The Health Benefits of White Birch

white birch trees

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White birch is a species of tree (Betula pendula, Betula pubescens) that is native to Europe and Asia. The leaves of the tree are high in vitamin C and are used to make herbal medicine. Available in dietary supplement form, white birch extract contains butalin a compound thought to have health-promoting properties. Some use the supplement to treat infections. White birch extract is sometimes applied to the skin to help treat certain skin conditions.

Also Known As

White birch is known by other names, including:

  • Silver Birch
  • Downy Birch
  • Betula
  • Betulae folium

Health Benefits

Although there's currently a lack of research on the health effects of white birch, a number of preliminary laboratory studies have looked into the potential health benefits of betulinic acid—a compound made from betulin.

Cancer

Betulinic acid may have anti-cancer effects. A study published in the journal Cancer Research in 2007 shows that betulinic acid may help protect against prostate cancer. In tests on cells, the study's authors observed that betulinic acid may help combat prostate cancer by promoting the breakdown of certain proteins that are "highly overexpressed in tumors." Overexpression occurs when too many copies of proteins are produced by the body. Overexpression has been found to contribute to cancer development.

Additionally, a study published in Clinical Cancer Research in 2003 indicates that betulinic acid may help fight melanoma, a less common, but more serious type of skin cancer. In the study, tests on cells demonstrated that betulinic acid may suppress melanoma growth in part by inducing apoptosis—a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells.

Lastly, a study published in 2012 examined specific processes used to create birch bark extracts. The extracts were tested on different types of cancer cells (skin cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancer). Researchers found that each of the extracts had anti-inflammatory and antigrowth effects on the cells.

It's important to note that while each of these studies suggests that betulinic acid may inhibit cancer growth, further studies are needed to determine whether the use of white birch is beneficial for health in humans. Research is ongoing.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil extracted from white birch is thought to offer a variety of benefits when used as an aromatherapy remedy. For example, white birch essential oil is said to soothe pain and enhance mood. There is some limited evidence that aromatherapy with different types of essential oils provides health benefits.

Other Uses

Some people use white birch to treat other conditions. For example, white birch is said to act as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Gout 
  • Kidney stones
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rashes

White birch is also purported to stimulate the immune system, fight infections, protect liver health, reduce inflammation, and act as a sedative.

In addition, topical use of white birch is said to treat conditions such as dandruffeczema, hair loss, and warts.

There is not enough scientific evidence to know if white birch is effective in the treatment of management of these conditions.

Possible Side Effects

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of taking white birch in dietary supplement form. However, there's some concern that white birch may be harmful to people with health problems affecting the heart or liver. Therefore, individuals with heart conditions or liver disorders should avoid using this herb.

Certain people may experience an allergic reaction when taking white birch, including those who have a known allergy to wild carrot, mugwort, or celery.
It may also cause symptoms in people who are sensitive to other plants, including apples, soybeans, hazelnuts, and peanuts.

Birch leaves are known to contain chemicals which increase water loss through the urine. Those who are taking a diuretic should exercise caution when taking a white birch supplement.

People who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure should speak to their healthcare provider before taking white birch. There is some concern that birch leaf might increase the amount of sodium retained by the body. This can make high blood pressure worse.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing white birch are sold in some natural-food stores and stores specializing in herbal products. White birch is sometimes sold in capsule form. Some people also buy birch bark to make tea.

Keep in mind that supplements like white birch and products containing white birch are largely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to government standards, it is not legal to market a dietary supplement as a treatment or cure for a specific disease or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease. But the products are not tested by the FDA for safety or effectiveness.

In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified on the label. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances. Some consumers look for products that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Common Questions

What does birch tea taste like? Can I make it at home?

Some say that birch tea has a wintergreen taste. There are some people who try to make the tea from twigs and other parts of the tree, but there is no way to know if the parts of the tree have been exposed to pesticides or chemicals—so safety is a concern. Also, it is not known if any health benefits or anticancer activity can be gained by consuming birch tea.

Are there other natural remedies to prevent cancer?

While there's no sure way to prevent cancer, certain natural substances may possess cancer-fighting properties. For instance, preliminary research suggests that substances such as turmeric and resveratrol may suppress cancer growth.

In addition, there's some evidence that increasing your intake of garlic, green tea, and omega-3 fatty acids may help protect against some forms of cancer. Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D may also help boost your cancer defense. 

For more help in lowering your cancer risk, make sure to avoid smoking, limit your alcohol intake, follow a balanced diet rich in antioxidants, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight.

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