Great interest is currently centred on the biologic activities of pycnogenol a standardized plant extract obtained from the bark of the French maritime pine Pinus pinaster (formerly known as Pinus maritima), Aiton, subspecies Atlantica des Villar (Pycnogenol, Horphag Research Ltd., UK, Geneve, Switzerland), which grows in the coastal southwest France. The quality of this extract is specified in the United States Pharmacopeia (USP 28). Between 65% and 75% of Pycnogenol are procyanidins comprising of catechin and epicatechin subunits with varying chain lengths. Other constituents are polyphenolic monomers, phenolic or cinnamic acids and their glycosides. As many studies indicate, pycnogenol components are highly bioavailable. Uniquely, pycnogenol displays greater biologic effects as a mixture than its purified components do individually indicating that the components interact synergistically. Pycnogenol is now utilized throughout the world as a nutritional supplement and as a phytochemical remedy for various diseases ranging from chronic inflammation to circulatory dysfunction, including several impaired psycho-physiological functions. Owing to the basic chemical structure of its components, the most obvious feature of pycnogenol is its strong antioxidant activity. In fact, phenolic acids, polyphenols, and in particular flavonoids, are composed of one (or more) aromatic rings bearing one or more hydroxyl groups and are therefore potentially able to quench free radicals by forming resonance-stabilized phenoxyl radicals. In this review, emphasizing the molecular, cellular, and functional bases of therapy, data appearing in the peer-reviewed literature and focussing the main therapeutic applications of pycnogenol will be summarized and critically evaluated.
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