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Pycnogenol Improves Both Mental and Cellular Health in Elderly
By Greg Arnold, DC, CSCS, December 26, 2011, abstracted from “An examination of the effects of the antioxidant Pycnogenol® on cognitive performance, serum lipid profile, endocrinological and oxidative stress biomarkers in an elderly population” in Journal of Psychopharmacology
Pycnogenol is a bark extract from the French maritime pine that is rich in plant antioxidants called polyphenols (1). These polyphenols are thought to be responsible for pycnogenol’s significant health benefits. These include helping maintain normal blood sugar (2), joint health and mobility (3), and even allergy health (4). 
Pycnogenol has also been shown to benefit blood circulation, helping to treat venous ulcers (5), protecting against deep venous thrombosis (6) and improving venous blood circulation in the legs (7). All of the above-stated benefits have been shown with 100-150 mg of Pycnogenol per day for up to 8 weeks.
While recent research (8) found 100 mg of Pycnogenol per day for 8 weeks to show “a role for Pycnogenol® to improve cognitive function in normal students”, research (9) also suggests that Pycnogenol may also improve cellular health and mental health in the elderly.
In the study, 101 patients between the ages of 60 and 85 were given either Pycnogenol (150 mg per day) or placebo for 3 months. Before the study and at months 1, 2 and after the study, patients provided data on their food intake via a 126-item food questionnaire (10). They also had blood samples taken to measure cell damage in the form of a protein called F2-isoprostane (11) as well as cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and liver enzymes to see if Pycnogenol caused any liver stress.
For the mental health tests, the patients completed a series of tests on a computer called the CDR (Cognitive Drug Research) that has been used successfully and reliably in previous research for more than a decade (12, 13). The main outcome looked for on the CDR was “spatial working memory”, which is the part of memory responsible for recording information about one's environment and relations of space (such as being able to navigate around a familiar town or city) (14).
By the end of the study, the Pycnogenol group had an 11% increase in spatial working memory (0.83 to 0.925) compared to a 4% decrease in the placebo group (0.875 to 0.84) (p < 0.05). It should be noted that statistical significance was not reached until the end of the study, indicating at least 3 months of supplementation was needed for mental health benefits.
No statistically significant differences were seen between the two groups for liver health (indicating pycnogenol to be safe) as well as blood sugar or cholesterol levels. There was a significant decrease in F2-isoprostanes in the pycnogenol group (30% decrease – 469.28 to 362.12 picograms/milliliter) versus the placebo group (3% decrease – 402.68 to 389.4 pg/mL) (p < 0.01), indicating a strong antioxidant property of pycnogenol.
The significance of the above findings regarding decreased isoprostanes and increased spatial working memory in the pycnogenol group compared to the placebo group is that “oxidative injury to [nerve] cells over prolonged periods (>5 years) is strongly associated with…age-related cognitive impairment [such as] Alzheimer Disease, Parkinson’s disorder.” Therefore, the researchers concluded that “further research is encouraged to examine the effects of Pycnogenol for preventing the onset of these harmful conditions through its continuous use over equally prolonged treatment periods.”
Greg Arnold is a Chiropractic Physician practicing in Hauppauge, NY.  You can contact Dr. Arnold directly by emailing him at PitchingDoc@msn.com or visiting his web site at www.PitchingDoc.com
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2.       Liu, X., et al., Antidiabetic effect of Pycnogenol French maritime pine bark extract in patients with diabetes type II. Life Sci, 2004. 75(21): p. 2505-13
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4.       Wilson D. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled exploratory study to evaluate the potential of Pycnogenol for improving allergic rhinitis symptoms. Phytotherapy Research 2010. Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/ptr.3232
5.       Belcaro, G., M. R. Cesarone, et al. (2005). "Venous ulcers: microcirculatory improvement and faster healing with local use of pycnogenol((r))." Angiology 56(6): 699-705
6.       Belcaro G. Prevention of venous thrombosis and thrombophlebitis in long-haul flights with pycnogenol. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2004 Oct;10(4):373-7
7.       Cesarone MR. Comparison of Pycnogenol and Daflon in treating chronic venous insufficiency: a prospective, controlled study. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost 2006; 12(2): 20512
8.       Luzzi R. Pycnogenol® supplementation improves cognitive function, attention and mental performance in students. Panminvera Medica 2011; 53(3) Suppl 1: 75-83
9.       Ryan J. An examination of the effects of the antioxidant Pycnogenol® on cognitive performance, serum lipid profile, endocrinological and oxidative stress biomarkers in an elderly population. J Psychopharm 2011; 2008; 22:553. DOI: 10.1177/0269881108091584
10.   Harvard 88GP Food Questionnaire - https://regepi.bwh.harvard.edu/health/nutrition.html
11.   Milne GL. F2-isoprostanes as markers of oxidative stress in vivo: an overview. Biomarkers 2005 Nov;10 Suppl 1:S10-23
12.   Beuzen, JN, Taylor, N, Wesnes, K, Wood, A (1999) A comparison of the effects of olanzapine, haloperidol and placebo on cognitive and psychomotor functions in healthy elderly volunteers. J Psychopharmacol 13: 152–158
13.   Wesnes, KA, Ward, T, McGinty, A, Petrini, O (2000) The memory enhancing effects of a Ginkgo biloba/Panax ginseng combination in healthy middle aged volunteers. Psychopharmacology 152: 353–361.
14.   “Spatial Memory” - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial_working_memory