Cardiovascular health. Some small early studies suggested that Pycnogenol reduces blood pressure and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but research since then has been inconsistent. In a 2013 study in Phytotherapy Research, obese people undertook a diet and exercise program for six months; the half who took Pycnogenol experienced greater reductions in blood pressure, waist size, triglycerides, and blood sugar and a larger increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol. In contrast, a 2014 analysis of seven studies, in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, found no effect on cholesterol or triglycerides.
One of the largest and best-designed studies on pine bark extract (using a Japanese product, not Pycnogenol), published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found no reduction in blood pressure or any other benefits in people at high risk for cardiovascular disease who took the supplement for 12 weeks.
Chronic venous insufficiency. As noted in a 2014 review in Phytotherapy Research, a dozen placebo-controlled studies have suggested that Pycnogenol can help treat chronic venous insufficiency, which causes poor circulation in the legs, resulting in swelling, varicose veins, and possibly leg ulcers and clots.
Menopausal symptoms. Among several studies suggesting benefits, an eight-week Italian study in Panminerva Medica found that Pycnogenol reduced hot flashes and other symptoms, compared to a placebo, as did an independent 12-week Japanese study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine.
Cognitive health. An older Australian study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that Pycnogenol improved some aspects of working memory in older adults compared to a placebo, but produced no changes in most other cognitive skills. Similarly, in an Italian study in the Journal of Neurosurgical Sciences in 2014, healthy middle-aged people who took the supplement showed more improvement in certain cognitive skills than a control group.
General reviews. An independent Cochrane review of 15 studies on Pycnogenol for the treatment of asthma, ADHD, chronic venous insufficiency, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, hypertension, and osteoarthritis concluded that, despite some positive findings from individual trials, the studies were too small, limited, and potentially biased to draw any conclusions about the efficacy and safety of the supplement.
Natural Medicines, a comprehensive database on research about complementary and alternative therapies, lists more than 30 conditions for which Pycnogenol is used. It concludes that the supplement is “possibly effective” (equal to a “C” rating) for hay fever, asthma, athletic performance, chronic venous insufficiency, and cognitive function, but that there is insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for all of the other conditions.
See also: Pycnogenol: A Pine Bark Cure-All?