Pine Bark (Pycnogenol)
Pine bark extract is made from the bark of the maritime pine tree, which contains naturally occurring substances called proanthocyanidins. Pine bark extract is usually sold under the brand name Pycnogenol®, which is also the name of a group of compounds that contain proanthocyanidins derived from several other plants. Regardless of the brand, pine bark extract is valued for its antioxidant properties and as a natural remedy and treatment for ED/erectile dysfunction.
Pine Bark (Pycnogenol) and Erectile Dysfunction
Several studies have suggested that pine bark may be beneficial for men who have erectile dysfunction. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, a formulation of pine bark and l-arginine aspartate (Prelox®) or placebo was randomly given over six months to 124 men aged 30 to 50 who had moderate erectile dysfunction. Scores on the International Index of Erectile Function improved significantly in the men who took the supplement, reflecting an improvement in erectile function, along with some evidence that erectile function continues to improve the longer the therapy is used. (Ledda 2010)
In a previous study that used the same formulation, 50 men who had mild to moderate erectile dysfunction took either the pine bark and l-arginine aspartate supplement or placebo for one month. At the end of the study, the men who had taken the supplement reported erectile function had returned to normal and that the frequency of intercourse had doubled. Both blood pressure and cholesterol levels had declined in the men who took the supplement, and testosterone levels had increased. (Stanislavov 2008)
In an early double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study, men with erectile dysfunction were given 120 mg of Pycnogenol daily. Erectile function improved in the men who took Pycnogenol whereas placebo had no effect. (Durackova 2003)
Another early study examined the possibility of resolving erectile dysfunction by increasing the level of endogenous nitric oxide. The study included 40 men, aged 25 to 45 years, who had erectile dysfunction. During the three-month trial, the men received 3 ampoules of Sargenor daily (equivalent to 1.7 g arginine). Beginning in the second month of the trial, the men added 40 mg Pycnogenol twice daily, and this was increased to three 40-mg Pycnogenol tablets during the third month. Each of the participants completed a sexual function questionnaire and sexual activity diary.
After the first month of the trial, only 2 (5%) of the men experienced a normal erection. The use of both arginine and Pycnogenol during the second month increased the number of men with restored sexual ability to 80 percent. After the third month of the trial, 92.5 percent of the men experienced a normal erection. The authors concluded that “oral administration of L-arginine in combination with Pycnogenol causes a significant improvement in sexual function in men with ED without any side effects.” (Stanislavov 2003)
Other Health Benefits of Pycnogenol
Pycnogenol and arginine may be promising for men who have mild infertility. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, 50 infertile men were assigned to take either placebo or Prelox (a combination of L-arginine aspartate and Pycnogenol) daily for one month. Men who took Prelox showed a significant increase in semen volume, concentration of spermatozoa, percentage of motile sperm, and percentage of sperm with normal morphology when compared with men in the placebo group. Among men who took Prelox, the fertility index improved to normal values. Once the men stopped taking Prelox, however, the fertility index declined to infertile status. The study’s authors concluded that “Prelox seems to be a promising alternative to treat patients with mild infertility.” (Stanislovov 2009)
A few small studies indicate Pycnogenol may reduce swelling in chronic venous insufficiency (Cesarone 2006), while others suggest it can lower blood sugar in some diabetics. A recent study found that Pycnogenol was effective in counteracting kidney damage in patients with kidney disease by lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow to the kidneys. (Cesarone 2010)
Several claims have been made about pine bark’s ability to fight cancer. Thus far these have been limited to laboratory studies, one of which found that Pycnogenol may have some impact against lung cancer cells. (Gandin 2009) In another study, Pycnogenol induced cell death (apoptosis) in human leukemia cells. (Huang 2005)
Health care professionals recommend varying doses of pine bark extract/Pycnogenol. Consult a knowledgeable practitioner before taking pine bark supplements. For now, taking pine bark extract alone or as part of a combination supplement is likely safe and could provide health benefits overall.
Cesarone MR et al. Kidney flow and function in hypertension: protective effects of pycnogenol in hypertensive participants—a controlled study. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol Ther 2010 Mar; 15(1): 41-46.
Cesarone MR. Comparison of Pycnogenol and Daflon in treating chronic venous insufficiency: a prospective, controlled study. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost 2006; 12(2): 205-12.
Durackova Z et al. Lipid metabolism and erectile function improvement by Pycnogenol®, extract from the bark of Pinus pinaster in patients suffering from erectile dysfunction—a pilot study. Nutr Res 2003;23:1189–98.
Gandin V et al. Effects of the antioxidant Pycnogenol on cellular redox systems in U1285 human lung carcinoma cells. FEBS J 2009 Jan; 276(2): 532-40
Huang WW et al. Pycnogenol induces differentiation and apoptosis in human promyeloid leukemia HL-60 cells. Leuk Res 2005 Jun; 29(6): 685-92
Ledda A et al. Investigation of a complex plant extract for mild to moderate erectile dysfunction in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-arm study. BJU Int 2010 Oct; 106(7): 1030-33
Stanislavov R et al. Improvement of erectile function with Prelox: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. Int J Impot Res 2008 Mar-Apr; 20(2): 173-80
Stanislavov, R et al. Improvement of seminal parameters with Prelox®: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Phytotherapy Research 2009; 23: 297–302.
Stanislavov R, Nikolova V. Treatment of erectile dysfunction with pycnogenol and L-arginine. J Sex Marital Ther 2003; 29:207-13.