Pine bark extract might sound like a magic elf potion, but it’s a legit supplement that comes from the bark of maritime pine trees that grow in the Mediterranean. It’s often sold under the name Pycnogenol, but you can also find it labeled as Oligopin or Flavogenol.
Pine bark extract is sometimes touted as a cure-all, so it can be tempting to pop a drop or a pill and see what happens. But before you do that, it’s worth taking a look at the actual evidence. Here’s what the supp might be able to do for your health, plus how to take it safely.
Nah — sorry, guys. Pycnogenol is touted as having a slew of possible benefits, thanks to its ability to fight inflammation, stimulate immune system action, ease swelling, and exert antioxidant effects.
The key word here is possible though. There’s science to suggest that pine bark extract could be promising for a bunch of health woes. But in most cases more evidence is needed.
With that important caveat out of the way, let’s dig into the deets. Here are some of possible pine bark extract uses.
Bolster immune defenses
Pine bark extract seems to rev the immune system into action when it perceives a possible threat. Taking it at the first sign of a cold might make your symptoms a little less severe and ease the need to manage symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) meds.
One recent study even suggested that pine bark extract’s anti-inflammatory benefits could help people recover faster from COVID-19 and reduce the risk for long-term complications. But there’s def still a lot to learn here, so talk with your doc before taking pine bark extract to help you recover from any kind of illness.
Give a brain boost
A bunch of high qual studies have shown pine bark extract to be beneficial for cognitive function. (Antioxidants FTW!) And not just for older people! A daily dose of the stuff has been shown to improve mental function and memory in healthy adults and even help college students perform better on tests.
Boost athletic performance
Wanna go longer and harder? Taking a regular dose of pine bark extract might help keep annoying muscle cramps at bay and help you recover faster so you’re ready to go for your next training session.
Help with asthma
Taking pine bark extract along with your regular asthma control meds might help you manage your symptoms better and make you less dependent on your rescue inhaler. But obv, you shouldn’t use it in place of your meds.
Make your skin look good
All that antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power might mean that pine bark extract can help protect your dermis from sun damage, reduce hyperpigmentation, and even help your skin barrier function more effectively.
It’s all promising stuff, but still, please talk with your doc before adding pine bark extract to your skin care regimen, OK?
A study looking at kids found that after a month of taking Pycnogenol, the subjects were calmer, more coordinated, and better able to concentrate. (And after they stopped taking the pine bark extract, their symptoms worsened.)
The results were convincing enough that researchers suggested the stuff has potential to be used as a natural supplement for relieving ADHD symptoms. Nice.
Ease allergy symptoms
Pine bark extract’s anti-inflammatory powers seem to be helpful for keeping seasonal allergy symptoms from getting totally out of control. The catch? It works best when taken on the reg at least 5 weeks before your symptoms typically start.
Ease jet lag
Taking pine bark extract 3 times a day for a week before a long flight was found to make jet lag less intense and help it go away faster. The stuff seems to possibly help reduce the swelling in your brain that happens when you’re adjusting to a new time zone, which in turn seems to minimize symptoms.
Promote heart health
Supplementing with Pycnogenol seems help reduce some of the risk factors that can up the chance for a heart attack, thanks to its ability to fight inflammation and promote blood vessel relaxation. The existing research looked at women going through menopause, so consider it a helpful FYI for that stage of life.
Help wounds heal… maybe
Applying pine bark extract to the wounds of diabetic rats (yes, diabetic rats) seems to help speed the healing process. File it under good to know… but def don’t replace your Neosporin with Pycnogenol just yet.
There’s enough research out there on pine bark extract to know that it has a tendency to cause some annoying (but generally mild) side effects. These could include:
- stomach irritation
- low energy
- mouth sores
- bad breath
Glad you asked. Because human studies are lacking, pine bark extract is *possibly safe* when taken by mouth in doses of 50 to 450 milligrams daily (depending on what it is being taken for) for up to 1 year. That said, it’s always a really good idea to talk with your doctor before adding any new supplement to your routine.
Remember! Just because something is “natural” doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for you or even harmless.
Another important FYI: Some people might be at risk of potentially serious side effects from pine bark extract. You shouldn’t take the stuff if:
- You’re pregnant or breastfeeding. There’s not enough evidence to say that it’s for sure safe, so don’t risk it.
- You have an autoimmune condition. Since pine bark extract can stimulate the immune system, it might make your symptoms worse.
- You take antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs. The supplement could up your risk for bleeding if you’re taking these meds.
- You have diabetes. It’s possible that pine bark extract could mess with your blood sugar.
Pine bark extract has been studied for a ton of different health benefits. In particular, it might be helpful for dealing with colds and allergy symptoms, boosting your athletic and cognitive performance, and protecting your skin. But the perks are far from guaranteed, you might deal with some annoying side effects.
Most important, pine bark extract definitely isn’t for everyone. If you’re thinking about taking it, get the green light from your doctor first to make sure you’re supplementing safely.