Betulin – therapeutic potential
Many plants used in traditional herbal medicine contain betulin in its composition. Modern research shows that this substance has great potential for use in the therapy of many diseases. When should I use betulin? What is its significance for the future of medicine?
Betulin is found naturally in the tissues of plants, especially trees such as hazel, grab or alder. This substance is mainly obtained from papillary birch bark (Betula verrucosa) and onee birch (Betula pubescens). The word “betulina” itself comes precisely from the Latin name of this tree. Betulin is also present in birch juice, which is now becoming an increasingly popular drink.
High concentration of betulin is responsible for the white color of birch trunks. This substance makes these trees more resistant to adverse conditions. Betulin and its accompanying betulin acid protect them from sunlight and infections. Thanks to the content in the tissues of these substances, birch trees can grow in the far north, where other deciduous trees do not cope.
Application of betulin in cosmetology
The properties of betulin are commonly used in dermatological preparations. This substance strengthens the hair by increasing the vitality of their bulbs. Since betulin relieves inflammation and promotes the regeneration of the epidermis, it often also appears in the composition of pharmacy cosmetics. These preparations are addressed especially to seborrheic, acne and allergic skin.
New research indicates that betulin has other interesting properties. Scientists are testing the potential use of this substance in the treatment of:
• viral infections
• allergy symptoms
• liver damage
• kidney urolithiasis
The results of many studies are promising. However, keep in mind that these are potential applications that have not yet been supported by an adequate number of tests.
Betulina has already been used in prehistory
Betulin was first isolated from birch bark in 1788 by chemist Tobias Lowitz. It is worth mentioning, however, that its properties people have used since prehistoric times. Peoples living in Europe and North America have used plants containing betulin in traditional herbal medicine for millennia.
There is evidence that our ancestors supported the properties of this substance. In the Tyrolean Alps in 1991, the remains of a man who died about 5,300 years ago were found preserved in ice. Next to his body were handbags, probably acting as a first aid kit. One of the drugs in them was birch bark. Researchers speculate that this herbal raw material was intended to protect a prehistoric man from bacterial infections.
Medieval medical books also describe the beneficial activity of birch-derived drugs. Saint Hildegard, regarded as a great connoisseur of herbacy and medicine of her time, praised the properties of plants that we know today contain betulin.
Active compounds that are part of birch bark, including betulin, have hepatoprotective properties supported by test results. This means that they protect the liver from the harmful effects of toxic substances.
In vitro tests, the protection activity of birch extract against hepG2 cells has been proven to protect against the damaging effects of ethanol. Betulin is already officially used as a hepatoprotective drug for the prevention and therapy of acute alcohol poisoning.
Betulina for the sake of the kidneys
In vitro tests in rats have shown that betulin inhibits the deposition of calcium oxalate crystals in the kidneys and prevents damage to the renal tubules. The substance has a diuretic effect, while reducing the concentration of shawates in excreted urine. Thanks to this, betulina prevents the precipitation of stones in the kidneys.
Betulin against atherosclerosis
Clinical studies in patients suggest that betulin has a significant effect on fatty acid and cholesterol metabolism in the body. This substance significantly inhibits the biosynthesis of cholesterol, consequently reducing the size of atherosclerotic plaques.
The beneficial effects of the plant compound on fat metabolism have also been observed in animal tests. Betulin inhibited the development of diet-related obesity while reducing serum and tissue lipid levels. Studies in animals have also shown the ability of betulin to increase tissue sensitivity to insulin. This means that it could potentially be used to prevent insulin-resistant diabetes.
Teas and supplements containing birch bark or purified betulin can be a good support for the treatment of atherosclerosis and hypercholesterolemia. However, they should not be considered as an alternative to drug therapy assigned by a doctor.
Over the past decades, many scientists have taken up research into the medicinal properties of betulin. Especially interesting is the anticancer activity of this phytoactive compound. Promising results were obtained in studies conducted on isolated cancer cells (in vitro).
Probably, betulin eliminates cancer cells by directing them to the path of apoptosis. This means that a diseased, damaged cell is subject to suicidal death, while not harming healthy tissues. This activity of betulin is described in scientific papers against cancer cells of the breast, colon and lungs.
However, the favorable results of laboratory tests do not prove that the drug is an effective method of fighting cancer. Betulin is an interesting substance. The results of the study give high hopes. However, betulin has not yet been registered as a medicine for cancer therapy. Under no circumstances can it be considered as an alternative to the drugs assigned by the doctor. Supplements containing betulin should be used only as a support for the conventional treatment process.
Betulin for the treatment of allergies and inflammations
Scientists also demonstrated anti-inflammatory and antiallergic activity of betulin and betulin acid. The extract obtained from the herb of the common head (Prunella vulgaris) containing these substances has demonstrated a high ability to relieve allergies in the tests carried out. These properties are probably associated with betulin inhibition of histamine release from human cells. This blocks an allergic reaction, which is initiated by a high concentration of histamine.
Animal tests also showed anti-inflammatory properties of plant extracts containing betulin and betulin acid. This activity was very high for substances of plant origin. In these studies, betulin inhibited paw swelling in rats to an extent comparable to standard synthetic drugs.
Betulin in the fight against viral infections
The antiviral properties of betulin are also intriguing. Studies have suggested its hiv-positive activity. Betulin derivatives, including betulin acid, have been proven to have the ability to block the development cycle of this virus in human lymphocytes.
The antiviral properties of betulin derivatives demonstrated in the studies relate to the early stage of HIV infection. These compounds inhibit the transmission of the virus from infected cells to healthy ones. Betulin acid, as well as other betulin derivatives, are still in the early stages of testing. Scientists’ hopes are focused on finding a derivative of betulin with the highest antiviral activity and registering it as a drug.
Betulin is a substance with great therapeutic potential. Currently conducted by many scientists, they give hope for confirmation of the properties described in the article. The results of some tests are promising, however, betulin should not be considered as a replacement for conventional drugs. Preparations containing betulin can be used for prophylactic purposes or as support of therapy prescribed by a specialist doctor.
Pharmacy M.S.A. Sara Janowska
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