Pycnogenol and Eye Health

December 7, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

It’s difficult to conceive of any circumstance in which you’d purposefully eat the bark of a tree. Fruit from a tree, sure. Seeds? Possibly. Leaves? That might be pushing things a bit, but still plausible. But tree bark?! Technically, you can eat some varieties of tree bark in a survival situation. But I think most people would need to be in pretty dire straits to resort to that last ditch option. Fortunately for us all, a select group of scientists have been studying the health benefits of a specific tree bark in an attempt to derive a natural medicine from it. I’m pleased to report that their promising research now allows mankind to benefit from the goodness of tree bark by swallowing a pill rather than chewing on “tree skin”.

Pycnogenol is the trade name for an extract derived from the French maritime pine tree (Pinus maritima), which grows primarily in the coastal regions of southwest France. It’s prized due to its unique composition of antioxidant phytochemicals known as proanthocyanins. What sets this particular supplement apart from many others is that it has been the subject of 200 scientific studies over the past 40 years. The main reason why many alternative remedies are not taken seriously or considered illegitimate by conventional medical authorities is because of the lack of scientific evidence. However, there is a downside to the volume of research that’s been conducted on pine bark extract – the cost of financing so many experiments is passed along to the consumers who buy it. That’s the bottom line. If we want clinically tested products, we have to be willing to pay more for them.

A very common side effect of diabetes is known as diabetic retinopathy (DR). It’s estimated to affect almost half of the Americans diagnosed with diabetes. DR is the result of damage to blood vessels and capillaries in the eyes that is caused by excess sugar in the blood stream. Once the vessels are injured, their walls leak blood and protein (exudate) which ultimately prevents adequate blood flow to the eyes. The good news is that a recent study published in the Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics suggests that Pycnogenol may discourage the harm caused by diabetic retinopathy.

A group of Italian researchers enrolled 46 diabetic patients in a 3 month study to evaluate the potential protective effect of Pycnogenol on the progression of DR. 24 of the participants were given 150 mg of the pine bark extract once-daily, while the remainder (22 volunteers) received a similar looking placebo. All of the subjects in the study had been diagnosed with diabetes for a minimum of 4 years and had blood sugar levels under control via diet and/or medication. They also had one other characteristic in common: they were all in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. The beginnings of this condition involve retinal swelling caused by the previously mentioned fluid leakage.

  • 18 of the 24 patients receiving Pycnogenol reported positive changes in vision based on testing that involved the use of a standardized eye chart (Snellen Chart).
  • The Snellen Chart test results indicated that visual clarity improved from an initial score of 14/20 to 17/20 after just 2 months of pine bark supplementation.
  • The scientists noted a decrease in retinal swelling (edema) which was verified via “dilated opthalmology” and “high resolution ultrasound”.
  • “Laser Doppler flow velocity measurements” also demonstrated dramatically improved blood flow (from 34 cm/s to 44 cm/s) in the central retinal artery of the Pycnogenol treated volunteers.
  • The group receiving the placebo did not register any detectable benefits.

As a whole, the authors concluded that “Pyconogenol taken at this early stage of retinopathy may enhance retinal blood circulation accompanied by regression of edema, which favorably improves vision in patients”. A German review from all the way back in 2001 corroborates these current findings. That summary cites studies from as far back as the 1960’s which support Pycnogenol’s ability to “increase capillary resistance” and reduce the “progression of retinopathy” which “partly recovers visual acuity”. The summary mentions 5 studies which involved a total of 1,289 patients. Unfortunately, the older research isn’t widely accessible today so this current trial is of particular value. (1,2)

I’ve identified several mechanisms by which Pycnogenol likely supports both diabetic and ocular health. Here’s a brief summary of my findings:

  • A study published in the July 2008 edition of the journal Molecular Vision describes how a combination of pine bark and bilberry extracts increased blood flow in the “central retinal, opthalmic and posterior ciliary arteries” of patients suffering from glaucoma (hypertension of the eyes). The enhancement of circulation is probably a major contributor to the health benefits found with Pycnogenol. Numerous studies have discovered that this pine bark extract can improve blood flow in a variety of conditions ranging from chronic venous insufficiency (varicose veins) to erectile dysfunction and even age-related, cognition disorders brought about by inadequate blood flow to the brain. (3,4,5,6,7,8,9)
  • Pycnogenol has also exhibited a more direct influence on the processes by which diabetes exacts damage in the body. It appears to do so in several ways: a) by inhibiting carbohydrate digestion via an enzyme known as alpha-glucosidase, thereby lowering post-meal glucose elevation; b) by assisting with long term blood sugar control (HbA1c); c) by improving nerve conduction and health and; d) by combating oxidative stress in the eyes of those with diabetic retinopathy. (10,11,12,13,14,15)
  • Poor cardiovascular health generally plays a roundabout role in any condition that is characterized by inadequate blood flow. Diseased arteries and compromised endothelial function are a prescription for an unhealthy circulatory system. Pine bark extract has consistently been shown to: a) lower inflammation, LDL (“bad”), oxidized cholesterol, high blood pressure and; and b) “inhibit platelet function” and possess an “antithromobotic effect”, both of which can prevent blood clots. (16,17,18,19,20,21,22)

Many of you probably know that I have a profound interest in the health effects of a low carbohydrate diet. This is the type of menu plan which recently allowed me to healthfully lose 85 lbs. At the moment my fasting blood sugar levels are excellent, ranging from 80 to 90 mg/dl. A Kenyan study published in 2006 in the Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics explored the possibility of combining a low carbohydrate diet along with Pycnogenol in an animal model of diabetes. The low carbohydrate was found to reduce “organ damage” and eliminate cataract formation in the diabetic rats – as compared to those receiving a “regular diet”. When the scientists added Pycnogenol to the mix, an increase in antioxidants were found in the retinas of the laboratory animals. These combined results lead the researchers to conclude that “a low carbohydrate diet plus Pinus maritima (Pycnogenol) may be an effective antioxidant and antihyperglycemic therapy, reducing the risk of diabetic retinopathy and cataract formation”. (23)

As I’ve mentioned before, the highest compliment I can pay a supplement is to ask my wife or family to take it. Pycnogenol is one of a small group of antioxidants that I feel is worthy of that honor. It’s true that it’s quite expensive, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than not staying well. Don’t get me wrong, I value a good bargain. That’s why I keep an eye out for less expensive alternatives that are equally effective or even superior to what I currently recommend. It’s possible that in the future, another bark will come along that costs less and accomplishes more. In fact, a newly released study suggests that a different variety of pine (Pinus brutia) may actually be a more potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent (in an animal model) than Pycnogenol. This may be due to a higher concentration of two key phytochemicals referred to as catechins and taxifolin contained in this “new” pine extract. Only time will tell if Pinus brutia will one day become the new Pycnogenol. Until then, we’ll stick with the original pine bark extract and hope to find the same benefits that countless scientists and studies have already documented. (24,25)

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Nutrition, Nutritional Supplements

19 Comments & Updates to “Pycnogenol and Eye Health”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Morning JP 🙂

    wow congrats to your great weight loss!! I think weight loss or weight maintaining with lowcarb is the healthiest and yummiest way ;-), low carb lifestyle is great and diversified like nothing else.

    i read recently that pycogenol isn’t only a good antioxidant it can – if applied toppically on skin – reduce this advanced glycation process in the skin and it extends the hayflick limit (number of times cells divide before they stop). so its also very interesting as a skincare ingredient. maybe it reduces or inhibits the formation of advanced glykation endproducts in the body too. would be perfect.

    best wishes
    Nina K.

    ps: read very interessting about olive leaf extract…

  2. Anonymous Says:

    It’s great to see that researchers are finding new, innovative and more natural ways to address serious health problems. I agree with you – I too would rather take a pill then to chew on, what you like to call “tree skin”.

    Best Wishes

  3. JP Says:

    Thanks, Nina! 🙂

    Pycnogenol is indeed quite wonderful for the skin (and probably all connective tissue).

    Back “in the day”, when I used to consult for health food stores, we would often recommend using Pycnogenol and/or grape seed extract orally and topically.

    Kyolic and Pycnogenol increase human growth hormone secretion in genetically-engineered keratinocytes

    Evidence by in vivo and in vitro studies that binding of pycnogenols to elastin affects its rate of degradation by elastases

    I mostly focus on maintaining my own skin via diet and supplementation. But I’ve been known to apply “spent”/used tea bags (chamomile, green tea or rooibos) to my face after I drink the tea itself! 🙂

    I’d love to learn more about the olive leaf news you referred to. I know olive leaves are full of antimicrobial phytochemicals, potent antioxidants and they appear to be at least part of the reason for the cardioprotective effects of olives (fruit) and olive oil.

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Thanks! 🙂

    Be well!


  5. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    “It’s difficult to conceive of any circumstance in which you’d purposefully eat the bark of a tree.”

    I understand that is quite popular in North Korea.

  6. JP Says:

    I hope that’s no longer the case. Here’s a news item about it from 2000:

    Very sad.

  7. Nina K. Says:

    Hello JP,

    i use grape seed extract too, in my skincare and i drink it in my fav Bordeaux wine ;-)from which i had too much yesterday 🙂

    thanks for the links, very interesting.

    for skincare it is really very good to use teabags especially green or white tea (you know), sometimes i make a vitamin a and e treatment with red palm oil, wash it of with green tea, very good.

    thats a other rec from me for a healthy skin glow: eat extra virgin organic red palm oil. makes really a difference.

    See us above 😉
    Nina K.

  8. Nina K. Says:

    Hi JP,

    they write that olive leaf extract fights MRSA! Great!

    Nina K.

  9. JP Says:

    It sounds like you take excellent care of your skin, Nina! I’ll get it does glow! 🙂

    Thank you for the link about olive leaf and MRSA. So called “super bugs” are a major problem in modern health care (and beyond). Someone we know recently had a very serious encounter with MRSA while in the hospital. Very scary!

    Be well!


  10. Arrow Says:

    A few years ago while working in hospice I had a patient who was 96 years old and of the Mormon faith. Keeping record and remembering the trials and knowlege of their ancestors is very important to them. She told me that her mother learned to use pine bark extract made from local pine trees in Utah for colds and flu and to maintain a strong system in general. Originally, the recipe had come from the Native Americans local to Utah.

    Of course, I was most interested and when she told me she had some of the recepies written down somewhere I encouraged her to find them for me. But, alas, she was a hospice patient and her endurace and health did not permit her to find and share the information. Perhaps it is enough to know that pine bark from pine trees other than the French Maritime is worth some research.

    I myself have concluded that the extracts from a varitey of pine trees may offer significant health benefits. There is also the possibility that using local trees will assist in allergy problems. How many people suffer from pine pollen or mountian cedar allergy? Local trees made into appropriate preparation may be the answer for them.

    In my quest to find more natural and organic and sustainable sources of supplemental nutrients I have found guidance in making my own pine bark extract which I hope to experiment with next year.

  11. Arrow Says:

    I forgot to mention that the local Native Americans in Utah back in the 1860’s used pine bark tea as the main system of administration.

  12. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Arrow! 🙂

    I’d love to hear about what you discover while using your homemade pine bark extract. I hope your experimentation yields very interesting and positive results!

    Be well!


  13. Hilla Abel Says:

    Thanks for this summary!

  14. JP Says:

    You’re welcome, Hilla!

    Be well!


  15. Shara Helmstadter Says:

    The company I partner with has a wonderful line of supplements and a few with the Pycnogenol ingredient. Ours becomes isotonic when mixed with water so it is 98 percent bioavailable to the body. I have been taking it for a few years and must say my allergies are gone and I haven’t been ill in almost 2 years! Love it 😉

  16. JP Says:

    Update: More evidence showing benefit of Pycnogenol (and other antioxidants) in diabetic retinopathy …

    Indian J Ophthalmol. 2015 Jan;63(1):9-14.

    Circulating levels of reactive oxygen species in patients with nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy and the influence of antioxidant supplementation: 6-month follow-up.

    AIMS: The aim was to evaluate circulating levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and changes in central macular thickness (CMT) in patients with nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) after antioxidant supplementation.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: A total of 68 patients (68 eyes) with NPDR were enrolled. Patients were randomly divided into two groups: Treated with antioxidant supplement (Group A) and untreated control group (Group B). Each tablet, for oral administration, containing pycnogenol 50 mg, Vitamin E 30 mg and coenzyme Q10 20 mg. CMT and free oxygen radical test (FORT) were analyzed at baseline (T0), 3 (T1) and 6 (T2) months in both groups.

    RESULTS: In Group A, FORT levels and CMT were significantly reduced over time (P < 0.001 for both). In Group B, FORT levels were increased (P < 0.001) and CMT did not vary significantly (P = 0.81) over 3 time points. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study showing the reduction of ROS levels in patients with NPDR thanks to antioxidant therapy. Moreover, our findings have suggested also an influence on retinal thickness. Be well! JP

  17. JP Says:

    Update: Maqui berry extract shows promise re: dry eye symptoms …

    Panminerva Med. 2014 Sep;56(3 Suppl 1):1-6.

    MaquiBright™ standardized maqui berry extract significantly increases tear fluid production and ameliorates dry eye-related symptoms in a clinical pilot trial.

    AIM: Dry eye symptoms, resulting from insufficient tear fluid generation, represent a considerable burden for a largely underestimated number of people. We concluded from earlier pre-clinical investigations that the etiology of dry eyes encompasses oxidative stress burden to lachrymal glands and that antioxidant MaquiBright™ Aristotelia chilensis berry extract helps restore glandular activity.

    METHODS: In this pilot trial we investigated 13 healthy volunteers with moderately dry eyes using Schirmer test, as well as a questionnaire which allows for estimating the impact of dry eyes on daily routines. Study participants were assigned to one of two groups, receiving MaquiBright™ at daily dosage of either 30 mg (N.=7) or 60 mg (N.=6) over a period of 60 days. Both groups presented with significantly (P<0.05) improved tear fluid volume already after 30 days treatment. Schirmer test showed an increase from baseline 16.3±2.6 mm to 24.4±4.8 mm (P<0.05) with 30 mg MaquiBright™ and from 18.7±1.9 mm to 27.6±3.4 mm with 60 mg (P<0.05), respectively. Following treatment with 30 mg MaquiBright™ for further 30 days, tear fluid volume dropped slightly to 20.5±2.8 mm, whereas the improvement persisted with 60 mg treatment at 27.1±2.7 mm after 60 days treatment (P<0.05 vs. baseline).

    RESULTS: The burden of eye dryness on daily routines was evaluated employing the "Dry Eye-related Quality of life Score" (DEQS), with values spanning from zero (impact) to a maximum score of 60. Participants had comparable baseline values of 41.0±7.7 (30 mg) and 40.2±6.3 (60 mg). With 30 mg treatment the score significantly decreased to 21.8±3.9 and 18.9±3.9, after 30 and 60 days, respectively. With 60 mg treatment the DEQS significantly decreased to 26.9±5.3 and 11.1±2.7, after 30 and 60 days, respectively. Blood was drawn for safety analyses (complete blood rheology and -chemistry) at all three investigative time points without negative findings.

    CONCLUSION: In conclusion, while daily supplementation with 30 mg MaquiBright™ is effective, the dosage of 60 significantly increased tear fluid volume at all investigative time points and decreased dry eye symptoms to almost a quarter from initial values after two months treatment.

    Be well!


  18. JP Says:

    Update 05/18/15:

    Panminerva Med. 2015 Sep;57(3):121-5.

    Recurrence of retinal vein thrombosis with Pycnogenol® or Aspirin® supplementation: a registry study.

    AIM: The aim of this study was to use Pycnogenol® to reduce the recurrence of retinal vein thrombosis (RVT) after a first episode. Pycnogenol® is an anti-inflammatory, anti-edema and an antiplatelet agent with a “mild” antithrombotic activity. The registry, using Pycnogenol® was aimed at reducing the number of repeated episodes of RVT.

    METHODS: Possible management options – chosen by patients – were: standard management; standard management + oral Aspirin® 100 mg once/day (if there were no tolerability problems before admission); standard management + Pycnogenol® two 50 mg capsules per day (for a total of 100 mg/day). Number of subjects, age, sex, distribution, percentage of smokers, and vision were comparable.

    RESULTS: Recurrent RVT was seen in 17.39% of controls and in 3.56% of subjects supplemented with Pycnogenol® (P<0.05 vs. controls). There was RVT in 15.38% of the subjects using Aspirin®. The incidence of RVT was 4.88 times higher with standard management in comparison with the supplement group and 4.32 lower with Pycnogenol® supplementation in comparison with Aspirin®. Vision level was better with Pycnogenol® (20/25 at nine months; P<0.05). With Pycnogenol®, edema at the retinal level was also significantly reduced compared to the other groups. Pycnogenol® has a very good safety profile. In the Aspirin® group 26 completed 9 months and 6 subjects dropped out for tolerability problems. In the Aspirin® group, 2 minor, subclinical, retinal, hemorrhagic episodes during the follow-up were observed (2 subjects out of 26, equivalent to 7.69%). This pilot registry indicates that Pycnogenol® seems to reduce the recurrence of RVT without side effects. It does not induce new hemorrhagic episodes that may be theoretically linked to the use of Aspirin® (or other antiplatelets).

    CONCLUSION: Larger studies should be planned involving a wider range of conditions, diseases and risk factors associated to RVT and to its recurrence.

    Be well!


  19. JP Says:

    Updated 2/4/16:

    Cesk Slov Oftalmol. 2015 Winter;71(6):288-92.

    [ProVens® in the Therapy of Glaucoma and Ocular Hypertension].

    OBJECTIVE: To assess the effect of the ProVens® dietary supplement administration on intraocular pressure in patients with glaucoma and ocular hypertension.

    MATERIAL AND METHODS: The patients included in the trial were given the ProVens® dietary supplement once daily. One ProVens® tablet contains: 50 mg of maritime pine bark extract, 100 mg of green tea extract, and 3 mg of blueberry extract. The main ProVens® components are proanthocyanins from the bark of the maritime pine tree Pinus pinaster, polyphenols from green tea, and anthocyanins from blueberries. The total number of patients included in the trial was 46. Out of these, 35 patients were monitored for asymptomatic ocular hypertension and 11 patients for open-angle glaucoma treated with prostaglandin analogs. Intraocular pressure was measured by applanation tonometry in the beginning of the trial, after one month, and after three months of their inclusion in the trial, always at the same time of the day.

    RESULTS: In the group of patients with ocular hypertension, there was a statistically significant reduction in the intraocular pressure from the baseline values of 24.2 ± 2.1 mm Hg to 20.9 ± 2.5 mm Hg within the period of three months (p < 0.0001). In the group of patients with open-angle glaucoma, there was a statistically significant reduction of the intraocular pressure from the baseline values of 18.4 ± 3.2 mm Hg to 17.0 ± 3.1 mm Hg within the period of three months since the beginning of administration of the product (p = 0.022). When comparing both groups, we observed a significantly higher reduction in intraocular pressure (p = 0.0001) in the group of patients with ocular hypertension. In the whole group, no adverse effects were reported during the intake of this dietary supplement. CONCLUSION: Intake of the ProVens® dietary supplement containing proanthocyanins from the bark of the maritime pine tree Pinus pinaster together with a mixture of herbal antioxidants appears to be one of the methods of how to improve the control of intraocular pressure, particularly in patients with ocular hypertension. Be well! JP

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