Proanthocyanidins ( Pycnogenol )

Plant based compounds called the proanthocyanidins are part of the bioflavonoid family of organic compounds. The chemical term "pycnogenol" is also given to these compounds by some scientists. The strong antioxidant effect of these plant based proanthocyanidins comes in handy in supplements; these compounds also help stabilize collagen within the body. These compounds also help in the maintenance of elastin. Collagen and elastin are the two principal proteins used in the formation of connective tissue, as well as in the structure of all blood vessels and muscle fibers in the human body. Supplemental proanthocyanidins are said to help reduce the edema in tissues following a face lift surgery, decreasing the recovery time by 15.8 to 11.4 days in a double-blind research - this may be due to their effect on the structure of the blood vessels. Though, the results from research are still hazy and in the preliminary stages, the proanthocyanidins seem to have an anti-mutagenic activity in the body - this property could be very useful in treating diseases.

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In double-blind research, as little as two fifty mg tablets a day were given to test subjects, the proanthocyanidins were seen to have a measurable effect on capillary strength. French clinical researchers studied women with chronic venous insufficiency in a double-blind study, doses of one hundred fifty mg a day of the supplement aided in inhibiting all symptoms of the condition. In another double-blind French study, the use of a total of just three hundred mg a day or one hundred mg taken thrice a day by patients resulted in beneficial effects in just four weeks of continual supplementation.

Doses of proanthocyanidins at two hundred mg per day for a period of five weeks significantly improved various aspects of vision in otherwise healthy and normal people, measured as improved visual performance in the dark as well as visual acuity after exposure of the eye to a glare. The proanthocyanidins have definite antioxidant effects in the body, and while this requires further study, this singular property of the proanthocyanidins may be what separates it from all other plant based bioflavonoid compounds.

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Proanthocyanidins are definitely worth of their great repute of being a potent antioxidant that eliminates the harmful free radicals and their ability to make other antioxidants more powerful. In one study undertaken in a laboratory (in vitro), it was found that the OPCs (oligomeric proanthocyanidins) contained in a patented extract from pine bark were effective in extending the duration of vitamin C by as much as 400 per cent. A different in vitro study demonstrated that when the linings of the blood vessels come in contact with the OPCs in pine bark, it enhanced the vitamin E contained by them to the extent of 15 per cent. In fact, it has also been found that grape seed too has recycling as well as potentiating consequences. The activity of vitamin E in in vitro studies, an environment that imitates that of the cell membranes, has revealed augmentation by the OPCs contained in grape seeds.

In one in vitro study that examined the reaction of the cells in human mouth to the damage caused by the free radicals due to smokeless tobacco, the OPCs in grape seed were found to be a more potent antioxidant compared to vitamin C and vitamin E, as well as when these two vitamins were blended.

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The oxidation function in atherogenesis (a condition in which the arteries become stiff) is now becoming obvious. Oxidized LDL (low density lipoproteins also called 'bad cholesterol') destroy the cells coating the walls of the blood vessels by stimulating several reactions, counting inflammation, proliferation of smooth muscle cells and also clotting mechanisms - all that result in atherosclerosis.

Proanthocyanidins present plenty of expectations. An extract from grape seed comprising oligomeric proanthocyanidins antioxidants plus phenolic acid in equal proportions (50 per cent each) helped to prevent this type of oxidation in in vitro studies conducted on pig LDL. In addition, OPCs are also likely to put off development of atherosclerosis in several different ways. For instance, two in vitro studies conducted in recent times detected that the patented extract of pine bark regulated the discharge of nitric oxide that had an effect on the widening of the blood vessels.

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Various studies conducted in vitro hint that OPCs also offer additional protection against cancer. OPCs present in the berries belonging to the Vaccinium family, counting cranberry, blueberry and lingonberry, impede the growth of carcinogenic tumors by putting off synthesis of protein in their cells, which, in turn, thwarts them from proliferating. In addition, studies undertaken in laboratories have also found that the OPCs present in barley bran converted cells of human myeloid leukemia into cells that were not cancerous any more. A different in vitro study discovered that a patented extract of grape seed eliminated carcinogenic cells; slowed down the development of the cancer cells of lung, breast, stomach as well as myelogenous leukemia in humans to the extent of roughly 73 per cent, and, at the same time, promoted the growth of normal cells.

In the case of other areas affected by cancer, it was found that people who came in contact with tobacco smoke actually ingest extremely cancerous nitrosamines. Latest studies hint that OPCs present in the bark of witch hazel (botanical name Hamamelis virginiana) check the formation of nitrosamine as well as their aptitude to cause DNA mutations.

Betel nut (botanical name Areca catechu), which is chewed by numerous people in Asia for stimulation, too encloses OPCs. In an experiment involving only two people, both consumed 300 mg L-proline as well as 300 mg sodium - both precursors of nitrate nitrosamine. Later, it was found that the urine of the subjects contained 14.7 mcg and 10.9 mcg N-nitroso-L-proline. During a following study, these two people not only consumed the same precursors of nitrosamine, but also chewed 1/4 of a betel nut each. It was found that this time their urine did not have any nitrosamine. According to the researchers, it is possible that the OPCs present in betel nut may have a vital function in preventing cancers naturally. In addition, proanthocyanidins are also likely to provide protection against viral infections. In studies undertaken in laboratories (in vitro), it was found that OPCs contained by hawthorn (botanical name Crataegus oxyacantha) eliminated the HIV and herpes (also called HSV-1) viruses.

A health condition known as venous insufficiency is very common. When an individual suffers from this condition, his/ her veins as well as muscles, mainly in the legs, are unable to work well to transfer blood back to the heart. In such cases, walking is not only difficult, but also painful. Scientists in Italy have demonstrated that consuming an extract of grape seed may be helpful in such cases. In fact, they treated 24 people having persistent venous insufficiency (70 per cent suffered from edema, while 50 per cent endured some pain) giving the patients 100 mg of the extract from grape seed every day. There was noticeable improvement in the condition of the patients in just 10 days. In addition, people in Europe have used bilberry as well as additional bioflavonoids to treat venous insufficiency for many years.

In addition to providing natural protection against cancer and viruses, proanthocyanidins protect our body from toxic substances too. It may be noted that acetaminophen, an active element in Tylenol, is a very strong toxin for the liver and it is estimates that it results in 75,000 poisoning incidences in the United States. In most such cases of poisoning, the victims are admitted to hospitals for treatment. Experiments conducted on animals have revealed that pre-treating them with 100 mg/ kg body weight of a patented extract from grape seed helped to avoid damage to their liver owing to the use of acetaminophen. In order to evaluate if any damage was done to the organ, the scientists examined the cells of the liver for any damage and also closely checked the health of the animals during the course of the study.

Proanthocyanidins not only help to prevent diseases, but may also help us to make us look more youthful. Oxidation causes certain damages that lead to the appearance of most noticeable aging signs on the skin. When this damage is prevented, it helps us maintain a youthful look. You can avoid such damages by lessening your exposure to the sun, which, in turn decreases the harmful effects of the sun's ultra violet (UV) rays. In addition, several sunscreen products have included various types of antioxidants with a view to put off the damages caused to the skin due to exposure to the sun.

Findings of one research showed that OPCs contained by grape seeds themselves have an antioxidant outcome which is equally strong as vitamin E, as they shield dissimilar unsaturated fatty acids from the lipid peroxidation brought about by ultra violet light. The same study also found that the OPCs in grape seeds interacted in synergy with vitamin E and reprocessed the inactivated variety of the vitamin to its active form and, thereby, functioning in the form of a virtual extender for vitamin E.

The aging process partially involves the decay of our skin by an enzyme known as elastase, which is secreted with an inflammatory reaction. OPCs particularly work to obstruct the release of elastase, thereby, sustaining the effectiveness of elastin (a protein that comprises most of the elastic tissues).

In addition, OPCs are also likely to facilitate the growth of dense hair on the head, provided the results of experiments conducted on animals are also applicable to humans. During the course of a study, researchers in Japan shaved rodents and discovered that as much as 40 per cent of the hair naturally grew again. However, it was found that applying just one per cent of one of the three proanthocyanidins to the skin resulted in 70 to 80 per cent of hair re-growth. Moreover, test tube experiments corroborated that OPCs work to stimulate keratinocytes present in the hair to grow three-fold more hair compared to the controls.

Proanthocyanidins are a wonderful plant compound that provides us with multiple health benefits, including protecting us from cancer, atherosclerosis as well as toxins present in the environment. In addition, they also help us to maintain a youthful look. Can anyone ask for more from plant compounds? However, its attributes do not end here. Proanthocyanidins also have a sweet flavour. For instance, the rhizome of Selliguea feei, a fern native to Indonesia, encloses proanthocyanidin selligueain A, which is roughly 35 times sweeter, compared to normal sugar.

Scientists believe that proanthocyanidins possess incredible potentials. Nevertheless, plenty of research needs to be undertaken with proanthocyanidins before we are able to develop even a solitary pill that will help us to feel hale and hearty and keep looking young. Luckily, the consumers will not have to wait until the findings of comprehensive clinical trials come out to enjoy the health benefits offered by proanthocyanidins. As of now, these plant compounds are being marketed in the form of foods as well as dietary supplements.

Sources of proanthocyanidins

Many plants contain the proanthocyanidins and can serve as good sources for the supplement. However, the richest sources for the supplement are pine bark, grape seeds, and the skin of grapes. These flavonoids can also be found in other plants such as the bilberry, the cranberry, the black currant, as well as in green tea and black tea in significant amounts. Most herbal stores sell nutritional supplements containing the proanthocyanidins sourced from a variety of plant extracts. These products are either used alone or often sold in combination with other plant based nutrients, especially as herbal extracts, and in capsules, and tablets. Any of these can be used as supplements.

Deficiencies and susceptibility

As far as humans are concerned, plant nutrients including all flavonoids and the proanthocyanidins are not considered to be essential nutrients. Their absolute absence in the body will not induce a state of deficiency. The value of the plant nutrients like proanthocyanidins lies in their many benefits for human health and well being. These beneficial effects will only be available to someone who consumes a wide variety of plants and plant based nutrients.

Usual dosage

As far as the average human diet is concerned, consuming supplemental flavonoids including the proanthocyanidins can be a significant source for antioxidants for a person. Supplemental proanthocyanidins at fifty to a hundred mg daily is ideal according to most nutritionally oriented doctors. The best dosage amount or the optimal dose is not clear yet and requires further study.

Side effects and cautions

There are no adverse effects associated with any of the flavonoids. Side effects with proanthocyanidins are simply absent even after prolonged supplemental use. Excess amounts tend to be expelled in the urine as these supplements are water soluble and taking large doses of these compounds is unlikely to be harmful.
There is an added benefit to proanthocyanidins supplementation, they are antioxidants similar to the vitamin C, and their presence in the body may result in conservation of the vitamin C stored in the body.


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