Let’s get to the heart of the matter: women in perimenopause and beyond need to pay special attention to their heart health. As hormone balance fluctuates and the body undergoes countless changes, the risk of heart disease and many of the risk factors associated with it also change, and not necessarily for the better. Women have many options they can adopt to support and improve their heart health, and one of them may be Pycnogenol.
What is Pycnogenol?
Pycnogenol is the registered trademark brand name of a natural supplement, French maritime pine bark (Pinus pinaster) extract. The trees grow in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. This extract contains beneficial active ingredients that also can be found in witch hazel bark, grape seed, and peanut skins.
Pycnogenol is believed to have antioxidant abilities, which means it may be helpful in destroying free radicals that can cause disease and a variety of health problems. It also has shown anti-inflammatory properties. Maritime pine bark extract is used for improving blood flow, boosting the immune system, preventing infections, and reducing swelling.
Can Pycnogenol help heart health in women?
It’s never too late to begin taking steps to support your heart. Around perimenopause and menopause years, it becomes increasingly important because of the dramatic decline in the heart-protecting hormone estrogen. The additional risks of high blood pressure, calcification in the blood vessels, overweight and obesity, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and insulin resistance can add to the heightened chance of experiencing a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem.
Some scientists have explored the use of Pycnogenol in assisting with the management of heart-related matters, including among menopausal women. A 2017 study among perimenopausal women looked at how Pycnogenol affected levels of several known cardiovascular risk factors, including homocysteine and C-reactive protein levels, oxidative stress, and menopausal symptoms.
The women took either 100 mg per day of Pycnogenol for eight weeks or a placebo. The use of Pycnogenol reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as blood pressure. Homocysteine and C-reactive protein levels also declined significantly. Women in the Pycnogenol group also reported an improvement in menopausal symptoms and quality of life.
In a subsequent study, the subjects were men with calcium buildup in their coronary arteries (coronary calcification), an early sign of coronary artery disease, and a risk for heart attack. Ninety men were divided into three groups: 330 received standard care, 30 used standard care and Pycnogenol (150 mg/day), and 330 were given 150 mg/day of Pycnogenol plus 450 mg/day of Centellicum® (a natural extract of Gotu kola). After 12 months, the men in the two groups that took Pycnogenol showed a significant decrease in oxidative stress and a decline in calcifications. The combination of Pycnogenol and Centellicum provided significant results.
Pycnogenol may also lower high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart problems. A 100 mg dose of the supplement over 12 weeks was helpful among individuals with mild hypertension in one study. Another study among people with type 2 diabetes found that Pycnogenol (125 mg/day) reduced cardiovascular risk factors, including bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, LDL) and the need for hypertension medication, as well as improved diabetes control.
Women in menopause lose most of the protection to their hearts provided by estrogen. Other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes, and weight gain can add to the increased risk for heart disease. Pycnogenol may be one tool women can use to help manage this serious health concern.