Pycnogenol improved cognitive function, attention and exam results in students.

Compounds such as methylphenidate and modafinil are used by students in pursuit of better grades, military personnel who need to remain awake for long time, elderly individuals afraid of cognitive decline and even university academics keen to maintain their performance. However those compounds are pharmacological drugs and are not exempt of side-effects. There is a trend towards the use of more natural compounds like food supplements and the need for it is increasing.

An observational study in Pescara, Italy assessed the effects Pycnogenol on cognitive function, attention and mental performance in healthy university students. Fifty-three (53) students (aged 18-27 years) were administered 2x50 mg Pycnogenol tablets daily for 8 weeks. Fifty-five (55) similar students were followed up as a control group. All participants were considered ‘average’ students at inclusion based on their university test performance.

All parameters of cognitive function and mental performance investigated in the study tests (sustained attention, episodic memory, delayed recall of words and pictures, pattern recognition memory, spatial recognition memory, executive functions, visual analogue mood ratings including alertness, contentedness, anxiety of the subjects) were significantly improved in the Pycnogenol group vs controls.

Pycnogenol improved students exam marks The actual, practical efficacy of Pycnogenol supplementation on cognitive performance was confirmed by evaluating the students’ marks obtained at academic examinations during the second month of treatment (weeks 5-8). Two comparable groups of 12 controls and 16 Pycnogenol subjects were evaluated for their examinations.

The number and proportion of failed tests were 9/84 (10.71%) in the control-group vs. 7/ 112 (6.25%) in the Pycnogenol- group (the difference of -4.46% of failures was statistically significant, P<0.043).

The average test mark (ranging from 0 to 30 with 18 set as the minimum value to pass the test) was 23.8 in the control group vs. 26.1 in the Pycnoggenol-group (a significant difference of +2.29 equivalent to 7.6%, p<0.024).

Importance of the Study

The study we present here is the first to investigate the effects of Pycnogenol in young healthy students. Students on the Pycnogenol-group statistically performed better than controls in a wide series of cognitive performance tests. The success rate of the exams and the average marks obtained were significantly better in the Pycnogenol group.

The cognitive performance of the subjects in this study was evaluated in a real challenging situation like the university examinations. Evaluating cognitive function and attention and their variations, particularly in normal subjects, is a difficult task. Coming out the tests themselves, generally changes test results. Most improvements may be due to the familiarization of the tested subjects with the tests. It would therefore be always better to test cognitive functions on actual daily tasks with an important motivational aspect like in this research assessing results of students to university examinations.

The study investigated 3 parameters of the mood rating scale24: anxiety, alertness and contentedness. All 3 parameters were statistically improved by 8 week supplementation with Pycnogenol compared to baseline and to the control group. This confirms previous results that indicated that patients with osteoarthritis treated for, at least, 4-6 weeks with Pycnogenol improve both their physical performances and their mental attitude and mood. However, it is the first time that this effect on mood could be shown in young healthy subjects.

In conclusion the study indicated a role for Pycnogenol to improve cognitive function in healthy students.


  • Luzzi R et al. Pycnogenol® supplementation improves cognitive function, attention and mental performance in students. Panminerva Medica 2011 Sep; 53 (3 Suppl 1): 75-82.

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