Have you ever heard about Chaga benefits or Chaga mushroom benefits? Chaga and birch trees are very closely related because a Chaga is a fungus which lives of the birch trees' bark. They have one ingredient in common - betulin. Both Chaga mushroom and birch tree bark have betulin in them and the scientists and a cosmetic industry like that ingredient.
What is birch bark extract?
INCI: Betulin, Betulinic Acid
Birch trees have the distinguished white color bark. The white color of these trees comes from the presence of betulin inside them. The content of betulin in the birch cortex may vary from 20 to 30% and it is located in the form of crystalline clusters in the cortex layer in large, thin-walled cells arising in the spring. During that time, in early spring, the betulin is harvested from the white bark of birch trees. A Birch bark extract is a mixture of betulin (> 95%), betulinic acid and lupeol.
What is the use of birch bark extract?
The chemical compounds present in the birch bark extract (betulin, betulinic acid, and lupeol) have many interesting pharmacological properties and are also valuable cosmetic raw materials.
Betulin and betulinic acid were also found in high concentration in the Chaga mushroom which is well known and documented for its curative properties. The connection is obvious if a Chaga mushroom is a fungus of the birch tree and they symbiotically possess this same ingredient betulin then birch bark extract as valuable as Chaga.
Many scientific studies confirmed and have shown that betulin has highly curative properties and even in a very high concentration, it is not toxic to the human body at all. Then what are these benefits?
- Antioxidant activity (antioxidant)
Active substances of birch bark extract protect cells and tissues against so-called Oxidative stress, which leads to damage to the components of cells, especially proteins, lipids, and DNA. The excess of free radicals contributes to the development of many civilization diseases (cancer, atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases), causes the body to grow faster. Research has shown that betulin and betulinic acid have strong antioxidant properties, i.e. they destroy peroxides and reactive oxygen species (free radicals) [21, 27]. When used externally, the preparation containing betulin protects the skin against free radicals and carcinogens and accelerates aging (eg ionizing radiation, UV).
- The anti-cancer effect.
The anti-cancer effect of betulin has been studied on many different tumor cell lines, including lung cancer , leukemia, hepatocellular carcinoma , gastric and pancreatic cancer , colon cancer, oral cavity and prostate cancer (hormonally dependent). Betulinic acid has cytotoxic activity in the following cases: cutaneous melanoma , leukemia, lymphoblastic leukemia , colorectal cancer , breast, cervix, prostate , neuroblastoma , glioblastoma, ovarian cancer and thyroid gland .
The mechanism of action of active substances present in the birch bark extract is based on the induction of apoptosis, or suicidal death, of cancer cells. Pharmacokinetic studies of betulinic acid showed that the highest concentration of this compound occurs in the tissue undergoing neoplastic changes . It is related to m.in. with the acidity of the environment inside the cancer cell, whose pH (6.8) is lower than in healthy cells .
Another mechanism of action of betulin itself, which plays a special role in the prevention of cancer, is the increase in the production of cytokines in the blood, in particular, the tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha) . Cytokines affect the stimulation of cells involved in the body's immune response.
Birch bark extract is protective in case of skin cancer (melanoma, basal cell carcinoma BCC, squamous cell carcinoma SCC) . The pathogenesis of this type of cancer is associated in particular with damage to the epidermis cells due to chronic ultraviolet radiation. Clinical trials confirm the high efficacy of betulin in reducing dysplastic features and changes in the type of actinic keratosis , which are pre-cancerous (more than 10% of such changes are transformed into cancer).
- Immunostimulatory and anti-inflammatory effects.
The anti-inflammatory effect of betulin and betulinic acid is based on the inhibition of prostaglandin secretion, which is responsible for the inflammatory process, the formation of edema and pain response. Research has shown that the active substances of birch bark extract are also immunomodulators, ie they regulate the immune system, enhance the immune response and stimulate the body's self-healing [22, 23]. Contraindications are foreign tissue grafts.
When using a preparation containing birch bark extract in atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, reduction of skin lesions, swellings and pruritus symptoms can be observed.
- Antiviral activity
Betulin has been tested for antiviral activity in the following viruses: herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2), ECHO 6  (causing, among others, meningitis, infection of the upper respiratory tract, diarrhea ), FPV influenza . Research is ongoing on the antiviral effects of betulin and its derivatives on papilloma cells (HPV, which can cause cervical and laryngeal cancer).
Betulinic acid is currently being extensively studied for its strong antiviral activity towards HIV . Positive results were also obtained in tests against viruses: EMCV (causing, among others, inflammation of the brain and myocardium), hepatitis A and C, VSV (responsible for vesicular stomatitis) .
- Antimicrobial and antifungal activity
Betulinic acid and lupeol have antifungal and antibacterial activity against the following strains: Sporothrix schenckii, Microsporum Canis, Aspergillus fumigatus, Candida albicans, Cryptococcus neoformans, Candida guilliermondi, Candida spicata .
The oleanolic and betulin acids inhibit the growth of such bacterial strains as Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus faecium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Mycobacterium tuberculosi [18, 31].
Pure betulin also has antifungal activity towards Fusarium oxysporum . In addition, it has been proven that betulinic acid has antimalarial activity .
- Antiallergic activity
As shown in the study, birch extract (consisting of betulin, betulinic acid, and lupeol) does not reveal immunotoxic and allergy-causing properties. It causes a significant reduction in skin lesions and a reduction in the symptoms of pruritus . In the experiments conducted, it was shown that the betulin contained in the extract led to a decrease in the level of type E immunoglobulins in the blood serum. Higher concentrations of birch extract may even inhibit anaphylactic shock, which is the most severe form of the body's allergic reaction .
Very important is the fact that a standardized birch bark extract containing isolated active substances does not cause allergic reactions even in people allergic to pollen. The extract is devoid of molecules of proteins that build pollen grains of plants (eg birch) or some mold fungi. Therefore, preparations containing betulin and betulinic acid are completely safe for allergy sufferers.
- Anti Pigmentation properties
Betulin regulates the process of melanin production and distribution in the skin by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase (which is responsible for the transformation of tyrosine into a pigment - melanin). This property is used in prophylaxis and care of the skin with disturbed melanin synthesis (freckles, dye stains, chloasma, vitiligo). Preparations with betulin effectively prevent the appearance of abnormal pigmentation changes in the skin, which may lead to the development of melanoma .
- The action regulating the collagen and elastin synthesis
As studies of betulin acid showed, it inhibits the enzyme elastase (which breaks down elastin) and effectively protects the skin against loss of elasticity. In addition, it stimulates the synthesis of collagen, the main connective tissue protein, which has a very high tensile strength, hence responsible for skin elasticity. Products containing betulin and betulinic acid prevent skin sagging and cellulite.
- Other properties and use
Betulin has a choleretic and choleretic effect, activates protective effects on liver cells. At this point, it should be noted that the preparation containing active compounds of the birch bark should not be used in confirmed biliary obstruction, and in the case of urolithiasis, consult a physician.
Recent research has also shown that betulin has a lipotropic effect (reduces blood lipids, liver, and adipose tissue) and promotes the metabolism of the body.
Betulin acid effectively inhibits the secretion of stomach acids and therefore reduces inflammatory changes in the gastrointestinal tract .
The action of betulin and lupeol was also confirmed as the compounds responsible for reducing renal tubular damage and lowering the rates of crystal deposition in the kidneys (kidney stones).
Birch juice is wildly used in the Eastern European natural medicine as a remedy for kidney stones and gastrointestinal problems
Birch bark extract, containing betulin and betulinic acid, accelerates the regeneration of tissues while acting antiseptically in the case of wounds difficult to heal and after burns. In addition, it accelerates granulation and scarring of wounds, limiting the size of the scar, prevents tissue degeneration.
In the case of an external application on the scalp, it strengthens hair roots, stimulates hair regrowth in the case of hair loss, women in baldness after childbirth, seborrhoeic baldness, after chemotherapy.
Betulin and betulinic acid have been proven effective ingredient in combating many diseases and very valuable ingredient of the cosmetics. Recently Chaga mushroom is well known and popular in homeopathic and holistic healing circles and birch tree extract and juice was always used in traditional medicine and now we have scientific proofs that betulin and betulinic acid included in these plants have very highly curative effects.
Sylveco Company, Article: "Betulin" https://sylveco.pl/betulina/
Translated from Polish and curated by Alina Cosmetics