Does Research Really Support Dr. Oz's Recommended Pycnogenol Anti-Aging Supplement?
On a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Oz introduced special guest Rosemary Ellis, the editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping magazine, who swears to viewers that an all-natural supplement called "Pycnogenol®" - that she takes personally - makes skin look younger.
“It has amazing skin smoothing and plumping properties. It smooth’s your skin, plumps it up a little, and makes wrinkles a little finer. You take it three times a day at 25 milligrams - and it works,” says Ms. Ellis.
Pycnogenol® is the trademark name for a supplement available in both pill and lotion formulations that is derived from the pine bark of a tree known as Pinus pinaster, or more commonly from a special pine tree called Pinus maritima, which is also known as “The French Maritime Pine.” Reportedly, the pine got its name when it was discovered that a tea made from the needles of the tree was effective in treating sailors with scurvy.
Interest in Pycnogenol® as a nutritional and medical supplement has grown with the publication of several studies that have shown that Pycnogenol® consists of multiple anti-oxidants that protect cells from the ravages of free-radicals. The majority of literature attests to its abilities in improving circulation, reducing inflammation, and as a potential cure for erectile dysfunction.
Dr. Oz’s expert guest Pina LoGiudice, RD, states that more recently, research on Pycnogenol® has shown that not only does it work as a powerful antioxidant, but that it has wrinkle-removing properties as well.
“How it works is that it actually increases an enzyme that generates more hyaluronic acid by a whopping 44%,” says Ms. LoGiudice. “And what hyaluronic acid does is that it actually makes the skin more hydrated, it smooth’s out those wrinkles, and it makes us have finer, smoother skin lines.”
According to Ms. Ellis, a woman needs to take the Pycnogenol® supplement about 12 weeks before she will notice any improvement in her skin.
As a demonstration of how Pycnogenol® works on skin, Dr. Oz modeled the layers of skin as a cloth that covers water-filled sponges, which represent supporting cells. He explains that as we age, these supporting cells are like sponges that have the water squeezed out of them and are no longer able to keep the skin layer taut and thereby results in wrinkling of the skin. However, with the Pycnogenol® supplement, the supporting cells beneath the layers of skin become re-hydrated and makes the skin tighter.
“Pine bark supplements stimulates the cells that have been devoid of water to once again suck onto the water…Pycnogenol® allows the cells beneath the surface of the skin to soak up the water and as they do, they begin to plump up and they begin to look the way they did when you were younger,” says Dr. Oz
According to Ms. LoGiudice, the Pycnogenol® supplement at 25 mg/ 3 times per day taken with food is perfectly safe to take with zero side effects, that it can be taken with other supplements, and that it safe to take even during pregnancy. Furthermore, it comes in a lotion formulation that requires only a dime-size application twice a day to facial skin.
A screen sidebar on The Dr. Oz Show tells viewers that a bottle of 25 mg Pycnogenol® supplement pills can be bought for only $12 and that the lotion formulation is available for $20.
Is the Pycnogenol® supplement for you?
Some research shows that there may be some merit to using a Pycnogenol® supplement; however, the cost to benefit ratio may not be as lucrative as The Dr. Oz Show would have you believe.
Firstly, the benefits of taking Pycnogenol® have been more strongly correlated with health issues that are not directly skin related.
According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database that rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scaling system of Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate, experts rate Pycnogenol® at its highest as “Possibly Effective” for:
• Allergies. Some research in people with allergies to birch shows that taking Pycnogenol® starting before allergy season begins might reduce allergy symptoms.
• Circulation problems. Taking Pycnogenol® by mouth seems to significantly reduce leg pain and heaviness, as well as fluid retention in people with circulation problems. Some people use horse chestnut seed extract to treat this condition, but Pycnogenol® alone appears to be more effective.
• Disease of the retina in the eye. Taking Pycnogenol® daily for two months seems to slow or prevent further worsening of retinal disease caused by diabetes, atherosclerosis, or other diseases. It also seems to improve eyesight.
• Improved endurance in athletes. Young people (age 20-35) seem to be able to exercise on a treadmill for a longer time after taking Pycnogenol® daily for about a month.
• High blood pressure. Pycnogenol® seems to lower systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) but does not significantly lower diastolic blood pressure (the second number).
• Asthma in children.
• Varicose veins.
And “Possibly ineffective for”:
• Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
And, “Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness” for all other treatments and conditions.
Secondly, the research supporting Pycnogenol® as having the wrinkle-removing properties discussed on The Dr. Oz Show appears to be limited. However, one recent study published 2012 in the journal Skin Pharmacology & Physiology does attest that in a study consisting of 20 healthy postmenopausal women who were supplemented with Pycnogenol® for 12 weeks, that Pycnogenol® supplementation does benefit human skin by increasing skin hydration and skin elasticity. They reported that these effects are most likely due to an increased synthesis of extracellular matrix molecules such as hyaluronic acid and possibly collagen, and that Pycnogenol® supplementation may be useful as a skin anti-aging supplement.
Thirdly, the cost of Pycnogenol® may not be quite as inexpensive or low-dosed as indicated on The Dr. Oz Show. Studies that have found a positive benefit with taking Pycnogenol® were performed at doses of 100 mg and above per day. A little comparison shopping of Pycnogenol® supplements at 3 local health food providers shows that a bottle of thirty 100 mg capsules of Pycnogenol® from GNC costs approximately $47.99; 120 capsules of 50 mg GNC brand costs $76.99. A Country Life brand of vegetarian Pycnogenol® supplement can cost up to approximately $56.99 for thirty 100 mg capsules in a bottle. Plus, multiply those numbers by 3 since it takes 3 months before you MIGHT see a benefit, along with a monthly maintenance cost afterward, and the choosing of Pycnogenol® as part of your skin care routine may not be so attractive.
One potential alternative to taking Pycnogenol® is to take a less expensive daily supplement such as extracts from peanut skin, grape seed and witch hazel bark that reportedly possess many of the same active compounds as pine tree bark, and at the right dose may be as effective for less.
For more information about anti-aging skin care, follow these links to additional Dr. Oz related articles:
Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile
The Dr. Oz Show—“Pycnogenol®: The Supplement for Younger-Looking Skin”
Skin Pharmacology & Physiology: "Pycnogenol® Effects on Skin Elasticity and Hydration Coincide with Increased Gene Expressions of Collagen Type I and Hyaluronic Acid Synthase in Women"; Vol. 25, No.2, 2012;A. Marinia et al.