Betulinic Acid

July 12 2007 post. I recently came across another natural substance that has been used to treat various ailments for hundreds of years in traditional medicine throughout the world, from North America to Russia and Japan. It is called betulinic acid, or BA, and is extracted from the white birch tree (Betula Alba), as well as from other plant species found mainly in tropical areas.

Ralph Moss ( informs us that traditional medicine has used it to treat diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, and all diseases of the alimentary tract. It is said to be a good blood cleanser. Blood cleanser, huh? Sounds good to me! Of course I did an online search, et voilà, there it was!, a study mentioning birch tree extract and myeloma cells in the same breath. This study ( published in 2006, informs us that BA possesses antiviral, antiparasitic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activities, including, from what I read elsewhere, the ability to inhibit both Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. But most importantly, BA can inhibit the growth of cancer cells: "In this study, we demonstrated a remarkable antiproliferative effect of BA in all tested tumor cell cultures including neuroblastoma, rabdomyosarcoma-medulloblastoma, glioma, thyroid, breast, lung and colon carcinoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma, as well as in primary cultures isolated from ovarian carcinoma, cervical carcinoma and glioblastoma multiforme."

That BA could kill cancer cells is not such a recent discovery. A University of Illinois study on BA and melanoma cells was published in 1995: Melanoma tumour growth was completely inhibited without toxicity. A follow-up study ( was published in 2003. Another 2003 study showed for the first time that BA induces apoptosis in head and neck cancer cells. See: And yet another 2003 study (full study: published in the "Journal of Immunology" examines the anti-cancer properties of BA and also mentions its anti-HIV effects. BA was found to suppress the activation of NF-kappaB in different cancer cell lines‚ "colon and lung, for instance. The researchers found that BA is a very potent inhibitor of TNF-induced NF-kB activation. This is important because TNF, or tumour necrosis factor, is very much involved in cancer growth and metastasis. BA was also found to induce apoptosis in brain tumour cells. The study ends: "overall our results suggest that BA may have applications for various diseases mediated through NF-kB activation, including cancer, inflammation, and AIDS."

A July 2007 study ( published in "Molecular Cancer Therapeutics" points out that, while BA is not toxic even at a high dosage, it is not very potent. These researchers examine the purportedly stronger effects of six BA analogues, notably CBA-Im [1-(2-cyano-3-oxolupa-1,20(29)-dien-28-oyl)imidazole] (how’s that for a mouthful?).

Another 2007 study ( published in "Cancer Letters" states that Treatment with BA was shown to protect mice against transplanted human melanoma and led to tumor regression. In contrast, cells from healthy tissues were resistant to BA and toxic side-effects in animals were absent. This is important. Like curcumin and many other non toxic compounds, BA leaves healthy cells alone. Those are five key words I seek in a study: It Leaves Healthy Cells Alone. These researchers tested cells from five high mortality cancers €"lung, colorectal, breast, prostate and cervical," and discovered that, after 48 hours, almost equal amounts of BA inhibited their proliferation.

A clinical trial (see: is currently examining the effects of betulinic acid (a 20% betulinic acid ointment) on melanoma.

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