Honokiol is the chemical compound isolated from the seed cones, bark, and leaves of some species of Magnolia trees. The most common is the Magnolia Grandiflora, a species native in different parts of Asia. There are also other species like the Magnolia Dealbata, Magnolia Biondii, Magnolia Obovata, and Magnolia Officinalis that are used in traditional medicine. These are found in South America and Mexico.
Honokiol has fragrant and spicy odor. It readily crosses the different barriers in the body making it easily available for possible potent therapy. In China, the bark is called Houpo. Extracts are commonly used to treat anxiety, mood disorders, and to lower fever. In Japan, the extract is used as a tea for its anxiolytic effects.
Today, it is possible to find honokiol marketed as a food supplement. Its effect has been well studied among animal models and western medicine takes steps in obtaining purified extracts to create various preparations. There is also growing evidence to support the traditional use of magnolia bark for improving sleep, addressing depression and anxiety, inhibiting pain and inflammation, and protecting the central nervous system.
Known Health Benefits of Honokiol
For centuries, honokiol has been used to improve the learning performance and memory of individuals. Modern science has provided the basis for this practice after a series of experiments. Honokiol is known to possess a neuroprotective property. Unlike other drugs and other herbal preparations, honokiol possesses the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. This barrier serves as the gate of the central nervous system from the blood and only a few substances are able to pass through it. It has been observed in clinical studies that Honokiol is able to access the brain tissues by passing through this semi-permissive divider. Once inside, honokiol promotes healthy connections among the nerve cells. It allows the brain cells to communicate faster and more efficiently, thus improving the cognitive performance of an individual.
Honokiol has also the ability to prevent inflammatory reactions in the brain by inhibiting the production of cytokines, the chemicals responsible for the symptoms of inflammation. In different studies conducted, it was also observed that honokiol prevents neuronal damage by suppressing glucose intolerance after ischemia.
Apart from boosting mental abilities and protecting the neurons from damage, Honokiol has also been proven to be effective in treating acute seizures, stroke, and epilepsy. To prove this, researchers used neuronal culture and animal models. The extract’s potency was compared with other drugs commonly used to treat these disorders and the results show that honokiol appears to be at par with most commonly used drugs.
In terms of Alzheimer’s disease, honokiol has been proven to be effective in preventing neuronal cell death. In various studies conducted, results show that the extract can rescue neuronal cells against oxidative stress especially during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It is able to delay the symptoms by rescuing the mitochondrial functions of the brain.
Magnolia bark which contains honokiol has long been used for its natural calming remedy. It works as an anxiety reducer claiming that it helps “turn off their brain” and prevent it from overworking. The ability to decrease anxiety-related behavior comes from its ability to activate receptors in the endocannabinoid system, reducing adrenaline, and other stress-related hormones like cortisol.
Compared with other anti-anxiety prescription drugs which can lead to physical dependence and central depression, it was observed that the administration of honokiol showed to be effective among laboratory animals. Oral administration of honokiol leads significantly better results compared with oral diazepam which may pose cognitive side effects. This finding opens potential possibilities of using the extract to effectively treat different anxiety disorders among humans.
Patients suffering from depression have been observed to have low levels of serotonin. Serotonin is an important chemical neurotransmitter in the body. It is sometimes called the happy hormone because it is associated with vibrant and alive feelings after doing exercise, eating chocolates, and during happy situations. Its main function is to regulate mood and social behavior. When there is a chemical imbalance of serotonin, this leads to a depressed attitude.
Mixtures of honokiol and magnolol from magnolia bark have been observed to possess anti-depressant effects among stressed rodents. The mechanism of action is linked to its ability to normalize the level of serotonin in the blood. By taking honokiol, patients are able to correct the imbalances of chemicals thereby reducing the symptoms of depression.
Sleep disorders are commonly observed along with other mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Depressed and anxious patients suffer from low quality and sleep disturbances at night which often worsens their condition. Studies show that when patients manage the symptoms of anxiety and depression using honokiol, it also indirectly treats sleep disorders. The mechanism comes from its ability to excite the sleep-promoting neurons. When tested among mice with induced sleep disorders, research shows that it can accelerate the initiation of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. The effects lasted for 4 hours at a dose of 20 mg. The overall conclusion was that honokiol is useful as a sleep-promoting substance especially insomnia related to depression and anxiety.
Pain and Inflammation
Pain and inflammation are common symptoms of chronic disorders like arthritis. While the two have protective roles, the associated process leads to uncomfortable feelings. Although a number of drugs are available, many of these have dose-limiting side effects. The medications are also expensive, addictive, and have long-term deleterious side effects. Thus, many health care practitioners resort to herbal drugs to manage pain and inflammation. They are as effective as synthetic drugs but they are more natural and safer alternatives.
One very common supplement used for pain and inflammation is honokiol. Chinese traditional medicine has a long history of using magnolia bark to deal with different types of body pains and inflammation. In the laboratory, Honokiol has been found to reduce the pain-licking behavior of animal models. The effect comes from its ability to block pain responses and decrease inflammatory chemicals like the tumor necrosis factor.
Can Benefit Cancer Patients
Cancer is becoming one of the top causes of morbidity worldwide. With the increasing number of people suffering from it, there is a greater call to find a natural alternative to commonly used chemotherapeutic drugs.
In different studies, honokiol induces apoptosis or programmed cell death among carcinoma cells. It has been well studied against leukemia, pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancer. Its anti-migration property helps prevent cancer from spreading to other areas of the body. Honokiol targets multiple signaling pathways to stop cancer initiation and progression by activating the AMPK, a regulator of cellular homeostasis.
With relatively low toxicity levels, it is a promising treatment to control cancer progression.
Honokiol has been used to treat various health problems but one should remember that it is not entirely free from all risks. There are reports that it can increase bleeding. Thus, it must be used under the guidance of a qualified health care practitioner. It must also be taken with extreme care by patients with hemophilia and clotting disorders. While it can act as a neuroprotective, a high dose can also be toxic to the central nervous tissue. In vitro assessment shows that at higher doses, neuronal death happens.
Honokiol is a lipid-soluble substance that comes from the different parts of Magnolia trees. The substance easily passes through different lipid bilayers including that of the blood-brain barrier. Its chemical structure is similar to propofol, a substance that has an anesthetic effect, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotectant property.
Honokiol has been a century-old solution used by many traditional healers. In the advent of modern medicine, the substance has been explored for its potential benefits in protecting the central nervous system, managing pain and inflammation, and in treating various health problems. Its ability to target tumor cells and prevent ischemia, anxiety, seizures, and depression is promising.
- "Honokiol traverses the blood-brain barrier and induces apoptosis of neuroblastoma cells via an intrinsic bax-mitochondrion-cytochrome c-caspase protease pathway." via Neuro-Oncology
- "Neuroprotective effects of honokiol: from chemistry to medicine." via BioFactors
- Hoi, C.P., Ho, Y.P., Baum, L. and Chow, A.H.L. (2010), Neuroprotective effect of honokiol and magnolol, compounds from Magnolia officinalis, on beta‐amyloid‐induced toxicity in PC12 cells. Phytother. Res., 24: 1538-1542.
- "Beneficial effect of honokiol on lipopolysaccharide induced anxiety-like behavior and liver damage in mice" via Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
- "Antidepressant-like effects of the mixture of honokiol and magnolol from the barks of Magnolia officinalis in stressed rodents." via Progress Neuropsychopharmacol Biological Psychiatry
- "Honokiol promotes non-rapid eye movement sleep via the benzodiazepine site of the GABAA receptor in mice" via British Journal of Pharmacology
- "Antihyperalgesic Properties of Honokiol in Inflammatory Pain Models by Targeting of NF-κB and Nrf2 Signaling" via Frontiers in Pharmacology
- "Honokiol: a novel natural agent for cancer prevention and therapy" via Current Molecular Medicine