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My Experience With Pycnogenol for Jet Lag

It’s been a full week since I returned from my first trip to Europe, and I am completely refreshed. I’ve had three full nights of sleep in a row, some of the best sleep I’ve had in months. And I never really experienced jet lag. A few days before my flight, I started taking a supplement called pycnogenol. What is pycnogenol and is there any evidence it can help with jet lag?

What is pycnogenol?

Pycnogenol is pine bark extract that is grown in southwestern France. It acts as a potent free-radical scavenger, with active compounds including bioflavonoids and procyanidins that help improve cellular defense; circulatory, joint, and cardiovascular function; immune response; and skin health. The particular dose I took was 100 mg per day in one vegetarian capsule. It also contained rice flour, hypromellose (for the capsule), and ascorbyl palmitate. Procyanidins are one of the main components of pycnogenol in addition to phenolic acids. 1 Procyanidins are “biopolymers of catechin and epicatechin subunits, which are recognized as important constituents in human nutrition.” Where have we heard of catechin and epicatechin before? Ah yes, green tea. Procyanidins are a class of flavonoids, while phenolic acids derive from benzoic and cinnamic acids. These all have antioxidant properties, which help protect against oxidative stress.

Pycnogenol health benefits

So we know that pycnogenol works as a free-radical scavenger, and it’s a strong one — it doubles the intracellular synthesis of antioxidative enzymes. 1 It also helps regenerate and protect vitamins C and E and acts as an anti-inflammatory. A few other key benefits of pycnogenol according to this comprehensive review:
  • It’s effective in treating chronic venous insufficiency and retinal micro-hemorrhages;
  • It may protect against UV-radiation-induced erythema, a reddening of the skin;
  • It can improve lung function in asthma patients and positively alter the immune response in people with Lupus;
  • In smokers, it has been shown to prevent smoking-induced platelet aggregation while patients with cardiovascular disease have seen dilation of the small blood vessels (increasing blood flow and decreasing blood pressure);
  • The phenolic acids in pycnogenol may smooth muscle spasms, thus helping to relieve pain from menstrual cramps;
  • It may also reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms; 2
  • It may improve our skin 3 and, in topical form, reduce scar formation; 4
  • ADHD patients may see improved cognitive function in terms of how pycnogenol affects glutathione levels; 5 and
  • Pycnogenol can increase nitric oxide production. Combined with L-arginine, it may improve erectile dysfunction. 6
But what about jet lag? This was my main reason for taking pycnogenol, and we’ll get to some studies in a minute. First, let’s take a look at the symptoms of jet lag and how pycnogenol may help with each. See also: Not all vitamin C is created equal

My jet lag experiment with pycnogenol

So, how worried was I about jet lag before my trip? A little worried. Because I only had five full days overseas to do everything I wanted to do, taking out two days completely devoted to travel, I didn’t want to be zoned out for any of it. Because I’d never experienced jet lag before, I wanted to know what it would feel like so I could recognize if the pycnogenol was working or not. (In one study, a daily 50 mg dose of pycnogenol for a week starting two days before travel was found to have reduced jet lag symptoms in a test group compared to the control group, so I was hopeful and was planning to take 100 mg daily.) Jet lag is also referred to as “circadian desynchrony,” and is a sleep disorder. The body’s circadian rhythm just can’t keep up with rapid travel, and the more time zones crossed, the worse the jet lag. The timing of flights also matters, and the elderly are especially affected by jet lag when doing significant travel. 7 A few of the key symptoms of jet lag, which take place after crossing at least two time zones, include:
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Decreased ability to perform mental and physical tasks
  • Reduced alertness
  • Headaches
Traveling east usually results in more jet lag than traveling west. While symptoms usually only last a couple of days as your body adjusts to the new time zone it’s in, they may last up to a week — particularly if you’ve traveled more than eight hours forward or back in time zones.

My experience with pycnogenol

How many time zones did I cross? Six! But the time difference from Austin to Amsterdam was seven hours. And now that I know going to Amsterdam may be worse than coming back home (east vs. west), I was especially anxious to get started on pycnogenol right away. Here’s how my experience went.

Day 1 – two days before travel

On a Monday two days before my flight, I took one dose of pycnogenol, as recommended by John. I took it in the morning with my breakfast, along with my usual 200 mg dose of magnesium that I take daily. I decided in addition to packing light for a weeklong trip where we’d be doing a lot of travel by train in two countries, some day trips with just a backpack, I’d only pack enough loose supplements that could fit in my purse, so I threw in 14 capsules of magnesium and 7 capsules of pycnogenol. I felt a little sleepy and out of it on Day 1, but that could have been the cold that was coming on.

Day 2 – one day before travel

I’m feeling better on Day 2 and not at all loopy, which may or may not have been the pycnogenol. However, later that night I started getting a scratchy throat, and by the morning of Day 3 and waking up at 5:30 a.m. for my first flight, I had developed a cold. Just what you want when you’ll be up in the air in a metal box for 10-plus hours!

Day 3 – flight(s) to Europe

Our first step was waking up early to drive to the Austin airport for our first flight to Chicago, which was 3 hours. We had about a four-hour layover between that flight and our international one to the Netherlands, which was only 7 hours. At this point though, I have a bad head cold. I had packed some Zzzquil at the suggestion of a friend who travels often to help me fall asleep during the day on the plane. Since this was my first international flight, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was able to get in a few hours of shut-eye on that freezing-cold jet, holding a Kleenex to my mouth half the flight. My mother was sick with an even worse-sounding cold. Would this entire trip be a germy bust?

Day 4 – landing in Europe

We landed in Amsterdam about 7 a.m. their time, or midnight ours. It didn’t feel too bad waking up on the plane for breakfast in our seats at around 5 a.m. Amsterdam time, but my cold symptoms continued through the morning. We had a second breakfast at a pancake shop in Amsterdam around 9 a.m. that was hard to make it through alert and with it, but mostly because of my cold, I think. But after a two-hour nap at 1 p.m. Amsterdam time, I awoke refreshed and felt completely adjusted to the time zone. That’s just eight hours after landing.

Day 5 – a day without any travel

We spent this day, Friday, mostly lounging around but doing some walking and taking a nice bicycle ride through the Dutch countryside. I woke up again feeling great, and in addition to pycnogenol and magnesium, was taking one dose a day of a natural antihistamine made in the Netherlands (and not in English) bought at a Dutch train station. Toward the end of the day, my cold is mostly gone.

Days 6-8 – three heavy travel days

We spent the next few days on buses or trains, traveling around Holland and Belgium, seeing sites, and enjoying our vacation. My sleep schedule was fully adjusted to the local time, though we did take a nap in the early evening Day 6. Overall, I felt good all weekend into Monday.

Day 9 – returning to the U.S.

On Tuesday, we woke up at 6 a.m. Amsterdam time and spent most of the day traveling. First, a two-hour train ride to Amsterdam (with a few transfers) to the airport. Then, a longer flight going back to the U.S., about nine hours. I didn’t sleep much on the flight, maybe a total of 30-45 minutes. After that, a poorly planned six-hour layover before we could get on our flight home to Austin from Chicago (note to self: make layovers three hours max). That flight was then three hours, again. I had a few awkward moments falling asleep in Chicago’s airport, and then a few more on the last flight home, sleeping almost the entirety of that trip. We arrived at the airport, then drove 25 minutes home to our dog and our comfy bed, and passed out around 11:30 p.m. Austin time — more than 24 hours after we’d started our journey home.

Day 10 – first full day back

Surprisingly, much like the lack of jet lag on the way to Europe, I experienced very little to no jet lag when continuing the pycnogenol after we were back home. That’s after being awake for virtually an entire 24 hours. I ended up sleeping for six hours on the first night home, an hour and a half less than my ideal, but woke up feeling fine at about 7:30 a.m. Austin time. Since I didn’t want to go back to sleep in case it threw my schedule out of wack, I just started work early that day. I only felt a little sleepy in the afternoon, but that is typical for me, particularly when I’m drinking caffeine. In that study I briefly mentioned earlier on pycnogenol and jet-lag symptoms, researchers performed a brain CT scan within the first 28 hours after participants’ flights ended. It’s interesting to note that of the 38 people who took pycnogenol compared to 30 people in the control group, the difference in jet-lag symptoms was “statistically significant,” particularly in the cerebral edema score.
“The short-term memory was significantly altered in the control group and associated to edema and swelling of the lower limbs. The score (and the level of edema) was comparatively higher in a subgroup of hypertensive subjects in the control group. Minor alterations of cardiac function were observed in association with de-stabilisation of blood pressure. Fatigue was also significantly higher in the control group in comparison with the Pycnogenol group.”
The duration of jet lag also was significant. In the control group, symptoms lasted on average for more than 39 hours. In the pycnogenol group, symptoms were reduced to a duration of just over 18 hours. Now, I thought my jet lag was over after 8 hours, but realistically, it probably wasn’t and I was just tinged with optimism. I definitely was within that 18-hour range, though.

Days 11-14 – the rest of the week with pycnogenol

I kept taking a daily dose of pycnogenol for five days after travel, probably more than I needed, for a total of two weeks surrounding a 7-day international trip. On days 13 and 14, toward the end, I got eight hours of sleep each of those nights — the most sleep I’d had in two weeks, according to my Fitbit.

Other ways to beat jet lag

If you’re planning to take a trip soon and already have a pycnogenol supplement at the ready, great. But there are a few other things you can do to help reduce your jet-lag symptoms.

Before flying

Pack compression socks or stockings. While pycnogenol should help reduce leg swelling, wearing the right clothing can also alleviate symptoms. You could also try to start getting your body adjusted to the time zone you’ll be traveling to a few days before your flight by going to bed and waking up at different times, but it wasn’t convenient for me to do this so I didn’t. Frequent travelers, however, may have this method down pat — and they probably already know about pycnogenol. In a recent study 8 of nearly 300 travelers at different risk levels for thrombosis who flew in economy class twice a week for greater than 8 hours, the low-risk group saw improvements in jet-lag symptoms with both pycnogenol and compression stockings. Less swelling in the ankles was noted with pycnogenol over compression socks, however, in addition to reduced edema in the moderate-risk group. High-risk travelers saw even greater positive effects with pycnogenol supplementation.

During your flight

Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. It may be unpleasant to get up so many times to use the washroom if you’ve been downing H2O, but moving around will help your blood circulate and make you a little less stir-crazy. Also, try your best to sleep on the plane. You may be like my mother and say, “I never sleep on planes, trains, or buses,” but at some point, you have to give in (and she did).

After your flight

When you’re in your new time zone, it may be helpful to work out in the morning, if that’s able to fit in with your travel plans. If not, make sure to keep moving, either way, and adjust as best you can to the new time zone by staying awake if you land in the morning. You also can take a melatonin supplement or a supplement containing L-theanine, the amino acid found in green tea, during your trip. L-theanine has a calming effect and may help you sleep better.

Pycnogenol side effects

Pycnogenol generally doesn’t have any side effects, as it has low acute and chronic toxicity. However, some mild side effects may occur when taking pycnogenol, including drowsiness, dizziness, irritability, and gastrointestinal discomfort. Be sure to discuss these with your doctor ahead of taking pycnogenol, particularly if you are on any blood thinners or are pregnant, have diabetes, have an autoimmune condition, have a heart condition, or are within two weeks of a scheduled surgery.

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Pycnogenol takeaways

So you may have read this and are wondering: Is pycnogenol right for me? How much pycnogenol should I take? Some studies have shown effects at 50 mg per day, while I took 100 mg. But in my opinion, I didn’t really ever feel the typical jet lag symptoms aside from some fatigue and sleepiness, and they went away quickly. For me, 100 mg of pycnogenol was an immense help and I plan to take it every time I travel.

Amber Krosel

Amber Krosel is a Gene Food experience writer and official taste tester. She loves beer, her boyfriend and her adopted pup.

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