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Epicatechin (EC), one of the building blocks of procyanidins
Cyanidin, the anthocyanidin produced when procyanidin are depolymerized under oxidative conditions

Procyanidins are members of the proanthocyanidin (or condensed tannins) class of flavonoids. They are oligomeric compounds, formed from catechin and epicatechin molecules. They yield cyanidin when depolymerized under oxidative conditions.

Distribution in plants[edit]

Procyanidins, including the lesser bioactive / bioavailable polymers (4 or more catechines) represent a group of condensed flavan-3-ols that can be found in many plants, most notably apples, maritime pine bark, cinnamon, aronia fruit, cocoa beans, grape seed, grape skin,[1] and red wines of Vitis vinifera (the common grape). However, bilberry, cranberry, black currant, green tea, black tea, and other plants also contain these flavonoids. Cocoa beans contain the highest concentrations.[2] Procyanidins can also be isolated from Quercus petraea and Q. robur heartwood (wine barrel oaks).[3] Açaí oil, obtained from the fruit of the açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea), is rich in numerous procyanidin oligomers.[4]

Apples contain on average per serving about eight times the amount of procyanidin found in wine, with some of the highest amounts found in the Red Delicious and Granny Smith varieties.[5]

A patented extract of maritime pine bark called Pycnogenol bears 65-75 percent procyanidins (procyanidins).[6] Thus a 100 mg serving would contain 65 to 75 mg of procyanidins.

The seed testas of field beans (Vicia faba) contain procyanidins[7] that affect the digestibility in piglets[8] and could have an inhibitory activity on enzymes.[9] Cistus salviifolius also contains oligomeric procyanidins.[10]


Condensed tannins can be characterised by a number of techniques including depolymerisation, asymmetric flow field flow fractionation or small-angle X-ray scattering.[4]

DMACA is a dye that is particularly useful for localization of procyanidin compounds in plant histology. The use of the reagent results in blue staining.[11] It can also be used to titrate procyanidins.

Total phenols (or antioxidant effect) can be measured using the Folin-Ciocalteu reaction. Results are typically expressed as gallic acid equivalents (GAE).

Procyanidins from field beans (Vicia faba)[12] or barley[13] have been estimated using the vanillin-HCl method, resulting in a red color of the test in the presence of catechin or proanthcyanidins.

Procyanidins can be titrated using the Procyanidolic Index (also called the Bates-Smith Assay). It is a testing method that measures the change in color when the product is mixed with certain chemicals. The greater the color changes, the higher the PCOs content is. However, the Procyanidolic Index is a relative value that can measure well over 100. Unfortunately, a Procyanidolic Index of 95 was erroneously taken to mean 95% PCO by some and began appearing on the labels of finished products. All current methods of analysis suggest that the actual PCO content of these products is much lower than 95%.[14]

An improved colorimetric test, called the Porter Assay or butanol-HCl-iron method, is the most common PCO assay currently in use.[15] The unit of measurement of the Porter Assay is the PVU (Porter Value Unit). The Porter Assay is a chemical test to help determine the potency of procyanidin containing compounds, such as grape seed extract. It is an acid hydrolysis, which splits larger chain units (dimers and trimers) into single unit monomers and oxidizes them. This leads to a colour change, which can be measured using a spectrophotometer. The greater the absorbance at a certain wavelength of light, the greater the potency. Ranges for grape seed extract are from 25 PVU for low grade material to over 300 for premium grape seed extracts.[16]

Gel permeation chromatography (GPC) analysis allows to separate monomers from larger PCO molecules.

Monomers of procyanidins can be characterized by HPLC analysis. Condensed tannins can undergo acid-catalyzed cleavage in the presence of a nucleophile like phloroglucinol (reaction called phloroglucinolysis), thioglycolic acid (thioglycolysis), benzyl mercaptan or cysteamine (processes called thiolysis[17]) leading to the formation of oligomers that can be further analyzed.[18]


This information[which?] attracted the attention of public news media, describing that red wine consumption is associated with favorable intake of health-promoting flavonoids that correlate positively with oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC).

In red wines, total oligomeric procyanidin content, including flavan-3-ols (catechins), was substantially higher (177.18 ± 96.06 mg/L) than that in white wines (8.75 ± 4.53 mg/L). A relative high correlation in red wines was found between ORAC values and malvidin compounds (r = 0.75, P < 0.10), and procyanidins (r = 0.87, P < 0.05).[19]

In white wines, a significant correlation was found between the trimeric procyanidin fraction and peroxyl radical scavenging values (r = 0.86, P < 0.10).

A moderate drink (1 drink per day, about 140 mL) of red wine, or white wine, or wine made from highbush blueberry corresponded to an intake of 2.04 ± 0.81 mmol of TE (Trolox equivalents), 0.47 ± 0.15 mmol of TE, and 2.42 ± 0.88 mmol of TE of ORAC/day, respectively.[19][20]

Procyanidins are the principal vasoactive polyphenols in red wine that are linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and to lower overall mortality.[21] Procyanidins are present at higher concentrations in wines from areas of southwestern France and Sardinia, which are associated with increased longevity in the population. Earlier studies that attributed this health benefit to resveratrol were premature because of the negligible amount of resveratrol in red wine.

Procyanidins suppress production of a protein endothelin-1 that constricts blood vessels.[21]

These studies provide data supporting the French Paradox that hypothesizes that intake of procyanidins and other flavonoids from regular consumption of red wines prevents occurrence of a higher disease rate (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes) in French citizens on high-fat diets.[21]

Procyanidins have antioxidant activity and they play a role in the stabilization of collagen and maintenance of elastin — two critical proteins in connective tissue that support organs, joints, blood vessels, and muscle. Possibly because of their effects on blood vessels, procyanidins have been reported in double-blind research to reduce the duration of edema after face-lift surgery from 15.9 to 11.5 days.[citation needed] In preliminary research, procyanidins were reported to have anti-mutagenic activity (i.e., to prevent chromosomal mutations).[citation needed]

Common antioxidants currently used are vitamin C and vitamin E; however, studies show that procyanidins antioxidant capabilities are 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than vitamin E.[22] Procyanidins found in French maritime pine bark and grape seed extract work directly to help strengthen all the blood vessels and improve the delivery of oxygen to the cells. Procyanidins also have an affinity for cell membranes, providing nutritional support to reduce capillary permeability and fragility.[citation needed] Although flavonoids are widespread in nature, the powerful procyanidin compounds are most abundant and available from the bark of the maritime pine and in grape seeds, or pips. In addition, the particular procyanidins found in the proprietary extract of maritime pine bark called Pycnogenol have been shown to optimize the production of nitric oxide in the artery walls so as to relax them and allow greater blood flow and reduced pressure.[23] Additionally, this same preparation, Pycnogenol, has been found to normalize platelet adhesion (aggregation) so as to facilitate normal blood flow.[24] Nevertheless, meta-analysis of clinical studies on Pycnogenol(®) published in 2012 concluded:

"Current evidence is insufficient to support Pycnogenol(®) use for the treatment of any chronic disorder. Well-designed, adequately powered trials are needed to establish the value of this treatment."[25]

Oligomeric proanthocyanidins[edit]

In 1947 Jack Masquelier discovered oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) in the skin of a peanut by accident. Oligomeric proanthocyanidins strictly refer to di-mer and tri-mer polymerizations of catechins (see above). OPCs are found in most plants and thus are a part of the human diet. Especially the skin, seeds and seed coverings of plants contain large amounts of oligomeric proanthocyanidins. They can be found in large quantities in grape seed extract and skin, in red grapes, in the red skins of peanuts, in coconuts, apples (dimeric procyanidin B2), in cocoa, and in the bark of Pinus pinaster (formerly known as Pinus maritima). It can also be found in sea buckthorn oil.[26]

Oligomeric proanthocyanidins can be obtained by the mean of Vaccinium pahalae in vitro cell culture.[27]

Biological signifiance[edit]

In nature, it is possible that PCOs serve as a plant defense against herbivory.


Procyanidins have antioxidant properties in vitro. Foods rich in procyanidins have high oxygen radical absorbance capacity, an in vitro measure with unproven relationship to antioxidant effects in vivo.[28] Scientists continue to research the relevance of antioxidant properties in vitro and potential effects of PCOs on cancer or cardiovascular disease as determined in laboratory studies.[29] USDA does maintain a database of procyanidin content and structure for many foods, but procyanidin content in dietary supplements has not been well documented.[30]

In one preliminary human study, cocoa procyanidins may have influenced platelet function.[31] In one study on mice, procyanidins may have had antidepressant effects and MAO inhibitory properties.[32]

A French maritime pine bark extract of PCOs, pycnogenol, might affect microcirculation, retinal edema and visual acuity, according to one study.[33] Further preliminary research indicated that pycnogenol may have anti-inflammatory properties, may bind to collagen and elastin, or may be involved in production of endothelial nitric oxide.[34] Pycnogenol is under study for its possible influence on blood glucose (sugar) levels.[35][36]


PCOs are present in fresh grapes, grape juice, and red wine. Although red wine may contain more PCOs than red grape juice, red grape juice contains more PCOs per average serving size. An 8-ounce serving of grape juice averages 124 milligrams PCOs, whereas a 5-ounce serving of red wine averages 91 milligrams.[2][37] Many other foods and beverages may also contain PCOs, but few attain the levels found in red grape seeds and skins.[2]

Chemical depolymerisation[edit]

The condensed tannins can nevertheless undergo acid-catalyzed cleavage in the presence of (an excess of) a nucleophile[38] like phloroglucinol (reaction called phloroglucinolysis), benzyl mercaptan (reaction called thiolysis), thioglycolic acid (reaction called thioglycolysis) or cysteamine. These techniques are generally called depolymerisation and give informations such as average degree of polymerisation or percentage of galloylation. These are SN1 reactions, a type of substitution reaction in organic chemistry, involving a carbocation intermediate under strongly acidic conditions in polar protic solvents like methanol. The reaction leads to the formation of free and derived monomers that can be further analyzed. The free monomers correspond to the terminal units of the condensed tannins chains.

In general, reactions are made in methanol, especially thiolysis, as benzyl mercaptan has a low solubility in water. They involve a moderate (50 to 90°C) heating for a few minutes. Epimerisation may happen.

Phloroglucinolysis can be used for instance for procyanidins characterisation in wine[39] or in the grape seed and skin tissues.[40]

Thioglycolysis can be used to study procyanidins[41] or the oxidation of condensed tannins.[42] It is also used for lignin quantitation.[43] Reaction on condensed tannins from Douglas fir bark produces epicatechin and catechin thioglycolates.[44]

Condensed tannins from Lithocarpus glaber leaves have been analysed through acid-catalyzed degradation in the presence of cysteamine.[45]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c USDA Database for the Proanthocyanidin Content of Selected Foods – 2004 <>[verification needed][page needed]
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  5. ^ Hammerstone, John F.; Lazarus, Sheryl A.; Schmitz, Harold H. (August 2000). "Procyanidin content and variation in some commonly consumed foods". The Journal of nutrition 130 (8S Suppl): 2086S–92S. PMID 10917927. Figure 5 
  6. ^ Rohdewald, P (2002). "A review of the French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol), a herbal medication with a diverse clinical pharmacology". International journal of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics 40 (4): 158–68. doi:10.5414/cpp40158. PMID 11996210. 
  7. ^ Merghem, R.; Jay, M.; Brun, N.; Voirin, B. (2004). "Qualitative analysis and HPLC isolation and identification of procyanidins fromvicia faba". Phytochemical Analysis 15 (2): 95–99. doi:10.1002/pca.731. PMID 15116939. 
  8. ^ Van Der Poel, A. F. B.; Dellaert, L. M. W.; Van Norel, A.; Helsper, J. P. F. G. (2007). "The digestibility in piglets of faba bean (Vicia faba L.) as affected by breeding towards the absence of condensed tannins". British Journal of Nutrition 68 (3): 793. doi:10.1079/BJN19920134. 
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  35. ^ Liu, Ximing; Zhou, Ha-Jun; Rohdewald, Peter (2004). "French Maritime Pine Bark Extract Pycnogenol Dose-Dependently Lowers Glucose in Type 2 Diabetic Patients". Diabetes Care 27 (3): 839. doi:10.2337/diacare.27.3.839. 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]