February 03, 2012

Pycnogenol: What the Heck It Is, and Why You May Want to Win Some

Hint: it comes from here.

Yes, this is indeed another review/giveaway post. But I realize it might take a little bit of explaining to get you all pumped up to win a 12 week supply of...

Pine bark pills.

But wait, don't go away!  These are "French Maritime" pine bark capsules! Doesn't that sound a bit more jaunty? Picture 'em sauntering around in sailor suits eating croissants and smoking Gauloises if that makes them sound more intriguing.

Does that help?
(Image swiped from La Maison Boheme)

Actually, there's a fair amount of research that supports a long list of potential health and cosmetic benefits for pine bark supplements. Part of the reason I took on this review/giveaway is that I was greedy to try some free for myself.

So, are you curious about what pycnogenol does, why it's awesome, and how you can win some? (And folks from Canada and Europe are eligible to win too for a change!)

I got a nifty press kit with all kinds of research on the benefits of pycnogenol, and the studies look pretty darn official and persuasive. But the problem? You'd have to come over to my house to read them yourself. I was hoping to link to the research library over at the pycnogneol website, because there's no way in hell I'm retyping a whole thick stack of studies.  But guess what?  It seems to be undergoing construction and making it extremely hard for lazy bloggers to just link over. UPDATE! It's apparently only the U.S. site that's still under construction, and there is tons of lovely pycnogenol research at their international website. Plus there's the stodgy government National Institutes of Health site MedlinePlus, which also has an impressive list of possible pycnogenol health benefits. However, they are a bit more cautious in their endorsement of the stuff.

Or heck, you can skip the actual research and just take a little informative quiz!

1. What is Pycnogenol?

a) A super antioxidant, natural anti-inflammatory which selectively binds to collagen and elastin and aids in the production of endothelial nitric oxide which helps to vasodilate blood vessels;

b) A potent recreational drug which will cause you to see purple iguanas crawling out of people's ears;

c) A placebo made of powdered Kool-Aid and pine scented air-freshener as an elaborate prank to fool greedy unsuspecting health bloggers; or

d) A large anal suppository noted for its ability to raise your speaking and singing voice 3 octaves higher.

2. Which one of the following health or cosmetic benefits is Pycnogenol supplementation NOT associated with in at least some study or other?

a) Asthma and allergy relief;
b) Increasing skin elasticity, smoothness and wrinkle reduction;
c) Lowering blood pressure;
d) Improvements in cardiovascular health;
e) Reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis;
f) Improved cognitive function;
g) Reducing pelvic pain and menstrual disorders;
h) Fighting diabetes;
i) Lowering inflammation;
j) Reducing tinnitus (ringing in the ears);
k) Fighting varicose veins;
l) Increasing athletic endurance;
m) Enabling time travel up to 500 years forwards or backwards;
n) Reducing circulation problems like leg pain and fluid retention;
o) Treating retinal disease;
p) Improving joint health.

3. Possible Side Effects of Pycnogenol May Include:

a) the sudden appearance of extra toes or fingers;
b) a boost to the immune system, which can be problematic for auto-immune disorders; dizziness; gut problems; headache; and mouth ulcers;
c)  a French accent;
d)  invisibility.

Answers: 1: a; 2: m; and 3: b... but you knew that!

What Did Crabby Notice Most From Trying Pycnogenol for 12 weeks?

It was actually first pitched as a way to "maintain beautiful skin from the inside out." Which sort of assumes you have beautiful skin to maintain in the first place. Sadly, after 5 decades of playing out in the sun, that's not what I'm starting with. Can't say I noticed a huge difference, but maybe a bit more color? I will spare you before and after photos, mostly because I forgot to take any.

However, during the testing period I found it noticeably easier and easier to extend the duration of my cardio workouts, even at a challenging intensity! The whole "increasing athletic endurance" was definitely true in my case. Was it due to the pycnogenol or some other aspect of my ever-changing routine? I have to confess I was not the least scientific about my personal experimentation. During the same period I also switched up my method of HIIT, started eating nutritional yeast, discovered mushroom powder, and had a bikini wax. So it remains unclear the exact cause of my newfound ability to dance around like an absolute ass on the elliptical machine for twice as long. But I'm superstitious enough not to want to abandon the pycnogenol at this point.

And reading the research, there were so many potential health benefits to this stuff and no side effects that were relevant to me, so it seemed a reasonable thing to keep taking just on general principle. Plus it's not outrageously expensive or anything.

So, would you like to win some stuff that might get you glowy skin, super-endurance, relief from a bunch of nagging health problems? Just leave a comment below! I'll announce the random winner in a week. Be sure to check back before the end of the day Wednesday Feb 15th to claim your prize or a new random drawing will be held.

Do you guys have any favorite supplements? Or do you try to get everything you need from your healthy diet?


  1. I'm on an antidepressant, and I've found that supplementing with 800-1000mu of Vitamin D daily along with a multivitamin (Gummy One-A-Day's, yummy!) has helped regulate my moods immensely than the antidepressant alone. I also take glucosamine chondroitin and potassium as I'm an Irish dancer and we're notoriously awful on our joints (5 ankle sprains, same ankle) and leg muscles (a ripped calf muscle is some of the worst pain ever). I'm only 27 and feel like I take more meds than my 80-something year-old grandmother, but if it keeps me from going crazy and collapsing on the dance floor, so be it!

  2. I am low on vitamin B12 and D so I take those along with omega complex/fish oil and glucosamine to help out my knee.
    I used to take a multivitamin, but since I've made a point of really eating well, I'm thinking I get enough of most things through food. There are so many awesome nutritious foods out there I'll go with those first and leave it up to my doc to suggest other ones. I find if I think about it too much I get weird about it, so I've tried to keep it as simple as possible...

    Is it too weird that I think it would be fun to take a supplement with purple iguana side effects? :)

  3. You had me at "invisibility."

    I started taking SAM-e a couple months ago and it has really helped my achy joints (osteoarthritis) -- esp. the most painful joint on my right pinky finger.

  4. Asthma, allergies & tinnitus? Yes please! I don't take a lot of supplements, mostly because the ones I've tried didn't seem to do anything for me. But I would definitely give this a try.

  5. I do both, take vitamins & supplements and eat a healthy diet. My regular supp's are a multi, fish oil, calcium, vitamin D & a B blend plus I take a probiotic tab.

  6. Am I the first commenter who doesn't take any supplements at all? I don't take much notice of the latest "superfoods" or any other health fads either, I just avoid processed or sugary food (most of the time) and keep active - seems to work.

    Of course, if I develop a health problem and I'm told that a specific supplement could help, I'll try it! What I find questionable is the whole industry of selling supplements to perfectly healthy people with the promise of magically making them even healthier!

  7. So apparently I'm not the only one with a pill dispenser full of hopes for a healthy future?

    Shadowduck, I think you're very sensible! But I see these studies and get my hopes up. Plus, there's also the handy placebo effect, so if I can just convince myself they're helping, maybe they will!

  8. It sounds interesting, but i'm not sure i want to start taking something for free that i would love and have to add to what i buy. What a dilemma!

  9. @Crabby - Good point about the placebo effect, though I'm not sure the people selling the pine bark capsules would appreciate it! #8-D

    The thing that amazes me most about the placebo effect is that it (apparently) still works even if you know you're being given a placebo and / or you don't expect the treatment to work. Anyone fancy a sugar pill?

  10. I think I had those symptoms in my residency, but it was from lack of sleep!

    Overall, I hope the "do no harm" motto would be applied to herbal remedies.

    I wish it were different, but the only real experiences I've had with drugs actually working has been with allopathic ones. I have taken stuff, but I can't really be sure if any of it has actually done anything.

  11. I am always confused about supplements. I take a mulit vitamin, and I have a friend trying to sell me herbal life products. But I generally stay away from them because I do not know how,what or why to use them. If you posted a blog solving that mystery that would be pretty much awesome!

  12. I would like to try it and see if I feel any more energetic. I already take vitamin D because of my low levels of that.

  13. Is there a supplement you can take that helps you remember to take your supplements? I always forget.

    Saw a headline the other day that caught my attention. Apparently, multi-vitamins can lead to debauchery. Clearly, I need to research this.

  14. If only my mother were still alive to read this! When she was a social worker for WPA in the thirties in south Alabama, she was horrified to find some of her clients treating their seriously ill children with pine-top tea. (There were lots and lots of pine trees there, and no money for doctors.) This seems to explain why it was a popular folk remedy. Still not a recommended treatment for diphtheria, though.

    I am torn: "reducing tinnitus" sounds tempting, but if something has "headache" among its side effects, I'm very likely to get one.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  15. I have heard about this - maybe Dr. Oz.

    First - you are funnier than sh*t!!! Second, I am 54 & need to win this! :-)

    Thx for the chance!

  16. I don't take anything except calcium and vit D.
    Why mess with perfection?

    1. Did you know that calcium supplements are the cause of heart attacks..Read up on it..I work in a hospital and they are saying that its one of the leadind causes of heart attacks now cuz it plugs the arteries..Really recomend getting rid of those supplements..

  17. I would love to try some pine bark.
    Laura G.

  18. After my doctor nixed my multvitamin and started me on individual supplements like D3 and a B-complex (along with half a dozen others) I've had to get one of those weekly pill boxes like my grandparents used. Talk about making me feel old! But of all of those, my favorite is SAM-e, which keeps me happy, by literally taking the edge off of depression. It's worth the Sun-Sat pill box!

  19. I take VitD 1000mu, VitB12, a multi-vitamin and Vit C 500 but I still seem to get sick anytime one of my kids gets sick so not sure anyting is working. Would love to try the pine bark and potentially improve my allergies and asthma!

  20. I read about this lovely wonder pill about 5 years ago, seriously and I never purchased because it seemed kind of one of those in the arsenal to keep having to take and at the time $$ was tight. Funny, I never wrote the name down but I knew in the vitamin world it was bark of a tree. The bikini wax alone awards you star of my show. Yikes. Just having my upper lip waxed was painful enough I can't imagine someone near my special places with hot wax. Someday I'll afford to do laser treatment like all the other celebrities I know.

    Currently I am not on a lot of supplements. I currently take a prenatal vitamin (nope not preggers but my doctor felt the extra vitamins were good for this not so vegetable loving self) Vitamin D and Cellular Support from Sibu Beauty (it contains buckthorn berry oil which Dr. Oz has been raving about) I may write a little review about it as I've been taking it for almost a month now and occasionally when I remember I take glucosimine for my knee, but I keep forgetting but I really should get in a habit of taking it every day. Then when I feel "off" and I know i'm getting sick I pop oscillococconum (spell?) Yikes. It works.

  21. I would love to try out pycnogenol! I used to work at a health food store but I never really took the time to find out what it was exactly or what it did. So thanks for the information :) As for what I'm currently supplementing, I take a good multivitamin every morning... or atleast remember too!

  22. People frequently ask me about supps and perhaps I should take some--but I dont.
    I do a daily multi vitamin and Im done :-)

  23. I know I should take a multi-vitamin, but am very inconsistent. Like - once a week maybe. Oops.

  24. Sound good! For me it is to keep precaution in advance. Prevention is better that cure :)

  25. I've tried the stuff. Can't recall what it did as it was in the mid-90s, but I think it did what it was supposed to.

  26. My favorite Doctor, Dr. Ken Cooper, has daily vitamins I take.

  27. I try to take my multivitamin daily, but I'm not always faithful.

  28. I am pretty darn skeptical about supplements, but I totally take the two my psychiatrist recommened. It was very much a moment of "wait- my options are either amphetamines or fish oil? sign me up for the fishy stuff!"

  29. I take a multi-vitamin and of course am now addicted to that 'shroom powder. But that's about it. Maybe some fish oil every now and again, but it tends to make me nauseaus. Today, after being up most of the night with a vomiting 2 year old, I am intrigued by anything that will give me more energy. : )

    Also - you. Bikini wax. Never thought I'd hear that!

  30. hey britt,
    I know, the bikini wax was probably WAY tmi! Unless it turns out that it really IS the secret to extra energy and endurance. With so many weird studies out there, who knows?!? But hope the poor tyke feels better & you get some sleep!

  31. I've been using Pynogenol for about 18 years. Of all the supplements I have tried, this 1 has the most possitive effects of all. The 1st thing I noticed was that my chest pain ( heart mur mur ) had completly vanished , the second was how much my skin was improving ( softer and more elastic) . As far as price, it is well worth taking for the benefits than not taking at all.

  32. I have been taking 50mg twice a day pycnogenol for about 2 months for relief of hot flashes from menopause (I was on hormone therapy for breast cancer, around the time of menopause anyway). This stuff really started kicking in after about 6 weeks. I can sleep through the night, finally. The oncologists try to prescribe a low dose of SSRI's to relieve menopause symptoms, which doesn't work at all. I have also noticed improvements in my melasma (face) and also tinnitis (too many loud concerts). There is scant data on the downside of pycnogenol. I am not on any drugs on the interactions with pycnogenol list. I would like to report tooth pain on the left side of my face, started at the bottom, now feeling it on the top, exquisite sensitivity to cold foods and liquids. My dentist is baffled- he says everything looks great. I am not sure this link is causal, but the last thing I added was the pycnogenol. Maybe others can see this post when they search for pycnogenol and tooth ache. Thanks for the great post.

  33. Hi, late to the party here, but my two cents about pycnogenol - i have been taking it pretty consistently for about 2 months now, and what I am really noticing is a reduction in my rosacea flare-ups. And by reduction, I mean there have been zero breakouts since I started taking it. I suspect that his has to do with pycnogenol's effects of the venous system, as rosacea is a vascular problem, ultimately.

    Just wanted to share. :)

  34. Pycnogenol seems to have caused some serious mood swings in my teenage daughter. She was using it for attention issues. We discontinued it and are using l-theanine instead.

  35. I just got pycnogenol on Tuesday from here: http://www.iherb.com/?rcode=HAW031 I have a migraine ATM but I'm prone to them. i also have my ears ringing out of control. I already took 2 x 60mg of pycnogenol and the reason I landed here: I was wondering about the side effects. I'm not invisible yet but I hope the time traveling doesn't have to speed up to 500 years, just to the 80's would be cool to do some stuff I missed. I do think it's improving my skin: I am waking up without the deep pillow depressions (thankfully no wrinkles here) and I do wake up lately with my face buried deep into the pillow. However I'm not sure that pycnogenol can work that fast on my skin! But my skin does look amazing, to be fair I'm on milk thistle and liver detox tea as well but since the pycnogenol my face is more "fresh" looking. But if it's giving me the migraines, I'm out of here too (but again I'm prone to severe migraines that end up in vomitting sorry for the TMI!) Anyway I got the NOW foods brand, cheap & reputable but it's not organic and MCS might be triggered for me if these trees are laden with pesticides, fumigated with fungicide etc... That's my next google: do they spray these French maritime pines or are they "wildcrafted"? If so why doesn't the brand say so? UGH! My ears and migraine are pounding will research this later. Sorry for rambling!

    1. Hey thanks for the input, and if you do get around to finding out the cheapest source that's still safe and wouldn't mind stopping back here, that would be awesome! My blood pressure dropped since I started taking it, but I also did a hundred other different things so I'm not sure if it was the pycnogenol or not.

      And good luck with the migraines, that sucks!

    2. Hey thanks for your kind reply and sorry for the years delay, just found this again! The migraines were caused by too much estrogen. However, I found out that a USA company buys all French pycnogenol and chemically alters it, making it unhealthy! That's all Haupage brand pycnogenol, they control it in USA so all supplements with it, no matter the brand, in USA are no good (ineffective and toxic). The benefits I described were placebo as they didn't last past a few days! Google it, it's at Natural News site. I found hyaluronic acid caps to be much more effective: plump skin depressions, lines and even lips! Go here for the cheapest is NOW foods brand: http://www.iherb.com/specials/?rcode=HAW031
      The double strength has proline amino which builds collagen. I also drink organic white tea, helps build collagen & elastin too, at same website, Prince of China is organic.
      Add coupon code HAW031 to cart for $5 off plus free shipping if order reaches $20. It gives you shipping info BEFORE you sign up! Hope this helps!! =)

  36. My 15 year old son has been told he has venous insufficiency. He is 6' 2" and plays basketball and is very active. His lower extremeties turn bright red with purple splotches. His sister did the research and told us about Pycnogenol. We got some yesterday at GNC. We hope it helps his "older person's condition". btw...did you do the giveaway? Who won it? And you are kinda humorous. Thank you. Melissa (Rafi's mom)

  37. Hi..I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease back in 1976. During emergency surgery for an exploded intestine, I was given blood. In 1999 another surgery for Crohn's),they discovered the blood transfusions had also given me Hep C. In 2011, after experiencing some pain under my ribcage, it was discovered that the Hep C was working it's magic on my liver. I was put on the treatment for Hep C, which is what they use for Cancer, and I lasted 2 months before it destroyed my immune systems resulting in bacterial pneumonia,a hemoglobin count of 67, black slime coming out of my body and 6 days in the hospital. Well, you can imagine how my trust of the regular health care system has dropped to almost zero! I decided I was going to go with some alternative care and started researching what I could do to help myself. I am taking Milk Thistle, Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin e to help my liver and just started taking Pycnogenol for the anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidants benefits. I will let you know how that all goes. Just a note...my liver levels have been sitting in a normal range since taking my supplements...I am going to credit that to my regime which I described above!
    Thank for listening,


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)