In the 1950s Jacques Masquelier, a French researcher, discovered a class of flavonoids which were found to improve circulation and repair tissue in the body. Eventually Masquelier’s search for an efficient source of this substance led him to the pine trees which grow along the coastline of southern France.
What is French Maritime Pine Bark Extract?
An increasing number of clinical trials have found that French maritime pine bark, or pine bark extract for short has diverse and highly favourable pharmacological properties. Extract of maritime pine bark contains a flavonoid known as oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC). This type of flavonoid also occurs naturally in certain plants and fruits such as cranberries, blackcurrants and bilberries as well as in the seed and skin of grapes and in green and black tea. However, for supplement purposes, the OPCs present in maritime pine bark contain a certain molecular structure which makes for a highly effective antioxidant.
How are OPCs Extracted from Pine Bark?
Maritime pine trees have an abundance of OPCs within their bark which makes them an ideal source for the harvesting and extraction of this powerful antioxidant. The process is achieved by soaking the bark in warm water then pressing the pulp which literally squeezes the extract from the bark.
How Does Pine Bark Extract Help with Health Issues?
It helps in three ways:
- As an aid to a healthy circulation
- As a restorative to tissue damage
- As an antioxidant
As an aid to a healthy circulation
One of the main functions of OPC’s is to keep the blood flowing efficiently. Therefore, including pine bark extract as a dietary supplement will help strengthen blood vessels, which in turn increases blood flow, resulting in healthy tissue and circulatory function. Because it helps with improved delivery of oxygen to cells, pine bark extract is effective to people who have suffered a stroke.
Because of French maritime pine bark’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, taking it in supplement form gives protection against cellular damage as evidenced in the many clinical trials and studies which have shown favourable results for a variety of medical issues.
As a restorative to tissue damage
Maritime pine bark has also been shown to give highly effective improvement in dealing with skin issues. One of the most difficult-to-remedy skin problems is sun damage and consequent premature ageing of the skin — particularly the complexion. Clinical trials have shown a significant decrease in skin photo-aging as well as a reduction in the pigmentation of age spots.
As an antioxidant
We hear a great deal about free radicals and the need for antioxidants to eliminate them, but what is going on in our body that means we have a constant need to play a biological game of ‘zap the free radical’? It’s true that substances from the good food choices we make will help our immune system to kill off these rogue cells, but often our body could do with extra help in the form of a more concentrated source of antioxidant to help protect us from falling prey to disease. This is where maritime pine bark extract comes in.
Why Do We Need Antioxidants?
Our body is constantly attacked by atoms known as oxidants (or free radicals) which are unpaired electrons. These atoms are on a mission to find another electron to pair up with and in doing so they frantically bump and crash into other atoms, causing damage. The destructive behaviour of free radicals can cause otherwise healthy cells to malfunction or die, which results in a weakened immune system, leading to poor health and leaving us vulnerable to illness and disease.
Free radicals are caused by pollution and by over-exposure to ultra-violet radiation. Pollution comes in many guises, such as rancid oil used to deep fry our take-away meal, as well as the more obvious such as breathing in cigarette smoke and fumes from heavy traffic. Insufficient exercise causes free radicals to flood our bodies, and have you ever noticed that following, or during, a particularly stressful time, you tend to fall prey to viruses such as the common cold? Stress plays havoc with our immune system, allowing free radicals to get the upper hand.
Antioxidants are our greatest allies. They protect us from the onslaught of free-radical damage which our cells need to fight every day of our lives. They protect us from constant vulnerability to illness and without them our bodies couldn’t withstand the attack caused by environmental toxins and also bad food choices.
Health organisations and government guidelines recommend we eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day and these directives carry a strong message. But the fact is, five a day is the absolute minimum needed to give ourselves a fighting chance of continued good health. The reason we need to eat fruit and vegetables is because they contain those vital antioxidants. Brightly coloured and black-skinned berries and the dark green leaves of vegetables such as kale, broccoli and spring cabbage are particularly effective. These are known as ‘super foods’ as they give us higher levels of antioxidant protection. The active ingredient extracted from French maritime pine bark is also rich in these antioxidant properties called proanthocyanidins.
Natural Foods Which Contain OPCs
What are the compounds found in certain plants which provide these protective antioxidants? They come from a group called polyphenols which in turn, belong to a class of chemicals known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are those foods and substances which have antioxidant properties. They are made up of phenolic acids, catechin, taxifolin and procyanidins.
Here are some foods which contain OPCs:
- Red and black grapes
- Grape seeds
- Red wine
- Red cabbage
- Apple peel
- Ginkgo biloba
It is the presence of OPCs which gives these foods their red/blue/purple pigment and this makes an easy guide for choosing to include them in your diet. When you eat these jewel-coloured fruits and vegetables, you are helping to defend yourself from free-radical damage and the inflammation which so often opens the door to disease.
Eating a diet which is rich in brightly coloured plant-based foods, together with black-skinned berries and green vegetables, helps our body defend itself against free radical invaders. Some may find eating in this way to be quite challenging, whilst others may struggle to consume enough of these foods, so it is reassuring to know that a natural supplement can do much to support a healthy diet.
Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties of Pine Bark Extract
OPCs contain some of the most powerful antioxidants known to man, so supplementing your diet with a high quality pine bark extract will not only give serious protection from the destructive effect of free radicals, but it can even help to repair existing damage.
What Ailments can Pine Bark Extract Improve?
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children
- Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Diabetes Management (Type 2)
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Menopausal Symptoms
- Skin Damage
ADHD is a psychiatric disorder which has been found to respond well to extract of pine bark. A study was conducted in which sixty-one children were given 1 mg per day of pine bark extract over a trial time of four weeks. This trial was a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, and results showed that all the children who were given the supplement showed a significant reduction in hyperactivity, attention span and visual-motoric coordination. Their concentration span was also much improved. One month after the supplements were stopped the original ADHD symptoms returned, showing a benefit in treating this condition with pine bark extract.
Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy – This is a very common problem for many men as they reach senior years. An enlarged prostate gland may cause difficulty in the flow of urine from the bladder. It also often increases the frequency of urination, particularly through the night.
A study was carried out into the benefits of maritime pine bark to improve prostate symptoms, with a particular emphasis on safety and tolerability. The supplement was administered over a period of 60 days and results of the study, taking into account symptoms such as bladder emptying, frequency, intermittency, urgency, weak flow, straining, nocturia, all showed a significant improvement. It was concluded that maritime pine bark extract might be an important option for self-management of BPH in otherwise healthy men.
Cardiovascular Disease – Trials have been carried out to assess the benefits of pine bark in the management of blood pressure and lipoprotein-cholesterol in cases of cardiovascular disease. After 5 weeks, an amount of 150 mg per day of OP showed a raise in good cholesterol and reduction in apolipoprotein (responsible for atherosclerosis). It also reduced the systolic blood pressure.
Diabetes Management (Type 2) – Trials using pine bark extract have shown successful conclusions in helping with cardiology issues associated with diabetes.
Pine bark is also an excellent supplement for help with the management of diabetes as its circulation-boosting properties can greatly improve the function of the tiny blood vessels supplying blood to the eyes and to the extremities, especially the feet. A sluggish circulation can lead to damaged nerves of the feet; a condition called neuropathy.
Erectile Dysfunction – This is one of the sexual health issues which has been found to benefit from maritime pine bark extracts. It has been found that taking it in conjunction with L-Citrulline has the best results in helping overcome the problem of ED.
ED is often an early complication of Type 2 diabetes (diabetes mellitus), but it is also a problem which is experienced by many men of more senior years who find themselves in the situation where they wish to enjoy the pleasure of sexual intercourse but due to a reduced libido, often find themselves unable to achieve or maintain a strong enough erection to proceed to full sexual intercourse. In many cases even where the libido is still strong, an erection may be difficult to achieve due to an impaired circulation. ED can often occur in younger men due to various mental or physical issues. In all of these instances, pine bark extract has been found to be effective in boosting the circulation of blood to the penis, resulting in an improved sexual experience.
A randomised, placebo-controlled study found that natural polyphenolic extract improved erectile function in a diabetes mellitus group by 45%. This figure compares to a non-diabetes Mellitus group whose improvement was also positive, with a 22% result.
Menopausal Symptoms – In a study to evaluate the effect of polyphenolic extract for easing the most frequently experienced symptoms of menopause, a dosage of 100 mg over an eight-week period was given to 38 women as a daily supplement. A parallel group of 32 women with similar symptoms was followed up for the same length of time. No adverse side effects were reported. A range of 33 symptoms was assessed and six of the most common symptoms, namely, hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods, loss of libido and vaginal dryness showed a decrease after 8-week supplementation.
Further symptoms related to fatigue, sleeping disorders, concentration and memory problems, dizziness, depression and irritability, all improved significantly.
It was concluded that maritime pine bark extract significantly reduced signs and symptoms associated with menopausal transitions in the women taking part in the study.
Osteoarthritis – Due to its positive effect in other inflammatory diseases, a study was carried out into the effect on patients with osteoarthritis. The study aimed to assess whether pine bark extract could reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomly allocated trial. This particular study focused on patients with osteoarthritis stages I and II. 100 patients received three months of treatment with 150 mg pine bark extract per day at meals, or by a placebo.
Results saw patients reporting an improvement and a significant alleviation of pain. Those taking the placebo reported no effect. The trial concluded that polyphenolic extract effected an improvement in symptoms in patients with mild to moderate OA.
Skin Damage – Photoaging of the skin is often due to repeated over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation, either from the sun or from artificial UV sources such as sunbeds. Due to its polyphenol-rich ingredients, French maritime pine bark extract has become well known for its ability to improve the clinical symptoms of photoaged facial skin. Taken as a dietary supplement, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have been found to help reduce ultraviolet radiation damage to the skin and may protect human facial skin from the symptoms of photoaging.
A randomised trial involving 112 patients with mild to moderate photoaging of the skin, was carried out and concluded that clinically significant improvement in photodamaged skin could be achieved with pine bark extract.
What is the Recommended Dose of French Maritime Pine Bark Supplements and What is the Best Source?
Doses 40-60 mg have been recorded as being effective over a prolonged period of time. However, recent research has established that a daily supplement of 150mg is the optimum amount for adults. In cases where a serious health problem is being addressed, then a higher intake of up to 300mg daily is recommended.
Ordinarily, most pine bark supplements will contain between 40mg and 60mg whereas the premium quality and optimum amount is now established to be 150mg per day.
Pine bark extract is known to be a stimulant to the immune system, so it may not be safe to take by anyone with autoimmune syndromes such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. However, this is not always the case and it’s a good idea to check with your GP as there are instances where taking maritime pine bark extract may be helpful for a particular syndrome.
French maritime pine bark has been extensively tested for safety, and it is extremely rare for side effects to be experienced. It is possible that occasionally there may be some instances of skin irritation or digestive upsets.
In a Nutshell
To summarise the main clinically proven health benefits of taking supplements of French Maritime Pine Bark (OPC):
- Gives increased blood flow throughout the body which helps to strengthen blood vessels
- The cardiovascular system is supported by taking French maritime pine bark extracts, owing to improved circulation
- Helps maintain a healthy blood pressure level
- Improved circulation gives enhanced brain function
- Diabetic ocular health is supported
- Helpful in the management of neuropath(clinical trials ongoing).
- Improved circulation gives a boost of oxygen to cells, which in turn, positively affects all internal organs
Maritime pine bark extract is a supplement which can help to ease a wide number of antioxidant/anti-inflammatory-related issues. It is not a cure all, but it does offer a powerful protection service to the body in terms of protecting against free radical damage. It is also a main player in the quest to rid the body of dangerous inflammation.
Trials are currently under review of OPCs role in cancer treatment and we await the outcome of these very important studies.
Have Your Say
Do you have experience of taking French maritime pine bark extract supplements to help with any of the problems already mentioned? Or perhaps you have used it to help with a health or cosmetic issue not included here? If you would be happy to share observations and feedback, we would love to hear from you.