Magnolia’s Unique AntiCancer Abilities via Multiple Studies

Magnolia has long been used as an anti-inflammatory agent and now shows promise in blocking a pathway for cancer growth.

A laboratory led by Jack Arbiser, MD, PhD, at Emory University School of Medicine, has been studying the compound honokiol, found in Japanese and Chinese herbal medicines, since discovering its ability to inhibit tumor growth in mice in 2003.  “Knowing more about how honokiol works will tell us what kinds of cancer to go after,” says Arbiser, who is an associate professor of dermatology. “We found that it is particularly potent against tumors with activated Ras.”  Ras refers to a family of genes whose mutation stimulates the growth of several types of cancers. Although the Ras family is mutated in about one third of human cancers, medicinal chemists have considered it an intractable target.

“Honokiol’s properties could make it useful in combination with other antitumor drugs, because blocking Ras activation would prevent tumors from escaping the effects of these drugs,” Arbiser says.  “Honokiol could be effective as a way to make tumors more sensitive to traditional chemotherapy,” he says. Again, studies for Magnolia center around improving chemotherapy benefits in order to get approval of the study by the FDA.


One of the effects of Ras is to drive pumps that remove chemotherapy drugs from cancer cells. In breast cancer cell lines with activations in Ras family genes, honokiol appears to prevent Ras from turning on an enzyme called phospholipase D. It also has similar effects in lung and bladder cancer cells in the laboratory. Phospholipase D provides what have come to be known as “survival signals” in cancer cells, allowing them to stay alive when ordinary cells would die.

Understanding the physiology, one might conclude that the effect of Magnolia may be that it stops cancer cells from extruding waste and forces them to self-destruct.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh wanted to learn how effectively Magnolia kills cancer cells, and how and why it triggers cancer cell death. When they treated several different types of human prostate cancer cells with magnolol (the magnolia compound) for 24 hours, they found that the compound both decreased the number of cancer cells, and changed their shape in a way that suggested the cells were undergoing apoptosis (cell death). The treatment worked on many different types of prostate cancer cells, regardless of their invasiveness. The higher the dose of magnolol, the more significant the damage it caused to cancer cells (that’s called ‘dose dependant’). Meanwhile, magnolol treatment did not appear to harm healthy prostate cells.

The researchers then took their investigation a step further, looking at the pathways by which magnolol affected prostate cancer cells. “It is very important to understand how magnolol acts as an anticancer agent,” says lead author Yong Lee, PhD, Professor in the Department of Surgery and Pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh. “If we understand the mechanisms of killing (pathways, model of death, etc.), we can improve the efficacy of the drug and avoid side effects.”

Dr. Lee’s team discovered that magnolol alters the activity of various proteins that are involved in the apoptosis process, in order to promote cancer cell death. It also inhibits growth factor receptors that are typically produced in larger-than-normal amounts by cancer cells to help those cells survive.  “Its ability to destroy cancer cells without harming healthy cells makes magnolol a promising treatment strategy. Although this study focused on prostate cancer, the treatment may also be useful for other types of cancers,” Dr. Lee says.

What we use to inhibit cancer growth: 



Dr. Conners Medicinal Mushroom blend 

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