Drugs A - Z
Birch (Betula spp.)
Generic Name: Birch
CategoryHerbs & Supplements
Bet v 1, Bet v 1-fragments, Bet v 1-trimer, Betula, Betula 30c, Betula davurica Pall., Betula ermanii Cham., Betula grossa Sieb. et Zucc., Betula maximowicziana, Betula maximowicziana Regel, Betula nana, Betula nana L., Betula occidentalis, Betula pendula, Betula pendula Roth., Betula papyrifera Marsh., Betula platyphylla var. japonica, Betula platyphylla Sukatchev var. japonica (Miq.) Hara, Betula pubescens Ehrh., Betula verrucosa, Betulaceae (family), betulin, betulinic acid, birch pollen allergen (Bet v 1), downy birch, dwarf birch, Japanese white birch, lupeol, mountain birch, natural birch pollen extract, oleanolic acid, paper birch, rBet v 1, rBet v 2, rBet v 4, recombinant Betula verrucosa (rBet v 1), silver birch, white birch.
Note: This monograph does not cover birch immunotherapy. For more information on immunotherapy, please see the Natural Standard allergy database.
Birch tree species are common throughout temperate North American, European, and Asian areas. Birch pollen is one of the most common allergens, usually in areas where exposure to high levels of birch pollen is common. The allergen may cause atopic dermatitis, contact urticaria (hives), atopic eczema, asthma, wheezing, allergic conjunctivitis (pinkeye), eye redness, oral-pharyngeal itching, or rhinoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the nose and the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the eyelids).
There is insufficient evidence in humans to support the use of birch for any indication. One study shows that birch bark ointment may be beneficial for actinic keratosis (precancerous condition of thick, scaly patches of skin).
EvidenceDISCLAIMER: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Birch bark contains a variety of apoptosis (cell death)-inducing and anti-inflammatory substances such as betulinic acid, betulin, oleanolic acid, and lupeol, which may be beneficial in treating actinic keratosis. More study is needed in this area.
TraditionWARNING: DISCLAIMER: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, cancer, diuretic (increases urine production).
Adults (18 years and older):
IMPORTANT NOTE: Patients with allergies should not self-treat. Supervision by a trained Allergist is crucial due to the risk for serious, even life-threatening, effects. There is no proven safe or effective dose for birch.
Children (younger than 18 years):
IMPORTANT NOTE: Patients with allergies should not self-treat. Supervision by a trained Allergist is crucial due to the risk for serious, even life-threatening, effects. There is no proven safe or effective dose for birch in children.
SafetyDISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to birch (Betula spp.), its pollen, its constituents, or any related member of the Betulaceae family. Birch pollen is one of the most common allergens, usually in areas where exposure to high levels of birch pollen is common. The allergen may cause atopic dermatitis, contact urticaria (hives), atopic eczema, asthma, wheezing, allergic conjunctivitis (pinkeye), eye redness, oral-pharyngeal itching, or rhinoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the nose and the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the eyelids). Atopic dermatitis symptoms may include whealing and itching. Research also shows that children with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) are likely to develop asthma.
There has been documented cross sensitivity to other allergens, including apple, apple pollen, Himalayan tree pollen, peanut, soy and soybean, latex, avocado, kiwi, banana, hazelnuts, grass pollen, nuts, fruit, and mugwort.
Side Effects and Warnings
Birch is one of the most common allergens, and usually causes mild to severe symptoms ranging from contact urticaria (hives) to asthma. Birch-pollen immunotherapy may cause mild oral-pharyngeal itching.
There is insufficient evidence in humans to support the use of birch for any indication. Although not well studied in humans, birch may have diuretic (increase urine production) effects, and caution is advised in patients taking other diuretics.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Birch is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women due to a lack of scientific evidence. Maternal pollen allergy seems to have a stronger influence on the development of rhinoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the nose and the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the eyelids) in children with a family history of atopy than the degree of allergen exposure during pregnancy.
Interactions with Drugs
Birch may interact with blood thinning agents. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or taking agents that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
Birch may have diuretic (increase urine production) effects. Caution is advised in patients taking agents that increase the flow of urine.
Birch may be hepatotoxic (liver damaging). Caution is advised in patients with liver disorders or taking drugs that may affect the liver.
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
Birch may interact with blood thinning herbs and supplements. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or taking herbs or supplements that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
Birch may have diuretic (increase urine production) effects. Caution is advised in patients taking herbs or supplements that increase the flow of urine.
Birch may be hepatotoxic (liver damaging); caution is advised in patients with liver disorders or taking herbs or supplements that may affect the liver.
This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature, and was peer-reviewed and edited by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com): Dawn Costa, BA, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Nicole Giese, MS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Emily Kyomitmaitee, PharmD (University of Rhode Island); Shaina Tanguay-Colucci, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Wendy Weissner, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration).
BibliographyDISCLAIMER: Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
Arvidsson MB, Lowhagen O, Rak S. Allergen specific immunotherapy attenuates early and late phase reactions in lower airways of birch pollen asthmatic patients: a double blind placebo-controlled study. Allergy 2004;59(1):74-80.
Bez C, Schubert R, Kopp M, et al. Effect of anti-immunoglobulin E on nasal inflammation in patients with seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. Clin Exp Allergy 2004;34(7):1079-1085.
Bist A, Kumar L, Roy I, et al. Clinico-immunologic evaluation of allergy to Himalayan tree pollen in atopic subjects in India--a new record. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol 2005;23(2-3):69-78.
Bolhaar ST, Tiemessen MM, Zuidmeer L, et al. C. Efficacy of birch-pollen immunotherapy on cross-reactive food allergy confirmed by skin tests and double-blind food challenges. Clin Exp Allergy 2004;34(5):761-769.
Bolhaar ST, Zuidmeer L, Ma Y, et al. A mutant of the major apple allergen, Mal d 1, demonstrating hypo-allergenicity in the target organ by double-blind placebo-controlled food challenge. Clin Exp Allergy 2005;35(12):1638-1644.
Cirla AM, Cirla PE, Parmiani S, et al. A pre-seasonal birch/hazel sublingual immunotherapy can improve the outcome of grass pollen injective treatment in bisensitized individuals. A case-referent, two-year controlled study. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr.) 2003;31(1):31-43.
Hansen KS, Khinchi MS, Skov PS, et al. Food allergy to apple and specific immunotherapy with birch pollen. Mol Nutr Food Res 2004;48(6):441-448.
Huyke C, Laszczyk M, Scheffler A, et al. [Treatment of actinic keratoses with birch bark extract: a pilot study]. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges 2006;4(2):132-136.
Khinchi M S, Poulsen LK, Carat F, et al. Clinical efficacy of sublingual and subcutaneous birch pollen allergen-specific immunotherapy: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, double-dummy study. Allergy 2004;59(1):45-53.
Marogna M, Spadolini I, Massolo A, et al. Clinical, functional, and immunologic effects of sublingual immunotherapy in birch pollinosis: a 3-year randomized controlled study. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2005;115(6):1184-1188.
Mittag D, Akkerdaas J, Ballmer-Weber BK, et al. Ara h 8, a Bet v 1-homologous allergen from peanut, is a major allergen in patients with combined birch pollen and peanut allergy. J.Allergy Clin Immunol 2004;114(6):1410-1417.
Mosges R, Pasch N, Schlierenkamper U, et al. Comparison of the biological activity of the most common sublingual allergen solutions made by two European manufacturers. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2006;139(4):325-329.
Niederberger V, Horak F, Vrtala S, et al. Vaccination with genetically engineered allergens prevents progression of allergic disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 10-5-2004;101 Suppl 2:14677-14682.
Reisinger J, Horak F, Pauli G, et al. Allergen-specific nasal IgG antibodies induced by vaccination with genetically modified allergens are associated with reduced nasal allergen sensitivity. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2005;116(2):347-354.
van Neerven RJ, Arvidsson M, Ipsen H, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled birch allergy vaccination study: inhibition of CD23-mediated serum-immunoglobulin E-facilitated allergen presentation. Clin Exp Allergy 2004;34(3):420-428.