proanthocyanidins - powerful Antioxidants and More

powerful Antioxidants and More

Despite their awkward name, proanthocyanidins are making the headlines in the health food and supplement arena, where they are available as pine bark extracts ( pycnogenol ) and grape seed extracts. proanthocyanidins are highly regarded for their strong antioxidant properties, and for their functions in supporting the body's connective tisses and capillary blood vessel system.

But what exactly are these proanthocyanidins , what is the secret about their antioxidant actions, and what other functions do they have

proanthocyanidins (also called leukoanthocyanidins) are a class of natural polyphenolic bioflavonoids that are very widespread in nature. They are found in many plant sources, like certain pine bark , grape seed , wine, cranberries , and the leaves of bilberry , birch, ginkgo and hawthorn .

proanthocyanidins are the main precursors of the blue-violet and red pigments in plants. They occur as single molecules (monomers, like catechin and epi-catechin) and as chains of two, three or more molecules, which then are called oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OpC) or sometimes procyanidolic oligomers.

Europeans have been studying and using various forms of these natural proanthocyanidins for several decades for their numerous beneficial effects. proanthocyanidins and their outstanding antioxidant activities were discovered by professor Jacques Masquelier of the University of Bordeaux, France. professor Masquelier isolated these proanthocyanidins first from pine bark and later from grape seeds, and obtained patent protection of the extraction methods. He confirmed the structure, effects, and lack of toxicity of these proanthocyanidins.

Today, both the pine bark and grape seed extracts are considered the major sources of proanthocyanidins. pine bark extract from the European coastal pine ( pinus maritima ) is sold by AMNI under the name pycnogenol , and contains about 80 to 85% proanthocyanidins. grape seed extract (from Vitis vinifera ) is sold under the name grape seed , and is standardized to contain a minimum of 92% proanthocyanidins. professor Masquelier's most recent patent (U.S. patent No. 4,698,360, 1987) protects both grape seed extract and pycnogenol, as well as other extracts providing significant amounts of proanthocyanidins, for their antioxidant uses.

powerful Antioxidants... proanthocyanidins have very useful antioxidant properties. Some researchers claim them to be many times stronger than vitamin C or E. However, the antioxidant potential is usually measured in the test tube (in vitro), and may not adequately reflect their action in the living organism (in vivo). Also, antioxidant properties of nutrients in vivo are often complementary or synergistic rather than additive. Therefore, it is better to say that these proanthocyanidins are powerful antioxidants which may have their own unique place in the body's overall protection against harmful free radical damage.

proanthocyanidins appear to be especially effective in neutralizing highly reactive hydroxyl and singlet oxygen radicals. Both of these reactive oxygen species are involved in inflammatory processes.

...And More. proanthocyanidins also support and enhance the activity of vitamin C, and are known for their ability to help support the health of the body's capillary system and connective tissues. proanthocyanidins have been shown to bind with collagen fibers, thereby protecting them from premature degradation. This helps maintain the natural elasticity of collagen in skin, joints, arteries, capillaries, and other connective tissues. Studies with proanthocyanidins from pycnogenol showed that of all the bioflavonoids tested, proanthocyanidins were the most effective in maintaining optimum capillary resistance.

In addition to proanthocyanidins, pycnogenol and grape seed contain an array of other biologically active compounds. pycnogenol contains about 15% of various forms of organic acids, among them ferulic acid, caffeic acid, vanillic acid, para-hydroxybenzoic acid, and taxifolin. These phenolic organic acids are widespread in nature and contribute to the beneficial action of pycnogenol, through their antioxidant and other metabolic actions.

Ferulic acid, for example, appears to have a role in maintaining normal smooth muscle tone in blood vessels and the uterus. Caffeic acid may support digestion by stimulating bile flow from the liver. This also helps maintain the liver's ability in detoxification, as animal studies have shown. Caffeic acid has been shown to possess antioxidant benefits, and it may keep immune function in check by maintaining adequate synthesis of leukotrienes. Both caffeic and ferulic acids have been shown to inhibit the formation of harmful nitroso compounds in the gut.

Grape seed extract, in turn, contains gallic acid and gallic acid esters, compounds that are known for their astringent and antioxidant (gallic acid esters) properties.

pycnogenol or grape seed : Each is Unique. Should you use pycnogenol or grape seed , or both In making this decision, consider the following. If it is just proanthocyanidins you are looking for, then grape seed extract may be your preferred choice. However, if you are also looking for a fuller spectrum of bioactive compounds of a natural extract, then pycnogenol appears to have the edge.

Since pycnogenol and grape seed are natural flavonoid extracts from entirely different origins, each should be viewed in the context of its own individual spectrum of bioactive components. Either pycnogenol or grape seed or both together may provide you with their own unique benefits. Often, your own experience will indicate which one is best for you.

The proanthocyanidins of grape seed or pycnogenol are all water-soluble and readily absorbed. grape seed or pycnogenol can be taken together with other daily nutrients and antioxidants to create a fuller spectrum of antioxidant protection. Typically, it is recommended that people start with 100 to 200 mg of grape seed or pycnogenol daily for about a week, and then switch to a maintenance intake of 50 milligrams per day.


  • Gendre pMJ, Laparra J, and Barraud E: Effet protecteur des oligomeres procyanidoliques sur le lathyrisme experimental chez le rat. Ann pharmaceutics Francaises 1985;43:61-71.
  • Masquelier, Jacques, plant extract with a proanthocyanidins content as therapeutic agent having radical scavenging effect and use thereof. U.S. patent No. 4,698,360.
  • Masquelier J, Dumon MC, and Dumas J: Stabilisation du collagen par des oligomeres procyanidoliques. Acta Therapeutica 1981;7:101-105.
  • Robert L et al: Action of procyanidolic oligomers on vascular permeability. path Biol 1990;38:608-616.
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  • Yu CL and Swaminathan B: Mutagenicity of proanthocyanidins. Food Chem Toxicol 1987;25 (2):135-9.
  • Uchida et al: Condensed tannins scavenge active oxygen free radicals. Med Sci Res 1987;15:831-832
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