Most are familiar with the absolute beauty of the magnolia tree, especially if you live in the South. It’s exciting to know that magnolia has historically been an essential element in traditional Chinese, Japanese, and currently in both Indian and American medicine. The traditional health benefits of magnolia bark range from the treatment of depression and insomnia to helping women during the menopause years. Magnolia bark is found to have calming, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects. Magnolia Tree Bark also has an exciting and possible health benefit which I will discuss below.
What Is Magnolia Tree Bark?
Found in Southeast Asia, the magnolia tree (Magnolia Officinalis) is known as Houpu in Chinese medicine and was traditionally used for health issues such as gastrointestinal, anxiety relief, depression, nervous concerns, asthma, and allergy and respiratory relief. The magnolia tree also thrives in eastern North America, Central America, the West Indies, and some species in South America.
The magnolia tree possesses a fragrant scent along with beautiful flowers. During the summer season, both the root and bark from magnolia trees are gathered, dried, moderately boiled, and allowed to turn a purple-brown color. Softened by steaming and rolling, the bitter and fragrant extract is used in dietary supplements and medicine for its potential health benefits. [R]
Magnolia Bark Ingredients
The lignans, magnolol and honokiol, are the main active ingredients in magnolia bark extract. Numerous alkaloids and volatile oils make up the rest of the extract. [R]
Lignans are a kind of phytoestrogen, a plant-based nutrient that acts in a similar way to estrogen. While there has been some concern that phytoestrogens may increase the risk of breast cancer, it is now thought that lignans can cause the body to produce less active forms of estrogen. And in postmenopausal women, it is believed to potentially reduce breast cancer risk.
13 Exciting Health Benefits of Magnolia Bark
1) Oral and Dental Health
The bacteria Streptococcus mutans are often damaging to oral and dental health because it creates an acidic environment that allows the build-up of plaque. This ends up destroying enamel and as well as the formation of cavities. In a clinical trial of 120 people, sugar-free chewing gum containing magnolia bark lessened the accumulation of streptococcus mutans in saliva, plaque acidity, and gum bleeding in a clinical trial on 120 people. [R, R]
A toothpaste made with magnolia bark extract lowered plaque build-up and improved gum disease in a six-month clinical trial on 48 people. [R]
Other types of chewing gums with the ingredients of magnolia bark extract and antimicrobial zinc salts (zinc acetate and zinc lactate) bad breath (measured as volatile sulfur-containing compounds) in two clinical trials on over 200 people. Bacterial growth on the tongue is mainly caused by bad breath. [R, R]
Limited research conveys that magnolia bark may help to prevent cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. I highly suggest speaking with your dentist before deciding to use magnolia bark.
2) Menopause Symptoms
In two studies of over 700 menopausal women, a combination of magnolia extract and a soy-based supplement were given every night for 12-24 weeks. The magnolia extract improved health issues such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, and libido. The soy isoflavones were more effective for hot flashes, vaginal dryness, nocturnal sweating, and palpitations [R, R].
When taken together, the evidence conveys that magnolia bark extract may help with the psycho-affective symptoms of menopause. While I’m not a fan of anything “soy,” it’s always a good thing to take these studies to a knowledgeable and trusted doctor to see if it might meet your health needs.
In a small trial that included 28 women who had eating disorders that were caused by stress, a magnolia bark dietary supplement with magnolia bark and Phellodendron extract helped prevent weight gain by reducing cortisol levels and discerned stress [R].
In another trial with 26 premenopausal women aged 20 to 50, the same supplement relieved mild transitory but not long-standing anxiety or depression [R].
In animal studies, honokiol shows it reduces anxiety with fewer side effects than the drug diazepam, commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders. Honokiol helps to increase GABA levels, which helps decrease anxiety [R, R].
It is limited evidence that suggests magnolia bark can help with anxiety — especially in people with transitory anxiety and menopausal women. Speak with a trusted and knowledgeable doctor or practitioner if this complementary strategy would be helpful in your health concern.
Honokiol and magnolol produce antidepressant effects and improve energy levels in mice by raising serotonin and noradrenaline levels in the prefrontal cortex [R].
Serotonin is considered a neurotransmitter that allows for fast signaling between neurons in the brain. Psychological disorders, including depression, mania, and anxiety are often linked to low serotonin levels [R, R].
Noradrenaline (norepinephrine) is a neurotransmitter that is primarily involved with the very beginning of depression symptoms. Low levels of noradrenaline can cause reduced energy, the inability to concentrate, reduced alertness, and lessened cognitive abilities. Noradrenaline is also required in adjusting emotions [R].
5) Insomnia and Improved Sleep
In mice, honokiol encouraged NREM or dreamless sleep. Magnolol increased both NREM and REM sleep by increasing the GABA amount released from brain neurons. Overall, the magnolia extract exhibited a relaxing effect [R].
Once again, the evidence is limited but suggests that magnolia bark may help with insomnia, particularly in menopausal women.
6) Weight Loss
A clinical trial that included 28 people with eating disorders caused by stress showed that a dietary supplement with both magnolia bark and Phellodendron extract prevented weight gain by reducing anxiety [R]. However, the supplement did not affect appetite and weight in another trial that included 26 non-stressed women [R].
Magnolia bark extract lessened body fat mass in mice. Honokiol remarkably lowered triglyceride and cholesterol levels and reduced insulin resistance which prevented fat storage [R].
More rigorous clinical trials with larger numbers of participants are needed to shed light on this possible benefit.
7) Triggers cannabinoid receptors
Cannabinoids come from Cannabis sativa (cannabis plant). In fact, this is where these receptors originally received their scientific name.
Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the entire body and are associated with pain sensation, memory, mood, and appetite.
Research suggests that the magnolol in magnolia bark activates these sensors. In doing so, the effect may include reduced pain and a better mood, both of which can make falling asleep easier. (R) (R)
8) Brain Function
Scopolamine is an anti-nausea drug that brings about memory and learning impairments. Honokiol improved spatial learning and memory function in mice given scopolamine and reduced the levels of the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1β while increasing levels of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 [R].
An alcohol extract of magnolia bark helped prevent memory loss caused by bacterial lipopolysaccharides in mice. Lipopolysaccharides are a toxin found in Gram-negative bacteria that activates the cells that protect the brain from attack from pathogens (microglia) by triggering the release of cytokines.
Magnolol and honokiol decreased brain cell death by protecting them from high calcium levels and inhibiting caspase, an enzyme that breaks down muscle-specific proteins and causes cell death. They also limited the activity of the B-secretase enzyme, which is overactive in Alzheimer’s disease patients and leads to the buildup of amyloid plaque [R, R].
9) Inflammation and Pain
Cytokines, signaling molecules of the immune system that impact the severity of inflammation, contribute to swelling, pain, and other typical side effects of inflammation.
In one study in which magnolia bark extract was administered to cells involved in the initial immune response (activated fibroblasts and monocytes), the extract successfully lowered the number of proinflammatory cytokines IL-6, IL-8, MMP-2, and MMP-9 [R].
Honokiol and magnolol reduced pain caused by drug-induced inflammation in mice but did not reduce pain caused by heat or force [R].
Glutamate and glutamate receptors and the inflammatory molecules substance P and prostaglandin E2 are known to increase the sensitivity to pain. One study found that honokiol and magnolol prevented inflammatory pain in mice injected with glutamate [R].
Magnolol and honokiol reduced fasting blood sugar levels, increased sugar tolerance of cells, and increased insulin levels without causing weight gain in type 2 diabetic rats [R].
11) High Blood Pressure
Honokiol notably relaxed aortas and reduced blood pressure in rats with high blood pressure [R].
12) Enlarged Prostate
In a cell study, prostate gland tissue treated with honokiol reduced smooth muscle contraction and excessive cell growth [R].
Preliminary research on magnolia bark’s potential anticancer effects is still in the animal and cell stage. Further clinical studies have yet to determine if its extract may be useful in cancer therapies. However, the possibilities are exciting.
Honokiol inhibits the proteins Nf-kB, and STAT3 (transcription factors), which prevent cancer cell communication and tumor spread and growth. Also, by preventing the activation of STAT3, honokiol decreases the activation of the signaling molecules c-Src and EFGR, which are often abundant in cancer cells [R].
Honokiol applied to the skin of mice resulted in an 80% decrease in benign tumor size and a 62% decrease in the progression of benign tumors to malignant tumors [R].
Mice with lung cancer treated with honokiol and radiation saw a 78% reduction in tumor volume. This combination was more effective than either honokiol or radiation alone [R].
Honokiol prevented the growth of various types of breast cancer cells and made drug treatment more effective by blocking the production of P-glycoprotein (a protein that pumps foreign substances out of cells, thus reducing the effectiveness of chemotherapy) [R].
Mice containing human ovarian cancer cells treated twice weekly with honokiol saw an 88% inhibition in tumor growth and an increased lifespan [R].
Honokiol-containing human prostate cancer cells administered orally to mice increased the amount of cell death (apoptosis) at tumor sites and slowed the growth of cancer [R].
A cell study involving human colorectal cancer cells found that honokiol increased cell death at tumor sites and prevented tumor growth [R].
Honokiol caused cell death in human stomach cancer cells and in mice with this cancer type. It also decreased the production of key molecules involved in tumor growth (PPAR-gamma, COX-2, and 15-lipoxygenase (LOX)-1) [R].
A cell study on human pancreatic cancer cells found that honokiol caused cancer cell death and increased the effectiveness of the chemotherapeutic drug gemcitabine [R].
Magnolia Bark Side Effects
The safety profile of magnolia bark is relatively unknown because of the lack of well-designed clinical studies. The list of side effects below is not all-encompassing. Consult with a trusted and knowledgeable healthcare professional concerning other possible side effects based on your personal health concerns.
At high doses (greater than 9 g), excessive bleeding or neurotoxicity can occur [R, R].
For those with a bleeding disorder or clotting disorder, is it not recommended to take magnolia supplements. This includes those who have hemorrhages or patients with disorders such as hemophilia or von Willebrand’s deficiency [R].
Multiple animal studies report no change in diet, appetite, weight, or other body activities. No mutations were observed, and toxicity tests done over 90 days reported no mortalities [R].
Menopausal women who take magnolia supplements to help with anxiety, insomnia, and depression may have breast tension, constipation, blood loss, and stomach pain [R].
Since it reduces blood clotting, those taking anticoagulants such as Coumadin or Lovenox should not take magnolia bark extract [R].
Magnolia bark extract is an excellent dietary supplement for promoting restful sleep, reducing stress, anxiety, and mild depression, improving cortisol levels, and easing inflammation and pain, plus many other benefits. Currently, more human studies are needed, and as such, before implementing magnolia bark extract into your health and wellness program, I recommend speaking with a trusted and knowledgeable practitioner.
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