Today, we take a look at one of the more unusual supplements that has been used in traditional medicine for many years.

History of honokiol

Honokiol is a lignan isolated from the bark, seed cones, and leaves of the trees of various Magnolia species. Honokiol, along with other active molecules in magnolia, such as magnolol and obovatol, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.

Honokiol in nature

Structurally, honokiol belongs to a class of neolignan biphenols. It is a hydrophobic polyphenol, and it is readily dissolved in lipids; it is also a well-documented antioxidant. Honokiol is extracted from various magnolia species, including Magnolia grandiflora, which is native to the American South, Magnolia dealbata, which is from Mexico, and Magnolia biondii, Magnolia obovata, and Magnolia officinalis, which are from Asia. Thankfully, you do not need to eat tree bark to obtain honokiol, as the extract is available as a dietary supplement.

Potential Health Benefits

There have been a number of experiments focused on the antioxidant properties of honokiol. One of the most interesting studies, carried out in 1994,  showed that honokiol has the ability to prevent the peroxidation of lipids, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease [1]. Perhaps more important is the ability of honokiol to inhibit inflammatory signals via the activation of the NF-kb protein complex. A 2013 study showed that honokiol was able to block the activation of NF-kb (a protein complex and regulator of the inflammatory response) in glial cells in the brain, thus preventing inflammation, making it a potential therapy for the treatment of ischemic stroke [2].

In 2007, researchers investigated the ability of honokiol to inhibit the immune response and reduce inflammation with the goal of treating rheumatoid arthritis [3]. The mouse study showed that honokiol was able to inhibit a range of inflammatory signals, including TNF-α and IL-6, thus reducing inflammation by mediating the immune response. Honokiol was studied in 2015 for its potential as a therapy for rheumatoid arthritis [4].

In this study, the researchers showed that honokiol was able to reduce inflammation via inhibition of the TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor) cytokine, one of the signals responsible for inflammation. The researchers concluded that the anti-inflammatory properties of honokiol could hold potential for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis


This article is only a very brief summary, is not intended as an exhaustive guide, and is based on the interpretation of research data, which is speculative by nature. This article is not a substitute for consulting your physician about which supplements may or may not be right for you. We do not endorse supplement use nor any product or supplement vendor, and all discussion here is for scientific interest.


[1] Lo, Y. C., Che-Ming, T., Chieh-Fu, C., Chien-Chih, C., & Chuang-Ye, H. (1994). Magnolol and honokiol isolated from Magnolia officinalis protect rat heart mitochondria against lipid peroxidation. Biochemical Pharmacology, 47(3), 549-553.

[2] Zhang, P., Liu, X., Zhu, Y., Chen, S., Zhou, D., & Wang, Y. (2013). honokiol inhibits the inflammatory reaction during cerebral ischemia reperfusion by suppressing NF-κB activation and cytokine production of glial cells. Neuroscience letters, 534, 123-127.

[3] Munroe, M. E., Arbiser, J. L., & Bishop, G. A. (2007). Honokiol, a natural plant product, inhibits inflammatory signals and alleviates inflammatory arthritis. The Journal of Immunology, 179(2), 753-763.

[4] Wang, X. D., Wang, Y. L., & Gao, W. F. (2015). Honokiol possesses potential anti-inflammatory effects on rheumatoid arthritis and GM-CSF can be a target for its treatment. International journal of clinical and experimental pathology, 8(7), 7929.

About the author

Steve Hill

Steve serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor in Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic as well as attending various medical industry conferences. In 2019 he was listed in the top 100 journalists covering biomedicine and longevity research in the industry report – Top-100 Journalists covering advanced biomedicine and longevity created by the Aging Analytics Agency. His work has been featured in H+ magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, and, Keep me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project. In 2015 he led the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) for the International Longevity Alliance and in 2016 helped the team of the SENS Research Foundation to reach their goal for the OncoSENS campaign for cancer research.
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