Pine bark extract shows memory, focus and decision making benefits


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The average American’s attention span has reduced from 12 seconds (reported in 2000) to eight seconds, which can hurt productivity and quality of work produced, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information
The average American’s attention span has reduced from 12 seconds (reported in 2000) to eight seconds, which can hurt productivity and quality of work produced, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information

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Daily supplements of extracts from French maritime pine bark may boost a range of cognitive measures and mood in healthy professionals, says a new pilot study from Italy.

Twelve weeks of supplementation with Pycnogenol were associated with significant improvements in mood, mental performance, and attention, according to findings published in the Journal of Neurosurgical Sciences​.

“This study completes a number of research observations indicating that Pycnogenol can naturally help improve some aspects of cognitive functions throughout life,” ​said Dr Gianni Belcaro from Chieti-Pescara University in Italy and lead researcher of the study. “Multiple studies have been conducted using Pycnogenol and showing its positive effects in managing and improving some attention parameters in children with ADHD, in improving results of specific cognitive test in students and in improving several aspects of cognitive functions in adults over 60,”

“These latest findings are supported by decades of research on Pycnogenol’s ability to naturally regulate oxidative stress levels (that may significantly affect some cognitive functions) and confirm the positive impact on overall cognitive function.”

A role for nitric oxide

Commenting on the mechanism, Victor Ferrari, CEO of Horphag Research and Professor Rohewald, told us in an email comment: “Pycnogenol acts as an antioxidant and reduces oxidative stress. However, in the context of improved cognitive function, we suspect that Pycnogenol’s ability to enhance the intracellular production of nitric oxide plays the major role. Nitric oxide gives us two options to explain the improvement of cognitive function: We proofed that Pycnogenol dilates blood vessels because of nitric oxide, thus improving circulation, it is able to reduce brain edema. Furthermore, nitric oxide is also able to act as a neurotransmitter.

“It is therefore possible that the combined effects are responsible for the positive outcome of this study.  The results of this study underline the results of a double-blind study with children suffering from ADHD, showing a significant improvement of attention.”

Study details

Dr Belcaro and his co-workers recruited 30 people and provided daily pine bark extract supplements at a dose of 150mg in combination with a controlled health plan, while an addition 29 people followed just the controlled health plan and acted as the control group. The health plan involved regular sleep, balanced meals and daily exercise.

Results showed that mood increased by 16% in the Pycnogenol group, compared to a 2.1% decrease in the control group. Mental performance was also significantly increased in the active supplement group (by 8.9%) compared with only 3.1% in the control group.

In addition, sustained attention and memory both increased in the Pycnogenol group by 13.4% and 3.6%, respectively.

“This preliminary registry study in a completely non-clinical situation indicates that Pycnogenol supplementation seems to improve cognitive function, attention and performance in professional activities without causing any problems of compliance or tolerability,” ​wrote the researchers.

Ferrari and Rohewald confirmed that this pilot study is being followed up by a very large study in this field with the elderly in Australia. “This study is actually underway,”​ they said.

The ingredient

Pycnogenol – a combination of procyanidins, bioflavonoids and organic acids extracted from the bark of the maritime pine – is included in more than 700 dietary supplements, cosmetic products and functional foods and beverages worldwide.

It is already used in a commercial product targeting cognitive health: Doctor’s Best PycnoBrain Complex featuring Pycnogenol.​ That particular product makes the following structure-function claims:
- Enhances attention, concentration, memory, and other cognitive functions in children, students and the elderly
- Supports nerve cell development, maintenance, communication
- Promotes blood vessel integrity and brain circulation
- Powerful protection for the brain and body

Source: Journal of Neurosurgical Sciences
Volume 58, Number 4, Pages 239-248
“Pycnogenol improves cognitive function, attention, mental performance and specific professional skills in healthy professionals aged 35-55”
Authors: Belcaro G., Luzzi R., Dugall M., Ippolito E., Saggino A.

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