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Betulin extract and aging: 7 health benefits of birch bark for older adults

As we age, our body's defense mechanisms weaken leading to development of many chronic conditions.


To counteract declining health, medical professionals recommend exercise, balanced diet, stress control, and selected natural supplements (1). This complex approach allows to:

  • slow down aging,

  • control progression of existing diseases,

  • normalize physical functioning of the body,

  • support mental health,

  • help cope with daily stress,

  • limit the side effects of taking numerous drugs.

A new breakthrough nutraceutical has been recently obtained from the birch bark. Its main component is betulin – a natural compound with a very specific set of biological activities influencing key metabolic processes in the body (2).


The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties of betulin have been known for a long time, and the natural extract has been commonly used to treat burns and skin lesions (3).


With the advancement of science, research has identified over 20 health benefits of birch bark (4,5). Below we summarized the ones most relevant to aging.


1. Control over high cholesterol


High cholesterol level is unfortunately a common condition in the aging population. This condition stays unnoticeable for a long time but its effects bring devastating results as we age.


How does that happen?


Health of the blood vessels (arteries) depends to the large extent on lipids - the building materials of the cell membranes. With age, the elasticity of the vascular walls decreases, and inflammatory processes may occur.


The levels of “bad” cholesterol go up and if not controlled for, it can get deposited on the blood vessels walls, harden over time and form atherosclerotic plaques. This results in a limited amount of blood, and thus oxygen, being delivered to the organs (6).


Depending on which arteries are blocked, various illnesses may develop:

  • Ischemic and coronary heart diseases (if arteries in the heart are blocked)

  • Carotid artery disease (if arteries on each side of your neck (the carotid arteries) are affected; not enough oxygen delivered to the brain can lead to a stroke)

  • Peripheral artery disease (plaques in the arteries carrying the oxygen to the legs, arms, and pelvis)

  • Chronic kidney disease (plaque buildup in the renal arteries)

Betulin is known to regulate lipid metabolism. It binds to the SREBP protein, a key driver of the lipid production inside a cell (7).


Betulin, a high cholesterol natural remedy, slows down activity of this protein leading to:

  • Normalization of the cholesterol levels. Ongoing research often compares betulin performance to the statins. But, unlike statins, betulin is a natural compound that lacks serious side effects.

  • Reduction in inflammation and atherosclerotic plaque formation

  • Increase in the elasticity of blood vessels

  • Improvement in blood circulation

2. Normalization of metabolism


The ability of betulin to regulate the synthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids is also beneficial for those concerned about metabolic disorders. This substance helps control weight, burn more calories, and better absorb glucose. This is how betulin helps with diabetes.


3. Improving brain function


Being a membrane-soluble compound, somewhat similar to cholesterol, betulin improves neuron performance and has shown neuroprotective effects (8). These effects may translate into multiple positive changes for the brain function and slow down such issues as

  • Memory loss

  • Increasing reaction time

  • Neuron degeneration

Ongoing studies are also showing that by ameliorating the progression of these major disorders, betulin has an effect in supporting the lifespan.


4. Immunomodulating agent


Aging often comes with weakened immunity and more frequent cases of viral infections. Betulin increases immunity, affects viral activity and may help protect your body from many common viruses such as the flu, herpes, rhinovirus, coronavirus, and other. This mechanism is described in more detail here.


5. Liver protection


Metabolic disorders that develop in older people are often associated with poor liver function. In addition, the common first-aid kit of an elderly person often includes more than a dozen drugs, the simultaneous intake of which can create an additional toxic effect.


Betulin has hepatoprotective properties and may help prevent the development of liver diseases and protect it from the negative effects of synthetic drugs and toxins. Learn more here.


6. Neutralizing aggressive environmental factors


The antioxidant activity of betulin was noticed several centuries ago. Bark extract was used as a natural preservative: it was added to foods to prevent oxidation.


Nowadays, it has been established that betulin has a similar effect on the cells of the human body (9):

  • It neutralizes the effects of free radicals - harmful compounds that result from excessive oxidation of cells and can provoke the development of many diseases;

  • Protects cells from damage;

  • Restores the structure of cell membranes;

  • Supports natural defence mechanisms against air pollution, unhealthy habits, chemicals, and medication.

7. Anti-cancer


Throughout our lifespan our cells accumulate harmful mutations which may lead to cancer upon reaching a certain threshold. This is as relevant as ever, as the rate of that mutation acquisition increases under the exposure to harmful environmental factors.


Betulin has demonstrated reasonable anti-cancer properties at the cellular and animal levels, such as:

  • Slowing down the growth of cancer cells;

  • Preventing the spread of tumors;

  • Protecting healthy cells.

This opens an opportunity to use betulin as a nutraceutical supplement to the complex pharmacological therapy in oncology (10).


Conclusion


Fat reducing, antioxidant, neuroprotective, and other health benefits of betulin make it a promising supplement to your daily life. Betulin supports the body's natural functioning and helps improve the health and quality of life.


References

1. Weyh C, Krüger K, Strasser B. Physical activity and diet shape the immune system during aging. Nutrients. 2020 Mar;12(3):622. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12030622

2. Ajala-Lawal RA, Aliyu NO, Ajiboye TO. Betulinic acid improves insulin sensitivity, hyperglycemia, inflammation and oxidative stress in metabolic syndrome rats via PI3K/Akt pathways. Archives of physiology and biochemistry. 2020 Mar 14;126(2):107-15. https://doi.org/10.1080/13813455.2018.1498901

3. Ebeling S, Naumann K, Pollok S, Wardecki T, Vidal-y-Sy S, Nascimento JM, Boerries M, Schmidt G, Brandner JM, Merfort I. From a traditional medicinal plant to a rational drug: understanding the clinically proven wound healing efficacy of birch bark extract. Plos one. 2014 Jan 22;9(1):e86147. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0086147

4. Moghaddam MG, Ahmad FB, Samzadeh-Kermani A. Biological activity of betulinic acid: a review. DOI:10.4236/pp.2012.32018

5. Amiri S, Dastghaib S, Ahmadi M, Mehrbod P, Khadem F, Behrouj H, Aghanoori MR, Machaj F, Ghamsari M, Rosik J, Hudecki A. Betulin and its derivatives as novel compounds with different pharmacological effects. Biotechnology advances. 2020 Jan 1;38:107409. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biotechadv.2019.06.008

6. Liang Y, Vetrano DL, Qiu C. Serum total cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular mortality in old age: a population-based study. BMC geriatrics. 2017 Dec;17(1):1-7. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-017-0685-z

7. Tang JJ, Li JG, Qi W, Qiu WW, Li PS, Li BL, Song BL. Inhibition of SREBP by a small molecule, betulin, improves hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance and reduces atherosclerotic plaques. Cell metabolism. 2011 Jan 5;13(1):44-56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2010.12.004

8. Cho N, Kim HW, Lee HK, Jeon BJ, Sung SH. Ameliorative effect of betulin from Betula platyphylla bark on scopolamine-induced amnesic mice. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry. 2016 Jan 2;80(1):166-71. https://doi.org/10.1080/09168451.2015.1072460

9. Pohl F, Kong Thoo Lin P. The potential use of plant natural products and plant extracts with antioxidant properties for the prevention/treatment of neurodegenerative diseases: in vitro, in vivo and clinical trials. Molecules. 2018 Dec;23(12):3283. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23123283

10. Król SK, Kiełbus M, Rivero-Müller A, Stepulak A. Comprehensive review on betulin as a potent anticancer agent. BioMed research international. 2015 Mar 19;2015.https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/584189


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