Recent studies conducted in animals revealed that an ingredient found in abundance in birch bark has a whole lot of metabolic effects.
In mice, the compound known as betulin lowered cholesterol, helped prevent diet-induced obesity, and improved insulin sensitivity. Betulin-treated mice were also more resistant to developing atherosclerotic plaques in their arteries.
Betulin works by targeting so-called sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBPs), transcription factors that are known to be important for activating the expression of genes involved in the biosynthesis of cholesterol, fatty acids, and triglycerides.
"Our study shows that the SREBP pathway is a good target for several metabolic diseases," said Bao-Liang Song of the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences.n the new study, Song and his colleagues treated mice on a high-fat, Western diet with betulin, the cholesterol-lowering statin known as lovastatin, or a placebo (saline) for 6 weeks.
Compared to placebo, both drugs led the mice to gain less weight on the high-fat diet, though by different means. Betulin caused the animals to burn more calories while lovastatin appeared to reduce the amount of lipid taken up from the diet.
Further investigations showed that betulin also lowered lipid levels in blood, liver, and fat tissue. Betulin also made the animals more sensitive to insulin.
The researchers have said that their findings suggest betulin may have similar or even better effects than lovastatin, a member of the most widely prescribed drug class for treating high cholesterol.
The findings were reported in the journal Cell Metabolism, a Cell Press publication.