Pine Bark Extract May Boost Brain Function in Students

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Pine bark (Pycnogenol®) extract has been touted as a supplement that may help patients who have memory problems, but what about people who have normal brain function? A new study found that pine bark extract taken by healthy students improved cognitive function when compared with controls.

Could pine bark improve your brain function?

The French maritime pine bark extract branded as Pycnogenol is derived from the bark of a tree called Pinus pinaster. Pycnogenol consists of a variety of bioflavonoids, including catechins, epicatechin, oligomeric procyanidnins, and fruit acids.

Pine bark extract has been and continues to be studied for the effects of its antioxidant properties in a variety of areas, ranging from allergy symptoms to heart failure and cardiovascular disease, aging, and menstrual disorders. In addition to being an antioxidant, Pycnogenol also has been noted to possess anti-inflammatory properties.

Researchers in the new study wanted to determine if pine bark extract had a positive effect on normal mental performance, including attention, executive functions, and memory. They recruited 108 healthy students (ages 18 to 27 years) who were randomly assigned to take either 100 mg pine bark extract or placebo daily for 8 weeks.

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The investigators used computer-assisted methods to test all the students on mental performance, and there was a statistically significant improvement among students who took pine bark extract when compared with those who did not. Overall, the controls failed 9 out of 84 tests (10.71%) compared with 7 out of 112 (6.25%) in the pine bark extract group. Students in the pine bark group also showed a 17% reduction in anxiety compared with the controls.

In a previous study conducted with older adults (60-85 years), investigators at Swinburne University in Australia tested the impact of 150 mg of pine bark extract daily on memory. Results of the three-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed “significantly improved” scores on memory tests among the participants.

Given the results of this latest study, there is now some evidence that pine bark extract may also improve memory among younger, normal functioning adults. Larger, additional studies are needed in both young and older adults to determine the effect of Pycnogenol on memory and other cognitive functions.

SOURCES:
Belcaro G et al. Panminerva Medica 2010 Jun; 52(2 Suppl 1): 21-25
Luzzi R et al. Panminerva Medica 2011; 53(1-3): 75-82
Ryan J et al. Journal of Psychopharmacology 2008; 22(5): 553-62
Wilson D et al. Phytotherapy Research 2010 Aug; 24(8): 1115-19

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

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