything you need to know about pycnogenol—plus, how to choose the best pycnogenol supplements (since it's not like you can add tree bark to your diet!).

Pycnogenol® is a registered trademark of Horphag Research Ltd.

What is pycnogenol and how does it work?

With most supplements, plant extracts are commonly taken from fruits, seeds, or leaves, and even the roots, but the bark has the most bite in the case of the French maritime pine tree. Pycnogenol is an extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree (which is also known as the Pinus pinaster).

Pycnogenol is mostly known for its vascular and sexual health support. Hhowever, research has shown that this pine bark extract may have additional applications, including cognitive support, skin health support, and more.

Pycnogenol's benefits stem in part from its high flavonoid content, which provides antioxidant protection that's twice as powerful as vitamin E and four times greater than vitamin C. Pycnogenol also helps support collagen membranes and provides vascular health support by inhibiting a specific enzyme called ACE. In addition, a large review of studies show that pine bark can help support a healthy inflammatory response by reducing levels of C-reactive protein, which in turn provides immune system benefits and supports heart health.

Now, let's go in-depth on the 7 health benefits of supplementing with pycnogenol.

Why you should supplement with pycnogenol: 7 health benefits

1. Cognitive support

In a clinical study published in 2022, daily supplementation of pycnogenol was shown to help support cognitive function in the elderly and resulted in improvements in spatial memory. Pycnogenol was also found to support cognitive function in young adults: in an eight-week study of students ages 18-27, pycnogenol promoted attention, memory, executive function and mood significantly better than controls.

In addition, a preclinical study found that pycnogenol could significantly support against amyloid-beta plaques, proteins in the brain that can impact memory.

2. Skin health

Pycnogenol is an antioxidant that might provide some photoprotection, which means defense against UV exposure! In addition, research shows it may support skin barrier function and skin elasticity. A clinical study also showed that the pine bark extract fights free radicals in the skin and may promote skin moisture.

3. Urinary health

In a clinical study published in 2021, 60 days of pycnogenol supplementation significantly supported urinary health and did so better than cranberry extract given for the same amount of time. However, when combined with other dietary supplements like cranberry extract, the urinary health benefits might be improved.

4. Respiratory support

Pycnogenol may help support nasal defense for seasonal immune challenges. When taken well in advance of spring, pycnogenol was shown in clinical research to support the nose and eyes with no significant adverse effects.

5. Supports already-healthy cholesterol

If you are seeking to support healthy cholesterol levels with supplements, pycnogenol shouldn't be the first choice, but some evidence suggests it provides some benefit. In a clinical study, those that supplemented with pycnogenol for 8 weeks saw significant for total cholesterol compared to control. Pycnogenol also showed support for such areas as waist circumference and waist-to-height ratio. Supplements that include additional nutrients, such as gotu kola, can help promote arterial health.

6. Helps maintain already-healthy blood pressure

In a meta-analysis of 12 clinical trials totaling 922 participants, pycnogenol was shown to support healthy blood pressure better than the control after 12 weeks of supplementation. The analysis showed that pycnogenol helped support already-healthy levels of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

7. Supports men’s sexual health

Clinical research has shown that pine bark extract may provide significant sexual health benefits for men. Pycnogenol provides sexual health support by promoting endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), which is an enzyme that creates nitric oxide. Endothelial cells release eNOS to help relax the arteries and increase blood flow by boosting nitric oxide levels and this same mechanism also has cardiovascular health benefits. It can be combined with other ingredients in a sexual health supplement to support multiple aspects of male sexual function.

So, pick pycnogenol if you need these health benefits and want to support your overall well-being!

Pro tip: To find the right heart health supplement for you, take Life Extension’s heart health quiz.

How much pycnogenol should you take?

Most clinical studies show that 100-200 mg daily of procyanidin-rich pycnogenol is an effective dose. Life Extension offers a bottle of Pycnogenol® French Maritime Pine Bark Extract in a 1-2 month supply of 60 vegetarian capsules.

How to find a high quality pycnogenol supplement

It's important to look for the proper standardization of procyanidins, which are plant compounds that provide the health benefits of pycnogenol. Life Extension offers a pycnogenol product that has a standardization of 65%, which is what was used in the clinical studies.

Best time to take pycnogenol

Research hasn't shown that there is an optimal time to take this bark extract—so take it whenever it is convenient to you.

Should you take pycnogenol on an empty stomach?

Pine bark extract can be taken with or without food without altering the effects.

Can I take pycnogenol with other supplements?

Yes. There are no safety concerns with combining this pine bark extract with other supplements. Depending on what other health benefits you are trying to achieve, it's likely you will want to take more than just one formula, anyway!

Can I take L-arginine with pycnogenol?

Yes! And if sexual satisfaction is your goal, you probably should, since this duo supports male blood flow, sperm quality and satisfaction during intercourse. L-arginine and pycnogenol complement each other because together they can provide a greater release of nitric oxide, which provides support for vascular health and sexual health in men. This is because pycnogenol acts on an enzyme called endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), which converts L-arginine into nitric oxide in the endothelium. (Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels; this is an endothelium-dependent function that allows for greater blood flow.)

How do these two nutrients help support healthy sperm levels and sperm quality? If you guessed the enhancement of nitric oxide production you'd be partially correct, but it's also because this pairing does a good job fighting free radicals which could have an impact on sperm.

With this support of blood flow and sperm quality, it's probably not surprising that a clinical study showed that the combination of pycnogenol and L-arginine resulted in male sexual satisfaction and reportedly improved intercourse.  

The clinical research conducted on the two together thus far has only evaluated them in the context of sexual health, but research suggests that L-arginine may have other benefits such as supporting already-healthy blood pressure levels, and it may provide some modest benefits during strenuous exercise in overweight men.

About the Author: Chancellor Faloon is a graduate of Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. He is dedicated to disseminating guidance on achieving better health and wellness. He has had various roles in the company, but scientific writing has always been his top priority. Chance has also raced in multiple full and half marathons.


Heart Health Favorite