Grape Seed Extract, Pycnogenol™ and Proanthocyanidins

Seldom does a powerful and valuable new antioxidant product arrive in the U.S. after long use in Europe. The south of France being blessed with two of the richest sources of proanthocyanidin content — grapes and the French maritime pine, Professor Masquelier had abundant raw material. In 1951 he patented a method of extracting proanthocyanidins from pine bark, and in 1970 extended this same technique to cover grape seed. For a number of reasons, however, all research, clinical trials, and the present French pharmaceutical form have used grape seed extract, and in France, where the product has been on the market for years, OPC from grape seeds outsells that from pine bark about 5:1. The principal reason for the research concentration on grape seeds has been the one-year growing cycle (vs. 15 for a pine) and the ability to place radioactive markers in the grape vines to study proanthocyanidin’s metabolism. Without doubt, the market dominance of grape seed extract in Europe comes not only from this link to the researched product, but because grape seed extract has a higher percentage of proanthocyanidins than pine bark extract (95% vs. 85%), and is less expensive.

In the midst of this developing research, however, rides an Irish company, Horphag Research, Ltd., providing financing, and obtaining a license to produce a pine bark extract they trademarked Pycnogenol®. This is tantamount to trying to trademark the words water or tocopherol. It has also lead to much legal scrapping, and confusion in the press and the public, as Pycnogenol® has tried to exert its superiority and exclusivity to the name of Pycnogenol®. While Pycnogenol® is undoubtedly a fine product, its claims to superiority are doubly doubtful as most of this research was done on grape seed extract and then extrapolated to pine bark.

As for Professor Masquelier, he favors the grape seed extract product due to its higher OPC content, its lower cost, and its higher content of beneficial gallic acid esters of proanthocyanidins. By all accounts, attempts to imply that Pycnogenol® has some mystical yet unidentified content other than proanthocyanidins has no basis in fact.

Proanthocyanidins from grape seeds have been shown to be among the most potent antioxidants and antimutagens ever tested, and are used clinically in Europe for a number of problems related to poor circulation and free radical production, including circulatory problems of the heart and brain, capillary fragility, edema, varicose veins, platelet aggregation, and visual disturbances. Typical European daily doses range from 50-300 mg of grape seed extract daily.

Reference: VRP, March 1995.

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