Pycnogenol ®

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

grapes where we can find seeds containing the compound used for PycnogenolIn 1951, a French researcher named Dr. Jacques Masquelier patented the process of extracting proanthocyanidins from the bark of the European coastal pine tree. The extracted proanthocyanidins, which are powerful antioxidant nutrients from the bioflavonoid family of compounds, were named Pycnogenol® (pronounced Pick-nah-geh-nol).

The name pycnogenol can refer to two things. Besides Dr. Masquelier’s trademarked compound, Pycnogenol® is also the name of a variety of compounds that contain proanthocyanidins (the active ingredient in Pycnogenol). These compounds can be derived from a variety of natural sources, such as grape seeds, which contain a high concentration of these substances.

The extracted proanthocyanidins (PCO) functions the same way as Vitamins C and E. By scavenging free radicals, it can help to prevent or delay the onset of aging, inflammation of the muscles, joints and other tissues, plus improper functioning of the circulatory system, nervous system (including brain cells) and immune system.

Many believe that Pycnogenol® is one of the most powerful antioxidants, with properties that can protect against arthritis, complications from diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and circulatory problems such as swelling and varicose veins. Other benefits reported include the improvement of memory and joint flexibility and reduction in stress and inflammation.

It has also been claimed that Pycnogenol® supplements are much more effective in eliminating free radicals than Vitamins E and C. Although antioxidants’ benefits have been recorded in many scientific studies, it must be noted that many exaggerated claims such as complete cancer reversal is still lacking.

What makes PCO so effective? Firstly, it is rapidly absorbed due to its excellent water solubility and distributed throughout the body within twenty minutes. It can be retained for as long as 72 hours while it neutralizes free radicals and prevents oxidation. It also works synergistically with other anti-oxidants thereby enhancing their effects. The results usually noted are delayed signs of aging, improved circulation as well as a stronger immune system. PCO also arms the human body with excellent antioxidant nutritional support for a variety of body repairs. It makes capillaries less susceptible to fragility and rupture; consequently, PCO is useful in blood vessels related conditions like varicose veins, peripheral hemorrhage, diabetic retinopathy,

Compared to other nutrients normally prescribed for the above conditions, PCO demonstrated a threefold improvement of their damaged capillaries. PCO works by inhibiting the release of unwanted collagenases, which breaks down proteins. Whenever there is tissue damage and/or inflammation, these collagenases are released, thus causing the decay of the fragile capillary walls. Proanthocyanidins strengthen our capillary walls, making them valuable for circulatory disorders of all veins, hardening of arteries, and impaired blood flow to the brain.

Grape Seed Extract

19 years after Dr. Masquelier patented the process, proanthocyanidins were also extracted from grape seeds. Pycnogenol®’s bioflavonoid concentration is 85% while that of grape seeds’ stands is higher at 92% to 95%. The cost of the grape seed extract is also much cheaper.

Pycnogenol vs. Grape Seed Extract

Some people have replaced their vitamins supplements totally with Pycnogenol®, thinking that it offers better protection. This is an incorrect assumption. It should be understood that any compounds with proanthocyanidins cannot take the place of the other vitamins. PCOs work together with vitamins to increase the overall effectiveness of each other. In other words, PCOs should be taken in addition to and not in place of common well-researched and established antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E. For practical purposes, the small difference in bioflavonoid concentration between Pycnogenol® and grape seed extract is insignificant for the same dosage. Based on cost factors however, grape seed extract is usually recommended.


Common dosage for well-being: 50 to 300 mg a day.

Therapeutic dosage for circulatory and capillary problems: 200-1,000 mg a day. It is also recommended to take Vitmain C, proline, and lysine for circulatory problems.

Significantly higher dosages are needed for specific problems. Dr. Robert Atkins, for example, reported the use of 1,000 mg three times a day to limit heavy menstrual flow. Therapeutic effects can be seen as early as one month, with menstrual flow reduced from 7 days to 4 days.
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