Should You Tap Birch Tree Water for Your Health?

Sap from birch trees is said to boost immunity, improve energy, treat joint pain and decrease cavities. Balakleypb/Shutterstock

There's no shortage of super drinks that claim to increase vitality and improve everything from your immune system to lackluster skin, and now there's one more. Birch tree sap water is being tapped as the next go-to health drink.

The sweet, thin syrup-like sap from the birch tree contains xylitol, proteins, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. The elixir is being compared to coconut water for its health and detoxing potential.

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Birch tree sap has the consistency of thin, slightly sweet maple syrup water. It gets its sweet flavor from xylitol. Xylitol has 40 percent fewer calories than sugar and it’s often used in sugarless gums and dental products since it has cavity-reducing, enamel-hardening properties. Shown in studies to decrease the risk of cavities, the xylitol-rich sap is believed to promote liver health, kidney function and good skin and is has been touted as an excellent drink post exercise. But is there any real evidence behind the claims?

What exactly is birch tree water?

The sap is extracted from birch trees mainly in the northeast U.S. and is said to boost immunity, improve energy, treat joint pain and decrease cavities in addition to a host of other health benefits. Commercially, sap is sustainably harvested by hand for two weeks each spring from organic forests in Eastern Europe. Taps are driven carefully into the birch tree causing no harm similarly to tapping maple syrup.

At only 18 calories per 100 milliliter, sap is rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, copper, zinc and potassium. The sap also contains saponins, compounds that may have cholesterol-reducing properties that are also found in legumes.

What can birch tree water do for you?

Birch tree sap or birch tree water as it's more commonly called commercially, is associated with detoxing the kidneys and liver and flushing toxins from the body. One of the few studies done to date at the University of Lancaster found that birch trees were able to absorb more than 50 percent of particle dust from passing traffic, linked to pollution and respiratory problems, virtually clearing toxins from the air.

How well this translates to clearing toxins from the human body is anyone's guess. Though the chemicals in birch act as a diuretic, increasing water use through urine, there haven't been any scientific studies yet to support the health claims.

Rachel Beller, a nutritionist at Beller Nutritional Institute and author of "Eat to Lose, Eat to Win," says beware of added sugar cane in commercial birch water. "We don't have rigorous scientific studies that link the use of birch water to anything other than consuming a potentially hydrating beverage." If you want to try the drink, several manufacturers are making bottled birch water available in the U.S.

Sticky precautions

Since birch tree water may have the same diuretic effect as water pills, drinking sap and taking water pills is highly discouraged and may cause the body to leach too much water causing dizziness and low blood pressure. Likewise, those allergic to birch pollen or fruits and vegetables that mimic a birch pollen allergy like wild carrot, mugwort, celery and apples could have an allergic reaction to birch tree water. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should also consult their doctor before trying birch tree water.

While other cultures across Europe and Scandinavia have enjoyed birch tree water for decades, popularity in the West is only now growing. As with other health drinks like coconut water, it may be a passing fad until more conclusive evidence exists. Meanwhile if you'd like to try it after a workout or as a boost to your immune system occasionally, read labels and opt for tree water without additional sugar added. Plus, Beller cautions to never underestimate good old-fashioned H2O for all your hydrating needs.