Packer Team Finds Pine Bark Extract a Potent Antioxidant
It May Help Boost the Effects of Vitamin C and Other Antioxidants
by Robert Sanders, Public Affairs
posted Mar. 4, 1998
An extract of pine bark has proven to be one of the most potent
antioxidants, a property that may explain why pine bark has been
used in folk medicine around the world, according to a new report
by Berkeley scientists.
Lester Packer and his colleagues screened many natural compounds
for antioxidant activity and found that pine bark extract, marketed
as Pycnogenol® (pik-nah-je-nal), is the most potent of the lot.
Antioxidants are chemicals that deactivate free radicals highly
destructive chemicals that damage cells and contribute to many
diseases, ranging from stroke and heart attacks to degenerative
diseases such as Alzheimers. Free radicals even contribute to
In the past year and a half, Packer and his colleagues have documented
a number of strong antioxidant effects of Pycnogenol that place
it among the most potent antioxidants, ranking with vitamins E
and C, and lipoic acid.
Packer, a professor of molecular and cell biology, also recently
found that Pycnogenol extends the lifetime of vitamin C in the
body, prolonging its beneficial effects as an antioxidant.
These beneficial effects of Pycnogenol come atop immune system
benefits reported last year by Packer and his group. They found
that Pycnogenol suppresses the production of nitric oxide (NO)
and thus limits the collateral damage resulting from immune system
attacks on viral and bacterial invaders. Excess NO has been linked
to inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimers disease.
Its not too early to say that Pycnogenol is a good supplement
to take along with vitamins C and E, and lipoic acid, Packer
He reported his results Feb. 6 at the annual meeting of the Oxygen
Club of California, an international meeting that this year drew
nearly 300 scientists from around the world who study the beneficial
effects of antioxidants. The 98 World Congress was held in Santa
Barbara Feb. 5 to 8.
Pycnogenol is a combination of some 40 chemicals extracted from
the bark of the French maritime pine, Pinus pinaster, which grows
in many areas along the Atlantic coast of France and into North
Africa. Extracts and teas of pine were commonly used by early
Europeans and native Americans, and reportedly are used in Asian
medicine as well.
While many scientists eschew research on chemical mixtures like
Pycnogenol, Packer has long seen the value of looking at natural
plant extracts, most of which are a mélange of chemicals. For
the past five years, for example, he has been studying the effects
of an extract of the tree Gingko biloba, called EGb761, and has
found important antioxidant effects there as well.
Recently an extract of Gingko biloba was found to have beneficial
effects on those with Alzheimers disease and dementia, Packer
says, referring to an October 1997 article in the Journal of the
American Medical Association on the effects of EGb761. What we
have been doing with these extracts was the basis for these studies.
Because his initial studies showed that Pycnogenol is one of the
most potent antioxidants, he decided to look in detail at the
cellular effects of the extract. Pycnogenol earlier had been shown
to have a beneficial effect on the circulation, primarily through
its effects on nitric oxide, a chemical that stimulates dilation
of the blood vessels. In this case Pycnogenol was found to constrict
the blood vessels and increase blood flow.
NO also plays other roles in the body, from destroying bacterial
invaders and cancer cells to relaying signals in the brain. In
the past one and a half years, he and post-doctoral colleagues
Fabio Virgili, Hirotsugu Kobuchi and Elaine Cossins have documented
the details of Pycnogenols interaction with NO. Last year they
showed that Pycnogenol affects the production of NO in the white
blood cells called macrophages scavenger cells that spew out
NO to destroy invading bacteria, viruses and cancer cells.
While NO production is essential for a well-functioning immune
system, too much in the wrong tissues can cause damage. Packer
and his group showed that Pycnogenol can inhibit the bodys key
NO-activating enzyme and also the gene for that enzyme. In addition,
Pycnogenol quenches NO directly.
In their new report, the same researchers find that Pycnogenol
also extends the lifetime of vitamin C, based on test tube experiments.
We looked at extracts of fruits and vegetables, gingko, green
tea and many other plants, as well as purified flavonoids, and
among these Pycnogenol was the most potent in extending the lifetime
of the vitamin C radical, Packer says.
There may be many flavonoids in Pycnogenol that affect the antioxidant
network by interacting at the level of vitamin C. This helps to
explain how pine bark extract has a beneficial effect.
Flavonoids or polyphenols are plant compounds used widely in traditional
medicine, and in more recent times have been shown to be antioxidants.
Many have been found to counteract inflammation or to have beneficial
effects on circulation.
Packer has proposed a complex network of interactions between
vitamin E, vitamin C (ascorbate) and other chemicals that effectively
recycle these potent antioxidants and extend their effect in the
body. Flavonoids like those in Pycnogenol seem to insinuate themselves
into the network to help recycle E and C and extend their lifetimes
even more. He hopes that more research will reveal further health
implications of these findings.
Packers work is supported in part by unrestricted gift funds
to the University of California and by Horphag Research, Ltd.
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