Life Extension Magazine August 2012
Pycnogenol®: Multi-Modal Defense Against Aging
By Janet Sarto
Wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, and collagen destruction are the first visible signs of aging. More than skin deep, these degradations also are reflective of our internal aging as well. By slowing the factors that cause skin aging, we can also slow total body aging. That's because the same basic mechanisms are at work to age us on the outside as well as the inside: oxidant stress, inflammation, damage to DNA, glycation, and cell membrane damage.
Extensive research into a plant extract Pycnogenol® from the French Maritime pine tree has shown that this collection of phyto-molecules not only rejuvenates skin elasticity and reduces collagen degradation, but works internally to lower blood glucose levels, increase nitric oxide to dilate blood vessels, restore capillary health, and normalize blood pressure. And it does all this by attacking the same fundamental aging mechanisms.
Pycnogenol® is a natural plant extract that contains procyanidins, bioflavonoids, and other health-giving molecules that act synergistically on five of the major processes that cause your skin—and your entire body—to age too quickly.1-3
Pycnogenol® Fights Aging Mechanisms
Researchers have identified several fundamental mechanisms that cause the diseases related to aging. Many scientists now believe that these mechanisms are involved in aging itself, and that the "diseases of aging" are merely symptoms of this process.
Basic laboratory studies reveal that Pycnogenol® directly and indirectly shuts down at least five of the key mechanisms of aging that include:
With the wealth of published data on the broad spectrum health benefits of Pycnogenol®, scientists began digging deeper into the impact that this extract has on the numerous factors of aging. In order to better understand the various benefits of Pycnogenol® researchers created a study using accelerated aging mice,7 which grow old much faster than normal animals. These specially bred mice show the typical effects of aging, such as decreased immune function, poor blood cell production, and learning and memory deficits.
When researchers fed a group of age-accelerated mice a diet supplemented with Pycnogenol®, the mice demonstrated significant improvements in cellular function, particularly their immune system's infection- and tumor-fighting cells.7 These hallmarks of a strong immune system are also the hallmarks of optimal health. The animals also showed increased production of blood cells from their bone marrow, becoming more like normal younger animals.7
The researchers concluded that Pycnogenol®, a unique natural mixture of health-promoting substances, was able to rejuvenate the experimental animals' biology in ways that no single drug, or even nutrient, could do. Pycnogenol® synergistically restored many of the important defense factors that help us fight off various diseases when we are young, but that deteriorate with age.
Armed with this insight, scientists began to explore other ways that Pycnogenol® fights the primary aging mechanisms and slows the aging process in many different organs and systems at once.
Beauty from Within: Pycnogenol® Rejuvenates Skin
Let's first examine Pycnogenol's® impact on preserving and restoring skin health and vitality before we turn to its internal health benefits. Skin ages for many reasons; leading to the visible signs we associate with older people. Numerous studies have shown that Pycnogenol® can reduce many of the aging factors that destroy supple skin by reducing free radical damage and protecting collagen and elastin from enzymatic degradation. To many scientists' surprise, Pycnogenol® can block UV light's damaging effects thereby preventing the inflammation and protein loss that ultimately leads to wrinkling.8-10
In one study, researchers showed that Pycnogenol® supplementation (75 to 125 mg/day) protected human volunteers from damaging sunburn after exposure to UV light.9 In other words, Pycnogenol® acts as an internal sun-screen, reducing your exposure to this major cause of wrinkles.
Pycnogenol® further prevents wrinkling by protecting vital skin proteins from degradation, while increasing their natural production.11-13 These proteins break down by UV-induced inflammatory processes caused by sun exposure. Healthy protein levels give youthful skin its supple, taut, elastic quality; their loss is a major contributor to wrinkling.
In animal studies, mice supplemented with a mixture containing Pycnogenol® had significantly fewer wrinkles after exposure to UV light.13 They also had reduced UV-induced skin thickening and toughening, problems that also age human skin.
In a key human study, 62 women ages 45-73 took part in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of a similar Pycnogenol®-containing oral mixture. Skin elasticity improved by an impressive 9% after 6 weeks of treatment, compared to the placebo group.14 By 12 weeks of supplementation, skin roughness was also significantly reduced by 6%.14
Another study in 2012 showed that Pycnogenol® alone, at a dose of 75 mg/day, increased skin hydration by 8% after just 6 weeks; in women with dry skin at baseline the increase was 21%.11 Skin elasticity increased, and skin fatigue decreased significantly in this study as well, further lowering the wrinkling risk.
Pycnogenol® also has favorable effects on the uneven and undesirable pigmentation of skin known as melasma which is typically seen on facial areas with high sun exposure.
In a study, 30 women with melasma took 75 mg/day of Pycnogenol® for 30 days.15 At the end of the study, the size of their unwanted skin pigmentation was significantly reduced. Other areas of skin became lighter as well, as the density of pigment decreased.
Chronic venous insufficiency, unlike wrinkling and melasma, is often part of a life-threatening process, such as congestive heart failure or a blood clot.16 The resulting skin breakdown and ulceration also opens victims up to the risk of serious infections.
Two large clinical studies showed Pycnogenol's® benefits in fighting chronic venous insufficiency. In the first, patients took 150 or 300 mg/day for 8 weeks, in comparison with an established drug treatment called Daflon.17 Pycnogenol® supplemented patients had reduced leg swelling, along with improvements in oxygen and carbon dioxide content of the tissue.17 These changes all indicated improved blood flow and decreased capillary fluid leakage compared with the Daflon group.
The second study compared Pycnogenol® 150 mg/day with a placebo, over an 8-week period. Supplemented patients had a 26% decrease in ankle swelling and a 64% reduction in tissue fluid (edema).16 That netted patients a 60% decrease in overall symptoms including pain, restless limbs, and skin alterations.
Clearly Pycnogenol® battles aging skin both internally and externally. Let's look now at how it fights the effects of age in some other tissues and organs.