Magnolia Bark Extract and Cancer

magnolia bark extract and cancer

Magnolia bark extract inhibits cancer.

In yet another piece of evidence that nature provides the answers for most of our disease conditions: A flurry of recent research is establishing that an extract of magnolia bark is being heralded as a powerful anticancer agent.

Honokiol extract from Magnolia

The herbal medicine compound is called honokiol. The bark, cones and leaves from the magnolia tree (Magnolia officinalis) has been a part of traditional herbal medicine in Asia, but its relatives have also been used therapeutically in Europe and the Americas for centuries. Typically the bark, cones and leaves are cooked and boiled down to provide a natural syrupy extract.

It turns out this extract contains honokiol, which has been found to inhibit the growth of renal cancers, head and neck cancers, lung cell cancer and others. Let’s look at some of this research.

Honokiol for head and neck cancers

Each year, more than 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a head and neck cancer, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. The National Institute of Cancer estimates that some 20,000 Americans die every year will die from one of these cancers.

What is a head and neck cancer you say? The term is somewhat confusing because it does not include brain cancers, nervous system cancers or spinal cancers. Head and neck cancers are in tumors of the oral cavity, the pharynx and larynx (throat region); the sinuses and the salivary glands. To clarify the terminology, the term nasopharyngeal cancer is now progressively being used to describe these cancers.

Survival rates are quite low in head and neck cancers – at around 50 percent. This can also be seen in the ratio of diagnoses to deaths. This is not a very good ratio – with 20,000 deaths and 55,000 diagnosed each year die.

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In terms of causes – like most cancers, there are numerous suspected causes. The leading causes of these types of cancers, however, are alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco, in this case, refers to smoking and chewing tobacco.

Yet as mentioned above, we find once again that nature provides a potential solution for these types of cancers.

A recent study from the University of Alabama has found that this magnolia herb extract called honokiol inhibits several types of head and neck cancers. The laboratory study utilized human cancer cell lines. These included oral cavity squamous tumor cells, and those from the larynx, tongue and pharynx.

The research team – working within the Veterans Administration system – found the honokiol extract inhibited the growth of each type of these cancer cells. This occurred as it induced cell death among the cancer cells.

The researchers, led by Dr. Santosh K. Katiyar, wrote in their paper:

“Conclusively, honokiol appears to be an attractive bioactive small molecule phytochemical for the management of head and neck cancer which can be used either alone or in combination with other available therapeutic drugs.”

Small cell lung cancer

This honokiol extract has also been found to halt another invasive cancer – small-cell lung cancer.

About a fifth to a quarter of all lung cancers are small cell lung cancers. But this cancer is also more invasive and deadly – with from two-thirds to three-quarters of those who get this type of cancer suffering from invasive metastasis and many of those facing death from the disease.

In another study – this from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Peking Union Medical College – studied small cell lung cancer cells in the laboratory. Once again, they found that the honokiol compound halted the growth of the tumor cells, and instigated the kill switch to kill the cells.

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Stomach cancers halted

Researchers from China’s Zhongshan Hospital and Fudan University studied gastric cancer cells with honokiol in the laboratory. Again, they found the compound halted the growth of the cancer cells – stimulating cell death among the tumor cells.

Renal cell cancers

Renal cell cancers are cancers that affect the kidneys. Often the only thing a doctor can do to treat this type of cancer is to remove the affected kidney. The cancer is quite invasive and its incidence has been steadily growing over the years.

Researchers from Indiana University and California’s Amitabha Medical Clinic and Healing Center tested renal cell cancer cells with honokiol in the laboratory. Once again, they found the extract inhibited the growth of the cancer cells. The researchers stated:

“Our results showed that honokiol significantly inhibited the invasion and colony formation of highly metastatic RCC cells 786-0 in a dose-dependent manner.”

Breast cancer cells

None of us should be reminded of the devastating and invasive qualities of breast cancer. Millions of women are diagnosed every year, and hundreds of thousands die from the disease every year.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine tested honokiol against leptin-stimulated breast cancer cells. They found the honokiol halted through growth and interfered with the cancer cells’ ability to communicate. The researchers stated:

“Our results show that HNK significantly inhibits leptin-induced breast-cancer cell-growth, invasion, migration and leptin-induced breast-tumor-xenograft growth. Using a phospho-kinase screening array, we discover that HNK inhibits phosphorylation and activation of key molecules of leptin-signaling-network.”

The purified magnolia extract has a chemical formula of chemical formula C18-H18-O2. This is just one compound in this complex herbal medicine. Magnolia is no different from other natural compounds – with hundreds of nature’s blend of constituents. For this reason, magnolia and its extracts have been used in European, Japanese and Chinese medicine – typically for anxiety, but also for breathing conditions and others.

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Cho JH, Jeon YJ, Park SM, Shin JC, Lee TH, Jung S, Park H, Ryu J, Chen H, Dong Z, Shim JH, Chae JI. Multifunctional effects of honokiol as an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer drug in human oral squamous cancer cells and xenograft. Biomaterials. 2015 Jun;53:274-84. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2015.02.091.

Cheng S, Castillo V, Eliaz I, Sliva D. Honokiol suppresses metastasis of renal cell carcinoma by targeting KISS1/KISS1R signaling. Int J Oncol. 2015 Jun;46(6):2293-8. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2015.2950.

Lv X, Liu F, Shang Y, Chen SZ. Honokiol exhibits enhanced antitumor effects with chloroquine by inducing cell death and inhibiting autophagy in human non-small cell lung cancer cells. Oncol Rep. 2015 Jun 29. doi: 10.3892/or.2015.4091.

Yan B, Peng ZY. Honokiol induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human gastric carcinoma MGC-803 cell line. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2015 Apr 15;8(4):5454-61.

Avtanski DB, Nagalingam A, Kuppusamy P, Bonner MY, Arbiser JL, Saxena NK, Sharma D. Honokiol abrogates leptin-induced tumor progression by inhibiting Wnt1-MTA1-β-catenin signaling axis in a microRNA-34a dependent manner. Oncotarget. 2015 Apr 15.

Eastham LL, Howard CM, Balachandran P, Pasco DS, Claudio PP. Eating Green: Shining Light on the Use of Dietary Phytochemicals as a Modern Approach in the Prevention and Treatment of Head and Neck Cancers. Curr Top Med Chem. 2018;18(3):182-191. doi: 10.2174/1568026618666180112160713.

Prasad R, Katiyar SK. Honokiol, an Active Compound of Magnolia Plant, Inhibits Growth, and Progression of Cancers of Different Organs. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016;928:245-265. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-41334-1_11.


  • Case Adams, Naturopath

    California Naturopath, Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, Doctorate in Integrative Health Sciences, Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. Diplomas in Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Colon Hydrotherapy, certificates in Pain Management and Case Management/Contact Tracing. Has authored more than 30 books and hundreds of periodical articles on natural medicine. Recreational activities include surfing, sailing, running, biking, swimming, SUPing, hiking. Contact: case(at)caseadams(dot)com.

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