When people talk about the “heartbreak of psoriasis”—a phrase from an old TV commercial—they aren’t kidding, because psoriasis is no joke. This autoimmune disorder causes patches of skin to become scaly, red, hard, painful and itchy and to flake off of the body. It also can cause arthritis just about anywhere in the body…and it increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Some patients are able to manage their discomfort with skin lotions that soothe the skin and reduce inflammation. In other cases, therapy using light (phototherapy) helps. But sometimes symptoms are so severe that steroids and other powerful medications that suppress the immune system are used. Problem: These drugs can increase the risk for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, glaucoma, cataracts, osteoporosis and skin cancer.

Good news: A supplement made from a particular type of tree can significantly ease psoriasis symptoms, improve quality of life and reduce the need for medication, according to new research. Interestingly, this same supplement has been shown to help with numerous other conditions, from joint pain to diabetes to sexual dysfunction.


The 73 participants in the new study all had moderate-to-severe psoriasis involving 10% to almost 50% of their body surface area and had tried phototherapy and/or systemic treatment (not just topical skin lotions) within the previous year. Throughout the study, all participants received standard psoriasis treatments as needed, prescribed at the discretion of their individual dermatologists…and patients recorded the drugs they used in diaries. In addition to standard care, half of the participants also took 150 mg per day of an oral supplement called Pycnogenol, an extract derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree.

At the start of the study and again 12 weeks later, participants answered questionnaires about how psoriasis affected their quality of life…for example, whether it made them self-conscious or influenced their clothing choices. Lab tests and exams were done to determine each participant’s level of skin moisture (the amount of water and oil in the skin, which is lower than normal with psoriasis)…the disease’s severity (indicated by redness, skin hardening and flaking) and spread (the amount of skin affected)…and blood levels of free radicals, a sign of oxidative stress that can worsen symptoms.

By the end of the 12-week study period, participants in both groups showed improvement—not surprising, given that they all had been receiving care from their dermatologists. However, the Pycnogenol group showed significantly greater improvement than the control group. For instance, here’s what the researchers found with regard to…

  • Severity: By all measures, the Pycnogenol group fared better than the control group. Among Pycnogenol users, the average reduction in redness, skin hardening and flaking was about 45%…whereas in the control group, average reductions for these three symptoms ranged from 16% to 28%.
  • Spread: The area of skin affected by psoriasis was reduced by 20% in the Pycnogenol group, but by only 8% in the control group.
  • Moisture levels: Skin moisture rose from abnormally low to within the normal range in the Pycnogenol group, but not in the control group.
  • Quality of life: On the questionnaires, the Pycnogenol group reported improvement in all 12 areas that assessed quality of life…but the control group showed improvement in only half of the areas.
  • Standard treatments needed: Compared to the control group, the Pycnogenol users required less medication (as indicated by what their individual dermatologists found it necessary to prescribe). For example, only 31% of Pycnogenol users required topical or systemic steroids, compared with 68% of the control group.
  • Safety and tolerability: No side effects were reported in the Pycnogenol group and compliance was excellent, with more than 95% of the supplement doses being taken correctly. At the end of the study, 84% of participants in the Pycnogenol group opted to continue using the supplement because they found it beneficial.


Pycnogenol is a patented amalgam of more than three dozen antioxidants thought to reduce inflammation, swelling and oxidative stress and increase circulation of nutrients to the skin. Supporting this idea is the fact that, in this new study, participants’ blood levels of free radicals fell significantly among the Pycnogenol users but not in the control group.

Now, we’ve all heard of the placebo effect, whereby patients taking a remedy—even if it’s just a placebo—tend to improve because they expect the remedy to work. And that certainly could have been a factor in this study, especially given that the Pycnogenol users knew that they were taking a supplement and the control group was not given any placebo to counterbalance the placebo effect. Still, the fact that the Pycnogenol group showed greater improvement in objective measures (such as area of affected skin and moisture levels) and not just subjective measures (such as quality of life) suggests that the supplement had biological and not just psychological effects.

If you have psoriasis: Talk to your dermatologist about adding Pycnogenol to your treatment plan to see whether it improves your symptoms…and possibly even allows you to cut back on medication. The dosage used in this study was 50 mg three times per day.

Pycnogenol’s many other uses: Psoriasis isn’t the only condition helped by Pycnogenol. Other research has shown that the supplement also benefits people with diabetes, circulatory problems, joint pain, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, chronic low blood pressure, erectile dysfunction and neuropathy.

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