Can White Birch Help to Combat Cancer?

white birch trees
DAJ/Amana Images/Getty Images

White birch is a type of plant used in herbal medicine. Available in dietary supplement form, white birch extract contains butalin (a compound thought to have health-promoting properties). In addition, white birch extract is sometimes applied topically (i.e., directly to the skin) to help treat certain skin conditions. 

Uses for White Birch

In alternative medicine, white birch is said to act as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

White birch is also purported to stimulate the immune system, fight cancer, 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.

What's more, 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. 

Benefits of White Birch

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) and found that it may have anti-cancer effects.

For instance, 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." (Found to contribute to cancer development, overexpression occurs when too many copies of proteins are produced by the body.)

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).

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


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 use of this herb.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated.

In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. 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. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Alternatives to White Birch

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.

Where to Find It

Available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing white birch are sold in some natural-food stores and stores specializing in herbal products.

Using White Birch for Health

Due to the lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend white birch as a treatment for cancer (or any condition). It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using it for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.


Chintharlapalli S, Papineni S, Ramaiah SK, Safe S. "Betulinic acid inhibits prostate cancer growth through inhibition of specificity protein transcription factors." Cancer Res. 2007 Mar 15;67(6):2816-23.

Liby K, Honda T, Williams CR, Risingsong R, Royce DB, Suh N, Dinkova-Kostova AT, Stephenson KK, Talalay P, Sundararajan C, Gribble GW, Sporn MB. "Novel semisynthetic analogues of betulinic acid with diverse cytoprotective, antiproliferative, and proapoptotic activities." Mol Cancer Ther. 2007 Jul;6(7):2113-9.

Mullauer FB, Kessler JH, Medema JP. "Betulinic acid, a natural compound with potent anticancer effects." Anticancer Drugs. 2010 Mar;21(3):215-27.

Schmidt ML, Kuzmanoff KL, Ling-Indeck L, Pezzuto JM. "Betulinic acid induces apoptosis in human neuroblastoma cell lines." Eur J Cancer. 1997 Oct;33(12):2007-10.

Tan Y, Yu R, Pezzuto JM. "Betulinic acid-induced programmed cell death in human melanoma cells involves mitogen-activated protein kinase activation." Clin Cancer Res. 2003 Jul;9(7):2866-75.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading