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Betulin in birch bark could treat metabolic disorders

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

In an animal study, researchers found betulin from birch bark lowered cholesterol, obesity and improved insulin resistance.

Scientists studied betulin in mice finding the ingredient that is abundant in birch bark lowered cholesterol and improved insulin sensitivity. They also found the mice became more resistant to plaque buildup in the arteries that can lead to heart attack.

According to Bao-Liang Song of the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, betulin has several benefits for metabolic health because it targets sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBPs) that activate cholesterol, fatty acid and triglyceride biosynthesis.

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He says, "Our study shows that the SREBP pathway is a good target for several metabolic diseases.” In the study Liang’s team treated mice fed a high fat Western diet with either betulin or the cholesterol lowering drug lovastatin or a placebo.

When the researchers compared the effects of betulin in birch bark to the cholesterol lowering drug lovastatin, they noted both prevented weight gain in the mice. However, the way they worked differed – betulin caused the mice to burn more calories while lovastatin inhibited the uptake of cholesterol (lipids) in the diet and made them more sensitive to insulin that could block diabetes.

The researchers concluded betulin that comes from birch bark could be better than the pharmaceutical drug lovastatin used to treat the effects of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that include decreased insulin sensitivity, high cholesterol and increased abdominal girth. More studies are needed to ensure betulin is not toxic, but the scientists say the compound may have clinical applications.

Cell Metabolism - 5 January 2011 (Vol. 13, Issue 1, pp. 44-56)