The bark of the white birch tree has been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years as a folk remedy and natural medicine. In early springtime, birch trees were stripped of their bark, and steeped in either alcohol or fat for weeks at a time to extract the beneficial compounds from the tree’s outer layer.
Today, we now know that the substance that our ancestors were extracting and experimenting with was “betulin”, a chemical compound with a wide range of health benefits.
How Betulin is Extracted
Because betulin solubility is low, rather than relying on inefficient and old fashioned methods of extraction like steeping in alcohol or fat, modern producers of this useful compound use organic solvents like n-hexane and dichloromethane, as well as using sodium hydroxide and steam to extract betulin and betulin acid from the bark.
In its purified form, betulin is known to have numerous benefits to our health. Here are 8 ways that this powerful birch extract can help our bodies fight against aging, disease and infection:
1. A Powerful Antioxidant
Oxidative stress can damage our cells and DNA, and the presence of Free Radicals is known to exacerbate diseases like cancer and atherosclerosis, as well as causing ageing and worsening the condition of our skin. Betulin can mobilize and enhance bodies’ natural antioxidative potential, fight with reactive oxygen species and help even in cases to prevent ionising radiation from penetrating the skin.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Research has shown that betulin inhibits prostaglandin secretion, which is tied to the body’s inflammatory process. The presence of betulin can therefore help to regulate the immune system and even promote self-healing. Research has shown that this strong anti-inflammatory effect can happen throughout the body, including healing the gastrointestinal tract.
3. Wound Healing & Improvements in Skin Quality
Birch extract has been used in folk medicine to heal wounds, improve skin quality and reduce scar tissue build up for generations, and can still be found in many cosmetic creams and lotions. We now know that the betulin contained within the birch extract inhibits the enzyme elastase, whilst at the same time aiding in the production of collagen.
4. Promising Anti-Cancer Effects
Betulin has been studied fairly extensively as a potential component in cancer treatments. There appear to be several substances present in the birch extract that causes cancer cells to die off, and because betulin benefits the production of cytokines in the blood, the body is able to mount a faster and more effective immune response against cancers and tumours.
5. Antimicrobial and Antifungal Properties
As well as being beneficial for the healing of wounds, betulin has a useful secondary benefit, in that it can help to kill fungal infections and many strains of dangerous microbes, making it a useful addition to healing creams and salves.
6. Antiviral Potential
The viruses that cause herpes, meningitis and some types of influenza have all shown promising reductions after being treated with betulin enhanced remedies. Betulinic acid has even been studied (with some promising results) as a potential HIV treatment, in part due to its positive effects on inhibiting replication of the virus.
7. Diabetes Management
Betulin and betulinic acid have been extensively studied in relation to their effects on blood sugar. Scientists have found that betulin supplements have a positive effect on type II diabetes, as they have the ability to lower blood sugar levels (via insulin reduction) back to more normal levels. As well as improving the body’s response to insulin, betulin can also help with fat regulation, so could prove to be a useful tool for managing diseases caused by obesity and poor dietary choice.
8. Prevention of Kidney Stones
Birch bark extract (birch juice) has been used as a way of preventing kidney stones for hundreds of years, and we now know that this is due to the presence of betulin, which can lessen the build up of crystal deposits in the kidneys and help to break down the stones before they become potentially deadly.
Who Knows What Betulin Might Treat in the Future?
So there we have it; 8 amazing benefits of a birch bark extract known as betulin. This simple substance has been extensively studied in all manner of applications, and regularly sees fantastic and far-reaching results for a wide range of health conditions and ailments.