The Pycnogenol Phenomenon: Update

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An Interview with Peter Rohdewald, Ph.D.

A constant stream of clinical studies continues to reveal more amazing health benefits of Pycnogenol.

As we go to press, an article has just been published showing, “Pycnogenol attenuates atherosclerosis by regulating lipid metabolism through the TLR4–NF-kB pathway.” The research on Pycnogenol grows more exciting every year as its recognized versatility expands. Pycnogenol has become the most researched nutritional supplement not yet recognized as dietary essential. Since my first column on Pycnogenol was published in March 1991 and my book, The New Supernutrition, was printed in May 1991, I have found it necessary to update the expanding information with six additional books (1-8).

Twenty-five years ago, the research centered on Pycnogenol’s powerful antioxidant activity, but even before that, it was known in Europe for its anti-inflammatory activity and capillary health role. Pycnogenol’s known health benefits then included improving skin, relieving arthritis, halting hay fever symptoms, reducing the effects of diabetes, protection against cataracts, slowing aging, maintaining heart and vascular health, reducing the risk of cancer and maintaining mental sharpness. Guess what? It’s time to update again with a new comprehensive book that discusses all of Pycnogenol’s benefits in an informative and understandable way.

The person behind most of the research studies is Professor Peter Rohdewald, Ph.D. Dr. Rohdewald’s research was the focus of my second Pycnogenol column in 1994 (9). Through the years, we’ve become good friends and I frequently consult with him to keep abreast of the Pycnogenol research. When Professor Rohdewald retired from full-time teaching, the opportunity arose for us to co-author an expanded and updated book. Our collaboration is entitled, The Pycnogenol Phenomenon (Basic Health Publications, 2016) (10).

Professor Peter Rohdewald, Ph.D.

Professor Rohdewald taught pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Münster, Germany. He is the inventor of several patents and author of more than 200 scientific publications. His fields of interest cover a broad range of pharmaceutical sciences. After establishing the analysis, production and testing procedures for Pycnogenol, Professor Rohdewald created a worldwide network of clinical research teams exploring the potential of Pycnogenol for human health. Today, he is still involved with Pycnogenol research directed to evaluate the full potential of Pycnogenol for human health.

Passwater: Dr. Rohdewald, thank you once again for co-authoring our book. When I first visited your laboratory in 1993, you were still uncovering the basic pharmacology of Pycnogenol. I remember the visit well because you had so many exciting projects underway. Your graduate students were very helpful, and my wife, Barbara, and I found the University of Münster to be very charming. Its 55,000 students gave it a “small college” feeling in spite of their large number. I still have the T-shirt commemorating the 1,200th anniversary of the historic town that now has a population of about 300,000 (Münster 1200 Jahre 793–1993).

We focused mostly on Pycnogenol’s composition, but you referred me to other researchers who were examining clinical applications. Major clinical applications at that time included Pycnogenol’s anti-histaminic and antioxidant actions, microcirculation in small blood vessels and skin anti-aging.
But going back to the start of the story: What first aroused your interest in Pycnogenol?

Rohdewald: My interest in Pycnogenol began in an unusual way in 1982 when a friend, a medical doctor, entered my office at the university and asked if I spoke French. “Yes, a bit,” I answered. “But, why are you asking?”

He explained to me that he was interested in a dietary supplement from France that reduces the discomfort of seasonal allergies. My physician friend asked the manufacturer for clinical studies, but they were only in French. He asked if I would make a summary of the studies in German. I agreed and he gave me a stack of documents. After a quick read of the studies, I thought it would be a fun idea to travel with this package of journals to France to spend my holidays there while learning about this French health ingredient at the same time.

My family and I travelled to France to the Landes de Gascogne forest near the Bay of Biscay region of the Atlantic Ocean for a beach vacation. The huge forest near to the ocean consisted of nothing but French maritime pine trees (Pinus pinaster atlantica). So, I realized that, by chance, we were sitting in the middle of the source for Pycnogenol, the subject of all the articles that I had to translate. The nutrients extracted from the bark of these pine trees are the specific blend of active bioflavonoids, which are the constituents of Pycnogenol.

By the end of our vacation, I had finished the translations and submitted the first article about Pycnogenol to a German medical journal. By that point, I was extremely excited and intrigued by this very special extract. During those weeks, I had learned that Pycnogenol had positive effects on eye health, micro-bleedings (i.e., pinpoint drops of blood that leaked from blood vessels) and edema (i.e., fluid in tissue) of the lower legs. At the time, the clinical studies were mostly uncontrolled detailed reports from treatment results. Knowledge about the ingredients of the maritime pine bark and the mode of action was sparse.

For a pharmaceutical researcher, it was a wide and open field of challenges. Thus, I set out to investigate this pine bark extract more deeply, which is what I did over the next 10 years.
As my knowledge expanded, I became more and more fascinated with the diversity of the health benefits that  Pycnogenol offers. Eventually, I became a consultant to the manufacturer, Horphag Research, Ltd. and upon my retirement from teaching, I helped direct their research program.

Passwater: You have guided Pycnogenol research into many health areas. Which health benefit do you find the most exciting?

Rohdewald: What is most exciting about Pycnogenol for my wife and me is our answer to a question that doctors ask during health exams: Which drugs are you taking regularly? Our answer is simply, “None!”

I believe the reason why we don’t take any is partly due to our daily intake of Pycnogenol over the past 20 years. As we age, it has become an essential part of our happiness as healthy older adults.
Therefore, I will not attribute one special action of Pycnogenol to our health. I am excited by the more holistic view of the sum of findings that demonstrates Pycnogenol has mild effects in improving health—physically and mentally—and keeping our bodies in balance. Healthier aging with Pycnogenol—that’s really exciting for us.

Passwater: That’s an interesting point. Indeed, there are so many documented health benefits for Pycnogenol. We had room in our book to only discuss 15 diverse applications as separate chapters. However, many more health benefits are discussed within those chapters. Have you found the fact that Pycnogenol positively affects health in so many ways to incite skepticism?

Rohdewald: Of course! Doctors as well as patients are trained to have one special kind of drug that works against one defined disease. Therefore, one pill—or worse, one food supplement—that helps a broad range of diseases is suspect, at the very least. A miracle pill with a lot of benefits, but with only a few mild side effects, seems not to be trustworthy to them.

In the case of Pycnogenol, it’s different. To start with, let’s talk about the unwanted effects. Horphag Research spent a very considerable amount of money to verify the safety of Pycnogenol. The rate of mild unwanted effects found in clinical studies is between 1% and 2%.

As for the diversity of beneficial effects, many positive health effects have been found and documented in controlled clinical studies.

Next, one has to realize that inflammation, for example, may appear in many parts of the body, whether it is the knee or the lung. It is not very astonishing that an anti-inflammatory agent may act in the knee (as in the case of arthritis) or in the lung (as in the case of asthma, which is a chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes). So, the diverse effects of Pycnogenol may be explained by its important basic mechanisms as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory agent, circulation enhancer or stimulator of neurotransmitters, without the aid of a magic wand.

Passwater: Your laboratory research provided the basic research needed to understand the many ways that Pycnogenol acts to improve health. We explain these many mechanisms in detail in our book. Please give our readers a brief, plain-English explanation of how one dietary supplement can have so many health benefits.

Rohdewald: Let’s start with free radicals. Free radicals disturb the community in politics. If they are not restrained, they may create chaos and disaster. The same holds for free radicals in our body: A few are needed to kill invading bacteria, but an overload of free radicals will damage our cells, tissues and organs. Many times, a surplus of free radicals accompanies the development of disease, especially if inflammation is involved. As Pycnogenol’s constituents are very powerful in catching free radicals, the course of the disease will be milder because part of the disease is inactive. This explains the beneficial action of Pycnogenol in a wide range of inflammatory diseases from asthma to ulcers. Moreover, free radicals create the oxidative stress that seems to be a burden of modern life. It has been shown that the amount of free radicals in our circulation decreases following intake of Pycnogenol, so the oxidative stress was lowered.

Furthermore, Pycnogenol can make our blood vessels more flexible and open wider, thus improving our circulation. A better circulation is good for the heart, the brain, the legs, for the whole body. Consequently, Pycnogenol helps us to cope better with health conditions caused by bad circulation such as tinnitus (i.e., ringing in the ears) or high blood pressure. It is unique that Pycnogenol’s many constituents offer more than one mechanism for providing health benefits.

Passwater: Recently, another German research group uncovered a surprising mode of action for Pycnogenol. A metabolite of Pycnogenol is formed in the gut during digestion and this metabolite has great activity in reducing damage to the body that is not produced by the actual compounds in Pycnogenol before digestion. I find this very interesting. We discuss this in detail in our book, but please tell our readers about this metabolite and the significance of its actions.

Rohdewald: Pycnogenol contains mainly procyanidins, which are large molecules that are too large to be absorbed in the stomach or the small intestine. To get the benefit from these biopolymers, we need the help of the bacteria inside our bowel. These bacteria cut the large procyanidins into smaller units and transform the small units into metabolites with a spectrum of anti-inflammatory effects. Surprisingly, these metabolites are transported into blood cells so that the metabolites are transported in the bloodstream to every part of our body.

Moreover, the most potent metabolite is connected to another potent antioxidant, glutathione, inside red blood cells. The advantage of that mechanism is the long-lasting action of Pycnogenol. Shortly after intake, the smaller active constituents of Pycnogenol exert their anti-inflammatory effects. About five to six hours later, active metabolites appear in the blood and the anti-inflammatory action persists, thus providing protection for the whole day.

Passwater: We discussed a great number of studies in our book about the phenomenon Pycnogenol. A relatively high percentage of investigations has been performed in Italy. Is there a center for studies with plant products?

Rohdewald: Indeed, there is a very dedicated group of researchers led by Gianni Belcaro, M.D., Ph.D., at Chieti-Pescara University Spoltore in Pescara, Italy. They convinced the population around university and clinic that Pycnogenol is a safe and very useful food supplement, so they work in clinical studies with “Pycnogenol believers.” The group is fascinated by the multiple options of this pine bark extract and they study new clinical applications in exploratory studies. One highlight was their study about the “economy class syndrome.”

Passwater: Some time has passed since we finished our book. How many studies with Pycnogenol are published now?

Rohdewald: We now have 136 clinical studies with Pycnogenol, including a total of 11,779 people who participated in these invetigations. In total, including test tube experiments with cell cultures, in vitro studies and animal experiments—not sponsored by Horphag Research—we registered 374 original publications. Pycnogenol is a gold-standard for antioxidant or anti-inflammatory studies. If we include the clinical studies performed with combinations containing Pycnogenol, we would have about a dozen more studies.

Passwater: Can you tell us which of the following applications you consider the main field of Horphag Research’s interest: cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, blood sugar, mental function or skin?

Rohdewald: As the fields overlap, it is not simple to answer your question. For example, the radical scavenging activity of Pycnogenol was tested in many studies but was not the main target of the study. Also, anti-inflammatory activity is the basis of many studies, but does not appear in the titles of the published articles.

However, a substantial part of the clinical studies deals with the vascular system. The clinical studies started with venous disorders in Europe and extended to the whole vascular system; 18 studies (including 10 with patients) focus on the reduction of cardiovascular risk factors. Venous disorders were the subject of 16 clinical studies investigating the healing of ulcers, thrombosis prevention and the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency. Diabetic syndrome was the subject of 14 studies in total, with eight of them being clinical studies. Six clinical studies deal with cognitive function.

So, one may conclude that the whole vascular system is the main target of clinical investigations at Horphag Research.

Passwater: As more and more information accumulates about the actions of the compounds in Pycnogenol, especially about the procyanidins, do you feel it’s time for nutritional researchers to place these polyphenols amongst the important nutrients, side by side with the vitamins?

Rohdewald: Vitamins are easy to understand; they are small, well-defined molecules, targeting a defined piece of our metabolism. Procyanidins are grossly underestimated by nutritionists. These complicated biopolymers are part of human life and have been an important part of our nourishment since the beginning.

Nevertheless, they do not fit simply into the categories of antihypertensives, antidiabetics or antirheumatics, although they lower elevated blood pressure and blood glucose thereby reducing the need for painkillers. However, the actions of procyanidins cannot compete with drugs in terms of intensity. They act in a mild way, lowering the complaints, but not curing instantly. The heterogeneity of the class of polyphenols and the mild action do not encourage clinical studies with 1,000 patients. As the medical community is trained by Big Pharma to trust only large studies as evidence, and as nutritionists are going in the same direction, it is really difficult to establish procyanidins as important for human health.

Passwater: Well, being a part of the Pycnogenol story has been interesting for the both of us. Where are you directing future Pycnogenol research? What might be on the horizon?
Rohdewald: Atherosclerosis will be certainly the subject of important activities in the future, based on the fact that Pycnogenol acts better than aspirin and has other effects on lipid metabolism and the atherosclerotic process.

Passwater: An interesting and related article has recently appeared as we are putting this interview to press. Researchers have just concluded that “Pycnogenol Attenuates Atherosclerosis By Regulating Lipid Metabolism Through the TLR4–NF-kB Pathway” (11). Drs. Hong Luo, Jing Wang, Chenhui Qiao, Ning Ma, Donghai Liu and Weihua Zhang of the department of cardiovascular surgery in The First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University in Henan, China, concluded that the results of their study “aid in clarifying the mechanism by which Pycnogenol attenuates pathological processes associated with atherosclerosis. Pycnogenol is known to have potential protective anti-inflammatory properties.”

Rohdewald: I expect that we will consolidate the results from exploratory studies with double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. And I foresee that researchers worldwide will provide us with more and more studies, neither initiated nor sponsored by us, because they are encouraged by the overwhelming amount of biochemical interactions of Pycnogenol.

Passwater: Dr. Rohdewald, thank you for your research and for helping to keep our readers up to date on this amazing dietary supplement. Please keep us updated on the research results. WF

Editor’s Note: Drs. Passwater’s and Rohdewald’s new book The Pycnogenol Phenomenon (Basic Health Publications) will be available for purchase at several booksellers including, Amazon.com.dr. richard passwater

Dr. Richard Passwater is the author of more than 45 books and 500 articles on nutrition. Dr. Passwater has been WholeFoods Magazine’s science editor and author of this column since 1984. More information is available on his Web site, www.drpasswater.com.

 

References
1. R.A. Passwater, “Pycnogenol: Powerful New Antioxidant,” WholeFoods Magazine 3 (14) 83–98 (1991).
2. R.A. Passwater, The New Supernutrition Pocket Books (New York, NY, 1991).
3. R.A. Passwater, The New Superantioxidant—Plus (Keats Publ., New Canaan, CT, 1992).
4. R.A. Passwater and C. Kandaswami, Pycnogenol: The Super Protector Nutrient (Keats Publ., New Canaan, CT, 1994).
5. R.A. Passwater, All About Pycnogenol (Avery Publ. Gp. Garden City Park, NY, 1998).
6. R.A. Passwater, Pycnogenol for Superior Health (McCleery & Sons Publ., Fargo, ND, 2001).
7. R.A. Passwater, Pycnogenol: Nature’s Most Versatile Supplement (Basic Health Publ., Laguna Beach, CA, 2005).
8. R.A. Passwater, Live Better Longer (Basic Health Publications, Laguna Beach, CA, 2007).
9. R.A. Passwater, “Pycnogenol – Safe and Effective: An interview with Professor Peter Rohdewald,” WholeFoods Magazine 7 (17) 34-88 (1994).
10. P. Rohdewald and R.A. Passwater, The Pycnogenol Phenomenon (Basic Health Publications, Columbus, OH, 2016).
11. H Luo, et al., “Pycnogenol Attenuates Atherosclerosis By Regulating Lipid Metabolism Through The TLR4–NF-Κb Pathway,” Exper. Molec. Med. (2015) 47, e191; doi:10.1038/emm.2015.74 (Published online 23 October 2015).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine December 2015