If we had to name one natural supplement that provides many benefits for women in perimenopause and menopause, we would put Pycnogenol (French Maritime Pine Bark) among the top candidates. Research has shown (and is still coming in) that this compound is highly effective and has multiple uses for women who are going through these transitional years.
What is Pycnogenol?
Pycnogenol is a natural chemical compound found in the bark of the Pinus pinaster, also known as the maritime pine that is indigenous to France. The name is capitalized because Pycnogenol® is a registered trademark name for a specific maritime pine tree extract. The active components in pycnogenol can also be found in other plants, including grape seeds, witch hazel bark, and peanut skins and may be the source of the compound in some supplement brands. When shopping for Pycnogenol, look for products that have French maritime pine bark extract as its source.
Pycnogenol is an antioxidant and is made up primarily of flavonoids and proanthocyanidins, which have potent free radical fighting abilities. It also possesses other abilities that have a direct and indirect impact on menopausal symptoms and potential health issues associated with older age in women.
Pycnogenol and hot flashes
This is one of the common reasons women in perimenopause and menopause turn to this supplement. When you experience a hot flash, blood races to your skin and you feel hot. Pycnogenol helps manage blood flow and thus can ease hot flashes. Here are a few research studies that illustrate this benefit.
In a 2013 study, 170 perimenopausal women were given either 30 mg pycnogenol or a placebo twice daily for three months. Use of Pycnogenol was effective in significantly improving hot flashes and insomnia problems after 4 and 12 weeks than placebo.
Another study involved 70 women in their menopausal transition. Of these, 38 took 100 mg Pycnogenol while 32 women were in a control group. Use of Pycnogenol was associated with an improvement in hot flashes and night sweats, as well as many other menopausal symptoms. Quality of life also improved for most women who took the supplement in this study.
Pycnogenol and heart health
Although heart disease can develop in women of any age, it is most common among those around age 55 and older, which corresponds with the arrival of menopause. The significant decline in levels of estrogen, which helps protect heart health, is a major cause of the increased risk of heart disease in older women.
Multiple research studies have examined the role of Pycnogenol in heart disease risk in women. In one study, 35 perimenopausal women took 100 mg per day of Pycnogenol for eight weeks. Another group of 35 women served as controls. After eight weeks, women in the Pycnogenol group showed a decline in elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, normalized fasting glucose levels, and an improvement in blood pressure. Levels of two factors associated with heart disease risk—homocysteine and C-reactive protein (CRP)—declined sharply. The authors concluded that use of Pycnogenol improved cardiovascular risk factors and quality of life.
Numerous research articles have examined the anti-inflammatory properties of Pycnogenol and how they impact various factors that are involved in cardiovascular disease. For example, use of Pycnogenol was found to reduce inflammation and help preserve heart muscle in a study of viral myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle). A 2022 study in Global Heart noted that Pycnogenol “may prevent heart failure and CVDs [cardiovascular diseases] by inhibiting inflammation by multiple pathways,” such as stopping activity of mast cells, which are involved in small blood vessel disease, and nuclear factor kappa B, which has a role in the formation of plaque in the arteries.
Pycnogenol and genitourinary health
Declining estrogen levels in menopause typically result in a variety of vaginal and urinary symptoms known collectively as genitourinary syndrome of menopause. These include vagina pain, burning, irritation, discharge, or bleeding as the walls of the vagina become dry and thin. Urinary symptoms may also develop, including frequent urination, pain when urinating, leaking urine, urinary tract infections, and interstitial cystitis (chronic inflammation of the bladder).
Although some women turn to cranberry to help with urinary tract issues, Pycnogenol has been shown to be helpful in this area. A 2021 study, for example, compared cranberry and Pycnogenol in individuals who had recurrent urinary tract infections or interstitial cystitis. One group took 150 mg daily of Pycnogenol for 60 days while another group took 400 mg daily of a cranberry extract. One more group served as controls. At the end of the 60 days, those who took Pycnogenol showed a more significant decrease in the incidence of urinary tract infection symptoms and a greater decrease in the rate of recurrent infections than those in the cranberry group. All the participants in the Pycnogenol group were free of infection at the end of the study and there were no side effects.
Vaginal dryness improved after just eight weeks of supplementation with Pycnogenol in a study of 170 perimenopausal women who took 30 mg of the supplement in a three-month study.
Pycnogenol and immune health
A healthy immune system and immune response are critical for overall health and navigating menopause, especially the impact of inflammation on the body. Experts have found that Pycnogenol has an ability to prevent inflammation induced by immune system response, which is what occurs in individuals who have asthma, allergies, arthritis, or some autoimmune conditions. Pycnogenol does this by inhibiting the activity of immune cells that trigger inflammation.
One example of this effect of Pycnogenol was seen in a study in which healthy volunteers had blood samples taken before and after taking 200 mg Pycnogenol daily for five days. The researchers found that the supplement showed anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting pro-inflammatory activity.
Pycnogenol and brain health
Challenges with memory, concentration, focus, attention, and brain fog are a significant concern among many women in the menopause years. In fact, many women are afraid that the difficulties they experience during this period of life will become permanent or get worse. Concerns about mood swings, depression, anxiety, and panic episodes also can weigh heavily on women’s minds in menopause.
The good news is that in most cases, the brain fog and other cognitive function challenges seem to be temporary. Once hormone fluctuations have settled over time and symptoms related to them have resolved, cognitive health improves.
In a 2022 study, a group of investigators set out to determine whether Pycnogenol could provide cognitive support in older individuals with mild cognitive impairment and Parkinson’s disease. For eight weeks, 40 participants took 150 mg per day of Pycnogenol and 39 served as controls. Participants who took Pycnogenol showed significant improvement in Parkinson’s symptoms including cognitive function and speech impairment.
In a Frontiers of Pharmacology study published in 2019 that reviewed the literature on Pycnogenol and its impact on cognitive function in aging, the authors noted several findings. They explained that the “evidence suggests that the biomodulating effects of PYC improve several mechanisms that may underpin cognition including vascular, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antioxidant processes.” Their findings indicate that Pycnogenol may improve memory, executive functioning, and attention, and that further study is needed.
Another study involved 60 healthy professionals who took either 50 mg Pycnogenol three times a day for 12 weeks while also adhering to a healthy lifestyle that included daily exercise, adequate sleep, and a nutritious diet, or who simply followed the healthy lifestyle. The authors found that those who took the supplement showed a significant improvement in mental performance, attention, memory, and mood when compared with the lifestyle-only group. The Pycnogenol group also had a marked decline in oxidative stress, a factor that plays a big role in brain health and function.
Further evidence of the ability of Pycnogenol to support cognitive function comes from a review of more than 100 research studies involving animals and humans. The authors note that “several human studies have shown improvements in cognitive function after chronic administration” of Pycnogenol.
Pycnogenol and skin health
A woman’s skin undergoes many changes as hormone levels fluctuate and decline. Dry, fragile, red, itchy, irritated, wrinkled, sagging—all of these descriptions and more can apply to menopausal skin. Along with dropping estrogen and progesterone levels, women experience declines in the proteins elastin and collagen, which are critical for promoting and maintaining skin health. Years of free radical damage from sunlight, environmental toxins, and smoking takes its toll as well.
Pycnogenol can play several roles in menopausal skin health. As an antioxidant, it can neutralize free radicals before they do further damage. The supplement also may support the synthesis of collagen and hinder the breakdown of elastin.
In a study of 20 postmenopausal women, use of Pycnogenol for 12 weeks was evaluated non-invasively and by taking biopsies. Use of the supplement resulted in a significant improvement in hydration and elasticity of the skin as well as an increase in the expression of an enzyme involved in the production of hyaluronic acid, which makes your skin flexible and reduces wrinkles. The authors also noted that use of Pycnogenol was associated with an increase of 41 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of two genes involved in the production of collagen.
Darkening or discoloration of the skin (melisma) is a common skin issue in women, including those in menopause, as it is associated with hormone changes as well as stress and thyroid disorders. In a study of 27 women with skin discoloration, 100 mg of Pycnogenol was taken daily along with use of topical sunscreen. After two months, the women experienced lightened skin discoloration as well as a reduction in the amount of skin affected.
Some menopausal women experience a skin condition called melasma in which the pigmentation on their face changes and causes dark areas on their cheeks and forehead. This is the result of hormonal changes and exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. Several studies have looked at how Pycnogenol can help manage this skin issue. In one such study, participants took 100 mg per day of Pycnogenol and also used sunscreen for 90 days. Use of the supplement resulted in improvement in 94.4 percent of the 31 participants both in reduction of melasma and quality of life.
Pycnogenol and hair
A woman’s hair is an important part of her identity, and often that identity is challenged in menopause. Common hair issues in perimenopause and menopause include thinning, fragile, drier hair as well as hair loss. Stress, diet, and hormone fluctuations are contributing factors, so taking steps to modify these issues can be helpful. Another suggestion is to take Pycnogenol. The results of a 2023 study suggest that taking Pycnogenol may provide some relief. A total of 76 menopausal women were given either 150 mg daily of Pycnogenol or a placebo daily for six months. The investigators recorded blood circulation in the scalp, hair density, and various skin factors at the start of the study and after two and six months.
Use of Pycnogenol resulted in a significant increase in hair density: 30 percent and 23 percent after two and six months of taking the supplement, respectively. They also noted a significant decline in water loss in the scalp skin among those taking Pycnogenol. These findings indicated that use of a Pycnogenol supplement “might have the potential to reduce hair loss in postmenopausal women.”
Pycnogenol and other symptoms
In a small study involving 70 menopausal women—38 who took Pycnogenol and 32 who served as controls—the participants who took the supplement (100 mg daily for eight weeks) reported an improvement in a variety of other menopausal symptoms not already mentioned here. Results were significant for fatigue, sleeping problems, breast pain, headaches, tingling extremities, burning tongue, dizziness, feelings of electric shocks, digestive problems, and irritability
Decades of Pycnogenol clinical studies have demonstrated again and again that this natural compound has qualities that can greatly benefit women’s health and well-being in perimenopause and menopause. A quality Pycnogenol supplement is recommended for women in these stages of life who want a natural, effective, and safe way to help them manage symptoms and support hormonal and overall health. Pycnogenol can help not only hot flashes but about 30 other symptoms of menopause.