In herbal medicine, birch bark is the native American therapy for poison ivy, poison oak, and mosquito bites. The chemical betulin, which comprises about 30% of the total weight of birch bark, is a well-known topical inflammatory. A recent research study in China, however, has found that preparations of the bark this common tree of northern China, southern Siberia, Canada, and the northern United States can also be taken internally to fight type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Biao Liang-Sang and colleagues at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences report that betulin acts as a by targeting so-called sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBPs). These proteins activate the physiological processes that create cholesterol and triglycerides. Using laboratory mice, they found that including the birch extract in the diet lowered cholesterol even more effectively than lovastatin (Mevacor), which an additional, highly desirable effect. Betulin also reduced insulin resistance.
This is a preliminary proof that betulin might be very useful for type 2 diabetics. It might replace statin drugs, while reducing the need for diabetes drugs or insulin. It's premature to abandon any drugs you are taking now, but you might ask your doctor about adding a cup of birch bark tea to your daily diabetes routine just to see what kinds of results you get. The science suggests that the diabetics who would benefit the most are those who are on relatively high-fat (Atkins-style) diets.
Birch bark has an excellent safety profile. There are not any reports in the medical literature finding that it can be toxic. Just be sure, as we so often suggest, to test, test, and test some more to know exactly how the herb affects your blood sugar levels.
Tang JJ, Li JG, Qi W, Qiu WW, Li PS, Li BL, Song BL. Inhibition of SREBP by a small molecule, betulin, improves hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance and reduces atherosclerotic plaques.
Cell Metab. 2011 Jan 5;13(1):44-56.