The name pycnogenol is used in several ways. Pycnogenol often refers to a trademarked compound extracted from the bark of the European coastal pine tree (Pinus maritima) that contains naturally occurring chemicals called proanthocyanidins. Pycnogenol is also the name of a variety of compounds that contain proanthocyanidins taken from a variety of natural sources, such as grape seeds (see Grapes) and plants, which contain a high concentration of these chemicals.
Procyanidins are derivatives of the flavan-3-o1 class of flavonoids. This class includes epicatechin and catechin. Procyanidins consisting of dimers of catechin and oligomers of epicatechin and catechin are found in pycnogenol. Pycnogenol has a high amount of oligomers containing 5 to 7 units. Procyanidin oligomers are also known as oligomeric procyanidins (OPC) oligomeric proanthocyanidins (also OPCs) and procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs). In addition to OPCs, pycnogenol contains catechin, epicatechin and taxifolin, and such phenolic acids as caffeic, ferulic and para-hydroxybenzoic acids as minor constituents. It also contains glycosylation products of flavonols and phenolic acids as minute constituents. Pycnogenol is abbreviated PYC.
Procyanidins, including oligomeric procyanidins, are also found in such foods as cocoa and chocolate, grape seeds, apples, peanuts, almonds, cranberries and blueberries. They are also found in such medicinal herbs as "Sangre de drago" (Croton lechler). Procyanidins are also known as leucocyanidins. Procyanidins and prodelphinidins comprise a class of polyphenolic compounds called proanthocyanidins. Whereas procyanidins are oligomers of catechin and epicatechin and their gallic acid esters, prodelphinidins are oligomers of gallocatechin and epigallocatechin and their galloylated derivatives. Proanthocyanidins are also known as condensed tannins.
Pycnogenol furnishes the human body with excellent antioxidant nutritional support for a variety of body repairs. It furnishes capillary resistance against fragility and rupture; consequently, Pycnogenol is useful to prevent diseased blood vessels associated with varicose veins, peripheral hemorrhage, diabetic retinopathy, and high blood pressure. Such capillary resistance adds up nearly three fold over the effects in those patients who normally are prescribed other types of nutrient flavonoids for repair of their damaged capillaries.
The physiology of capillary repair involves the collagenases (enzymes which break down proteins). These collagenases are released inside the body during tissue damage and subsequent inflammation. By supplementing the diet with tablets containing Pycnogenol, one can effectively inhibit the release of unwanted collagenases, thus preventing decay of the fragile capillaries' vascular walls. Pycnogenol has demonstrated a number of antioxidant activities in the laboratory. These include scavenging of the superoxide radical anion, the hydroxyl radical, the lipid peroxyl radical, the peroxynitrite radical and singlet oxygen. It has also been shown to protect low-density lipoprotein (LDL) from oxidation. The oligomeric procyanidins appear to have especially potent antioxidant activity when compared with smaller molecules, such as catechin and epicatechin. The extent of the antioxidant potential of pycnogenol in vivo is unclear. Some studies suggest that the antioxidant potential is at least partially available in vivo. Pycnogenol has been shown to have anti-inflammatory activity, again in the laboratory. This activity is thought to be due, in large part, to pycnogenol's capacity as a scavenger of reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen species.
Pycnogenol appears to inhibit the activation of the transcription factors NF-kappa B and AP-1. NF-kappa B and AP-1 upregulate the expression of several inflammatory mediators such as intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1). NF-kappa B is itself activated by reactive oxygen species. Pycnogenol has been found to inhibit the inducible expression of ICAM-1. Inhibition of ICAM-1 may be accounted for by inhibition, by pycnogenol, of the activation of NF-Kappa B and AP-1. Further, the inflammatory cytokine interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) may upregulate ICAM-1 expression in keratinocytes. This has been noted in some inflammatory skin conditions, such as lupus erythematous, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. Pycnogenol appears to inhibit IFN-gamma activation of STAT (signal transducer and activator of transcription) 1. Inhibition of ICAM-1 expression by pycnogenol could account for possible anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic activities of pycnogenol.