Magnolia Bark: Benefits for Sleep, Anxiety and More

Posted by Dr. Ian Stern on

Dr. Ian Stern Dr. Ian Stern Dr. Ian Stern

You may not be familiar with this powerhouse of traditional and folk medicine, but the bark of magnolia trees has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. It has numerous health benefits. Magnolia tree is native to China, and the flowers as well as the bark of this tree have been used medicinally across Asia since Ancient times.

Its bark contains several natural, bioactive compounds, which are potent and effective in addressing conditions from anxiety to inflammation. Magnolia bark extract is used to help promote deep restorative sleep, lower stress, protect the memory, mental health, and much more.


What Is Magnolia Bark

Magnolia bark is the bark of Magnolia officinalis, a beautiful and fragrant flowering tree. It is referred to as “Houpo” or “Houpu,” which consists of two Chinese words: “hou” meaning “thick” and “pu” meaning “unadorned” compared to the dazzling and fragrant flowers of the plant. Houpu is collected, dried, and used therapeutically.

Traditionally Chinese and Japanese medicine used it to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia but more recently, scientists have been revealing its powerful cancer-fighting properties, effectiveness in alleviating menopause symptoms, easing digestion, and even fighting bad breath!

How Does Magnolia Bark Work?

Among the most well-known and well-studied of houpu’s bioactive constituents are honokiol and magnolol. It also contains potent alkaloids, magnoflorine and magnocurarine. Magnolia bark increases GABA activity, which means that it quiets the excitatory neurons in the brain, producing a calming effect, which helps reduce anxiety and promote sleep.

It also reduces adrenaline and cortisol, two major stress hormones. Indirectly lower levels of adrenaline and cortisol lead to better sleep as well. 

Being a powerful antioxidant, the compounds of magnolia bark lower levels of inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain and throughout the body. The compounds also activate the cannabinoid receptors in your body, which boosts the immune system, prevents and fights diseases, reduces inflammation, and improves your mood. 


Benefits of Magnolia Bark

Magnolia bark offers many health benefits naturally. Here are just some of the top benefits it may provide. 

Benefit 1 - Promotes Relaxation and Better Sleep

Magnolia bark helps ease the mind and relax the body. It increases GABA activity, which is very important for deep restorative sleep. Research shows that the compounds in magnolia bark can increase the amount of time you spend in both REM and NREM sleep, as well as reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep.

Additionally, it works to lower the stress hormone cortisol, modulating the detrimental health effects of chronic stress, which interferes with quality sleep. It also helps to lower the stress hormone adrenaline, lowering the level of alertness and being too wired to sleep. 

Benefit 2 - Anti-Stress and Anti-Anxiety

One study indicates that one of the active compounds in magnolia bark—honokiol—works as effectively as the drug diazepam to treat anxiety, without the same risks of dependency or side effects. Magnolia bark has been used for centuries for this purpose. Due to its ability to boost GABA activity and activate cannabinoid receptors, it is an extremely effective natural anxiolytic. 

Benefit 3 - Better Mood 

Magnolia bark acts as an antidepressant by affecting the activity of both serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that are important to mood. In a study where 56 participants were given either a supplement containing magnolia bark or a placebo, those who took the magnolia bark supplement showed significantly better mood-state parameters, including lower Tension (−13%), Depression (−20%), Anger (−42%), Fatigue (−31%), and Confusion (−27%), and higher indices of Global Mood State (+11%) and Vigor (+18%).

Benefit 4 - Digestion

Magnolia bark has been used for centuries to treat digestive problems, including nausea, abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. It is especially effective when paired with ginger.


Benefit 5 - Brain Health

Healthy sleep is essential for cognitive performance. Additionally, magnolia bark’s GABA-activating effects and its power as an antioxidant work to protect your brain. The compound Honokiol’s neuroprotective effects may also be related to the promotion of healthy connections among nerve cells. The bioactive compounds can also help maintain levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps the brain process memory and learning.

Benefit 6 - Anti-Inflammatory 

Magnolia bark has long been used in traditional medicine as an anti-inflammatory, helping to relieve pain in the joints and muscles. Research shows that is an effective pain reliever. 

Benefit 7 - Anti-Cancer

Although further studies are needed, there is some research that suggests that at least one of the bioactive compounds in magnolia bark may help cure cancer. Honokiol may kill cancer cells through a process of anti-angiogenesis — restricting the microscopic blood vessels that feed cancer cells. 


Benefit 8 - Ease of Menopausal Symptoms

Magnolia bark may help relieve menopausal symptoms. A study published in Minerva Ginecologica in 2006 used 89 midlife women experiencing menopausal symptoms. They were treated for 24 weeks with either a combination of calcium and vitamin D, or a supplement containing calcium and vitamin D, plus magnolia bark, soy, probiotics, and magnesium.​

The study revealed that the supplement containing magnolia bark was more effective in relieving hot flashes, insomnia, anxiety, depression, irritability, vaginal dryness, and loss of libido.

Benefit 9 - Promotes Heart Health

Due mostly to its antioxidant components, magnolia bark may help promote heart health

It may lower oxidative stress, which contributes to cardiovascular lesions by promoting inflammation. It also may lower inflammation, which is another major progressive factor in cardiovascular dysfunctions. 


Benefit 10 - Fights Bad Breath

Additionally, magnolia bark may help fight bad breath. In a small study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry nine healthy volunteers were given either Listerine mouthwash or a mint, containing magnolia bark, after eating lunch.

Their saliva samples showed that magnolia bark was effective in destroying several types of bacteria known to cause bad breath. For this reason, magnolia bark is used in mints, mouthwash, and chewing gum to freshen breath. 

Magnolia Bark Dosage

Typical magnolia bark extract doses are 200-800mg, depending on age, weight, and health condition.  


Magnolia Interactions

Below are some commonly used medications and supplements that may have interactions with magnolia. Practice responsibility and caution, and consult with a specialist if you take any of the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Sedative medications
  • Other herbs and supplements that promote sleepiness, such as John’s wort, Valerian, Yerba Mansa, etc. 
  • Other herbs and supplements that slow blood clotting, such as ginger, turmeric, gingko, clove, etc.

It’s no wonder that magnolia bark has been used for centuries for its wide array of health benefits. I hope it can help those who have trouble sleeping or suffer from depression or anxiety. Its effects in protecting the brain and the heart are promising as well. I am proud to include this powerful herb in my Relax formula, which combines magnolia bark extract with organic basil, L-theanine, and other deeply relaxing ingredients. This product works with your body naturally to repair the adrenal glands, lower stress, and provide deep, restorative sleep at night as well as the vitality you need for the next day. Click here to learn more.


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