Frankincense Oil's Anticancer Properties Uncovered In Laboratory Research

Published: 14th May 2010
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In the last several years, as researchers expand their search for novel anticancer plants and compounds, certain essential oils have been repeatedly turning up in published reports as being potential future therapies for cancer treatment. Essential oils are particular kinds of extracts from plants -- they are what give plants their aromas. More alcohol-like than oil-like, these compounds easily evaporate and are readily detected by our olfactory systems. Less known is that these volatile compounds are often highly complex, and can be very unique from plant to plant. A great many of these oils have been the subject of medical research in several fields, and are noted for their anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and inflammation-reducing actions. Now, their anticancer activities are coming to light as well.

Research of Frankincense and Lemongrass Essential Oils

Sorting through the available research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, one finds two particular essential oils most often associated with anticancer activity: Frankincense and Lemongrass. To clarify, Lemongrass is distilled from the grass leaves of Cymbopogon citratus; the name Frankincense actually refers to the resin of Olibanum trees found mostly in Ethiopia, Somalia and India -- the essential oil is distilled from the resin -- or 'sap' -- of these trees. Both Lemongrass and Frankincense have a very long history of medicinal use. Frankincense has been one of the most highly valued medicinal products throughout man's history -- Lemongrass just happens to be very prolific, but its efficacy is no less valuable because of its availability.

Modern Research Proves Ancient Medicine's Potential

Frankincense essential oil is noted in "The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy" by Salvatore Battaglia as an immuno-stimulant, an oil that does not eradicate viruses or bacteria directly, but improves the body's own natural immunity. A look at the research performed over the last few years is quite impressive: several pages of abstracts are returned when searching specifically for research regarding its potential as a cancer therapy. Many of these investigations have found the same result: Frankincense (and actually other essential oils that have similar effects) apparently targets only cancerous cells, leaving otherwise healthy cells unaffected.

Frankincense essential oil is very unique in its chemical makeup, unlike virtually anything else in the plant kingdom. It is only in Frankincense that Boswellic acids are found in significant quantity. Boswellic acids first became popular in the West around 20 years ago, when it found its way into anti-inflammatory preparations for sore muscles and arthritic joints. Boswellic acids seem to not only have the ability to reduce inflammation but to stimulate regeneration as well -- one high-end skin care company has started including them in their anti-aging line, as these compounds have been show to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and improve skin texture. It is these compounds that are able to initiate apoptosis, or natural programmed cell death, the lack of which is one of the characteristics of all cancers.

Cancer Cell Specificity

One of the challenges in treating cancer is targeting cancerous cells specifically with any medication or treatment, while leaving normal cells healthy and intact. More than one investigation using Frankincense has reached the same conclusion: that Frankincense oil "appears to distinguish" cancerous from non-cancerous cells, and suppresses the proliferation of the cancerous cells only. And not only does Frankincense have this important action, but it has been shown to reduce viability for cancers in quite a variety of organ system and tissues. It appears it could be a treatment for a wide number of cases and conditions.

Lemongrass: A Diverse Tropical Healer Gets Results

In the last two years, Indian researchers published two papers summarizing their investigation into the anticancer actions of Lemongrass. The essential oil was found effective in causing cell death of twelve cancer cell lines typically used in such research. Lemongrass essential oil was noted to show "dose dependent effects against various human cancer cell lines". The greatest efficacy of the oil was against colon cancer cells, with a very low concentration of 4.2 micrograms per milliliter of solution. The essential oil was also found effective in what is known as mouse-model studies, where mice implanted with specific tumor cells are treated with the oil. (Note that while the author does not condone animal studies in any way, the information produced by these studies may in-fact lead to the savings of many lives).

Into the Future: Let More Research Follow!

These studies (and others available through medical research databases) are indeed promising -- most noting in some way that the low toxicity, availability and cancer-cell specificity of these natural compounds warrant further investigation. Please note, this articles is not meant to offer medical advice, but simply to report recent updates in medical research. It is not a substitute for sound professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

The author is a regular contributor to natural ezines on essential oils and aromatherapy . She may be contacted through

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