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

As a scientific writer and a devoted advocate of healthy longevity and the technologies to promote them, Steve has provided the community with hundreds of educational articles, interviews, and podcasts, helping the general public to better understand aging and the means to modify its dynamics. His materials can be found at H+ Magazine, Longevity reporter, Psychology Today and Singularity Weblog. He is a co-author of the book “Aging Prevention for All” – a guide for the general public exploring evidence-based means to extend healthy life (in press).
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