Type 2 Diabetes – Is Betulin From Birch Bark a Future Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes?

In herbal medicine, birch bark is the native American therapy for poison ivy, poison oak, and mosquito bites. The chemical betulin, which comprises about 30% of the total weight of birch bark, is a well-known topical inflammatory. A recent research study in China, however, has found that preparations of the bark of this common tree of northern China, southern Siberia, Canada, and the northern United States, can also be taken internally to fight Type 2 diabetes.

Betulin: Dr. Biao Liang-Sang and colleagues at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences report that betulin acts by targeting so-called sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBPs). These proteins activate the physiological processes that create cholesterol, fatty acids and triglycerides. Using laboratory mice, they found that including the birch extract in their diet lowered cholesterol even more effectively than lovastatin (Mevacor), which is an additional, highly desirable effect. Investigations revealed that betulin lowered lipid levels in the blood, liver, and fat tissue.

Betulin also made the animals more sensitive to insulin, in other words insulin resistance was also reduced. Mice with a mutation that makes them prone to develop atherosclerosis showed fewer plaques when treated with either lovastatin or betulin.

This is preliminary proof that betulin might be very useful for Type 2 diabetics. It might replace statin drugs, while reducing the need for oral anti-diabetic drugs or insulin.

Birch Bark Tea: It’s premature to abandon any drugs you are taking now, but you might ask your doctor about adding a cup of birch bark tea to your daily diabetes routine just to see what kind of results you get. The science suggests that Type 2 diabetics who would benefit the most are those who are on relatively high-fat (Atkins-style) diets. Results published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Cell Metabolismalso revealed that both betulin and lovastatin restricted weight gain of the mice on their high-fat diet, as well as decreasing lipids in their liver and fat.

Is Betulin a Future Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes? As stated by Dr. Bao-Liang Song at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences: “Our study shows that the SREBP pathway is a good target for several metabolic diseases.” He also states: “Although betulin appears to have very low toxicity, future studies will need to further investigate the safety of betulin and its metabolic effects. We will also explore the possibility that a derivative of betulin might have even greater potency. That may be the path forward to move this clinically.”

It is true birch bark has an excellent safety profile. There are not any reports in the medical literature finding that it can be toxic. Just be sure though, as is so often suggested, to test, test, and test some more, to know exactly how the herb affects your blood sugar levels.