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What is Honokiol?

By Deborah Walker
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Honokiol is a biphenol compound that occurs in the leaves, bark, and cones of trees in the Magnolia genus. The species Magnolia grandifloris and Magnolia officialis have been used for thousands of years in traditional Asian medicine. Recent research has shown that honokiol may be beneficial as a treatment for cancer and autoimmune disorders. Its antioxidant properties can exceed those of vitamin E and may help in managing heart disease. This compound is thought to relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other stress-related conditions.

Almost 2000 years ago, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine utilized magnolia bark to treat several different conditions. People with low energy, or chi, were often told to take magnolia bark. Practitioners also prescribed the bark to people with digestive problems caused by emotional stress.

Modern medicine is beginning to notice this ancient treatment. Researchers from Emory University found that this compound may be helpful as a treatment for those with cancer. It appears to stop the cycle of cancer cell development. It may also be useful in increasing the effects of radiation therapy. In one study, honokiol taken in conjunction with radiation therapy reduced the size of tumors by 78%.

In human tests carried out by Korean researchers, the compound was found to reduce inflammation. It also stabilized and/or reduced other symptoms associated with severe arthritis. These researchers hypothesized that honokiol's anti-inflammatory properties may be applicable to the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Japanese scientists discovered that honokiol possesses significant antioxidant properties. They found that it is 1,000 times stronger than the antioxidant properties of alpha-tocopherol, or vitamin E, which has been shown to help manage heart disease. Researchers believe that this compound might be a good treatment for heart disease. More research is necessary before this can be established definitively.

This compound also modulates neurotransmitters in the brain. In animals, honokiol in high doses depressed the entire central nervous system and caused drowsiness. In low doses, it relieved anxiety without any associated fatigue. One study compared diazepam, or Valium, with honokiol. The latter proved to be a better anti-anxiety treatment, but diazepam was superior in its ability to sedate.

Standardized supplements of this compound appear to be well-tolerated. In the future, it may be a frontline treatment in conventional medicine to alleviate anxiety and other stress-related conditions. The implications can be far reaching. For example, it is known that people secrete higher levels of cortisol when they are stressed. The increase in cortisol is related to weight gain, diabetes, low immune function, problems with memory, and osteoporosis. Each of these diseases has its own set of related illnesses. Using this supplement to inhibit the release of additional cortisol may have a preventative effect on the development of many lifestyle-related diseases.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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