The Truth About Essential Oils & Cancer

| Aug 6, 2016

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As more research is being conducted on natural therapies, it is becoming more than obvious that people do not need to use conventional practices like chemotherapy and radiation to eradicate cancer. Holistic remedies abound and a cursory glance on “Dr. Google” will rank several on the top of most people’s list. Of all the popular natural solutions out there, essential oils and cancer research has gained significant fanfare and for good reason.

Essential Oils and Cancer Research

The truth about cancer and essential oils (EOs) is four-fold.

First – the research suggests that oils can help prevent and treat cancer at the cellular level. Additionally, and oftentimes overlooked, essential oils have been shown to be exceptionally effective at managing the side effects related to cancer itself and the side effects people suffer at the hands of medical interventions.

Second – it is critical to recognize that this is not an all-or-nothing approach. Just because you’re taking chemo doesn’t mean that you can’t use oils. The same is true on the flip side of that coin. Far too many patients and healthcare practitioners dichotomize natural from allopathic therapies, and do not give enough emphasis on the practicality of using both together.

Third – we need to put things into proper perspective and remember that the peer-reviewed articles we have that evaluate the ability of essential oils to prevent, stop and even reverse the growth of various cancer lines are in vitro. In other words, we don’t many live human trials with hundreds or thousands of participants, we have studies that are testing human cells in a petri dish. This is not to say that these studies are useless. The point we need to take from this is that essential oil therapy for cancer is still experimental.

Fourth – with this said, there are literally thousands upon thousands of testimonials of people on the Internet claiming that EOs cured them of cancer. And this cannot be disputed because a vast majority of them are your normal, not-trying-to-make-a-buck kind of people who are not trying to sell a product. These are legitimate medical “miracles,” which are ultimately going to be the basis for further research.

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Best Essential Oils for Cancer Patients

Of all of the studies in the medical literature, this is just a sample of those that suggest essential therapy can benefit cancer patients.

Clary Sage

Sclareol, the primary component of clary sage essential oil, has promising anti-cancer effects in laboratory evaluations. During studies dating back to 1999 to just last year, it has been shown to impact the way that cancer cells proliferate by literally killing through a process known as apoptosis. (1, 2)

Apoptosis is interesting because it literally triggers the cell to commit “suicide,” more formally known as programmed cell death, which suggests that clary sage oil could have profound effects on the prevention and treatment of cancer lines.

This discovery is particularly promising for clary sage, because it also contains phytoestrogens, which are commonly avoided in people with estrogen-induced cancers. Further research will hopefully help reshape the current medical recommendation that cancer patients avoid specific oils because of their phytoestrogen compounds, which can (in theory) feed into cancer.

Frankincense

Of all the cancer-fighting essential oils, frankincense (Boswellia sacra, B. carterii, B. frereana, and B. serrata) is the most controversial. The research out there has been scrutinized because of its industry-bias, and some claim that there are no chemical compounds in frankincense oil that can kill cancer. With that said, just do a search on the Internet and healing stories abound. It is hard to dispute with the thousands of people who state their cancer was cured after using frankincense.

The biggest issue some chemists and Aromatherapists have is regarding boswellic acids (BAs), which have been proven to be “cytotoxic to ovarian cancer cells at pharmacologically achievable concentrations” and “may form the basis of a novel anticancer treatment for ovarian cancer, perhaps alongside conventional chemotherapy.” (3) A known compound in frankincense resin, the debate is whether the essential oil contains BAs or not.

Regardless if it contains BA’s or some other compound that could be responsible for its anti-cancer prowess, several research studies have been published demonstrating similar effects that we have seen above with ovarian cancer on bladder (4), breast (5), colon (6), skin (7), stomach (8), and pancreatic cancers. (9)

Additionally, adding frankincense essential oil to a healthcare protocol goes well beyond the anti-tumor effects. For people utilizing conventional medical treatments, the pain and other side effects can be worse than the cancer itself! This is especially true for brain cancer patients who oftentimes experience cerebral edema (swelling in the head) after their tumors have been surgically removed or at the hands of radiation therapy. To make matters worse, steroid treatment is commonly administered, complicate the side effects even more.

Frankincense extract, which contains the essential oil, can possibly help this particular problem. A clinical trial published in 2011 evaluated 44 patients with cerebral edema and, after taking 4200 mg/day of a Boswellia serrata (BS) extract was administered, the swelling was reduced by 75% or more in 60% of the participants. The researchers conclude that, “BS could potentially be steroid-sparing for patients receiving brain irradiation. (10)

Also shown to help manage depression, pain and boost the immune system. (11, 12)

Lavender

A popular theme in the natural health discussion is that antioxidants are the super healers that we all need. Free radicals created by chemicals, pollutants, stress and toxins are the culprits for a cascade of cellular damage, immune inhibition, and limitless unforeseen health risks – including cancer and chronic illness.

Suffice it to say that, if free radicals are the super villains, antioxidants are the super heroes.

The body itself creates antioxidants in the form of the enzymes catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), and superoxide dismutase (SOD) among others. Unfortunately, our bodies are exposed to a constant onslaught of free radicals that drain our naturally occurring antioxidants and we are forced to supplement.

Believe it not, lavender essential oil joins the ranks as an effective natural antioxidant support.

Of the major antioxidant enzyme mentioned above, Chinese researchers observed that lavender essential oil can upregulate levels of all three in mice within the first day of treatment and protect brain cells again stroke and injury! (13) Romanian researchers noted similar activity by simply inhaling lavender for an hour each day. According to the study, “Taken together, our results suggest that antioxidant and antiapoptotic activities [of healthy brain cells] of the lavender essential oils are the major mechanisms for their potent neuroprotective effects against scopolamine-induced oxidative stress in the rat brain,” that can lead to cancer and other illnesses. (14)

Lemongrass

Several studies have evaluated the potential cancer-fighting properties of lemongrass essential oil. (15)

In 2009, an article was published that evaluated the essential oil of Cymbopogon flexuosus (a variety of lemongrass) for its in vitro cytotoxicity ability against 12 human cancer cell lines; as well as its anticancer effects on mice in vivo. The results were remarkable. Researchers discovered that the essential oil triggers a variety of mechanisms that kill cancer cells. “Our results indicate that the oil has a promising anticancer activity and causes loss in tumor cell viability by activating the apoptotic process as identified by electron microscopy.” (16)

Myrrh

The role that myrrh essential oil plays in natural cancer therapies is a becoming a popular topic in the scientific community. Particularly, with how it interacts with frankincense essential oils. In 2013, one of the most thorough studies on the topic was published in the journal Oncology Letters, and this is what researcher discovered:

“The effects of the two essential oils, independently and as a mixture, on five tumor cell lines, MCF-7, HS-1, HepG2, HeLa and A549, were investigated using the MTT assay. The results indicated that the MCF-7 and HS-1 cell lines showed increased sensitivity to the myrrh and frankincense essential oils compared with the remaining cell lines. In addition, the anticancer effects of myrrh were markedly increased compared with those of frankincense, however, no significant synergistic effects were identified.” (17)

Don’t think that researchers are evaluating frankincense and myrrh together as complementary therapies because of the Christmas story. Oh, no. The resins from frankincense and myrrh trees have been traditionally prescribed simultaneously in Chinese medicine for years. Used primarily to treat inflammatory diseases, blood stagnation, frankincense and myrrh therapy is exceptionally effective to relieve swelling and pain. (18) Even though researchers have not observed a synergistic effect regarding cancer, “A previous study identified that the combination of frankincense and myrrh oils exhibited synergistic effects on harmful bacterial infections Cryptococcus neoformans and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.” (19, 20)

Peppermint & Spearmint

In 2014, the journal BioMed Research International published an article uncovering that peppermint and spearmint is highly effective at managing common side effects people that suffer at the hands of medical cancer therapies; especially vomiting and nausea. Taken directly from the study we find that these oils, as well as some others, can help with a variety of conditions cancer patients suffer from:

  • “Cancer patients suffer from different side effects which can be preferentially reduced by alternative methods. EOs are used in the aromatherapy for reducing the agony of brain cancer patients [21]. EO is efficient in depression and reduction of anxiety in cancer patients [22]. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, one of the most frequently used treatment method in cancer, are prone to various side effects [23]. These are nausea and vomiting.
  • Mentha spicata [spearmint] and M. piperita [peppermint] have been found to be effective in overcoming these emetic conditions (chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, CINV) along with the reduction of expenditure on treatment in the cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy [24].
  • EOs of Leptospermum scoparium [Manuka myrtle] and Kunzea ericoides [Karo Greenfingers] were reported to prevent mucositis in the head and neck cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy when used in the preparation of mouthwash [25].
  • Some cancer patients having metastatic tumorigenic ulcers of skin develop necrosis and malodour [26]. Patients suffering from such malodour were reported to have improvement in their state on treatment of these ulcers with the mixture of EOs having eucalyptus, melaleuca, lemongrass, lemon, clove leaf, and thyme on a 40% ethanol base [27].
  • Lavender EO is widely used in aromatherapy and is found to be beneficial in reducing the distress in cancer patients [28]. Hence, EOs serve as the valuable preparations in amelioration of the side effects and sufferings of the cancer patients.”

Thyme

The journal Molecules published a study in 2010 that evaluated how cancer cells were evaluated could stand up against ten powerful essential oils. Included was thyme and it stood out from the crowd as the most beneficial against prostate, lung carcinoma, and breast cancers. (29)

As one of the primary herbs to facilitate estrogen binding, thyme oil can help balance and regulate hormones. (30) Like we noted above with clary sage, thyme is not the only potential estrogenic essential oil noted for its anticancer potential. It should be interesting to note that, because cancer frequently holds receptors for estrogen and can theoretically be “fed” by any compound that is estrogenic, people at risk of developing certain cancer lines are oftentimes advised to avoid estrogen.

With the potent anticancer properties that we have seen in just the few studies noted above, it is more than likely that we will soon discover that the so-called “cancer-causing” plants and foods people are avoiding actually hold the key that our bodies need to unlock the cancer-fighting potential we all contain!

Dr. Eric L. Zielinski (“Dr. Z”) is a sought-after public health researcher, health educator, author and motivational speaker.  Sign up for his upcoming summit on Essential Oils here:

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Resources:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10071073
  2. http://pubget.com/articles/elasticsearch_show/25672419
  3. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/270275886
  4. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/9/6
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22171782
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23850473
  7. http://www.oapublishinglondon.com/article/656
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23500016
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22066019
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21287538
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18753801
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=frankincense+essential+oil+cancer
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22895026
  14. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/s0944711312005120
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=lemongrass+essential+oil+cancer
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19121295
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796379/
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796379/
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796379/
  20. http://pubget.com/articles/elasticsearch_show/22288378
  21. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/154106/#B199
  22. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/154106/#B200
  23. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/154106/#B201
  24. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/154106/#B202
  25. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/154106/#B203
  26. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/154106/#B204
  27. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/154106/#B205
  28. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/154106/#B206
  29. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/20657472/
  30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9492350

Dr. Eric L. Zielinski (“Dr. Z”) is a sought-after public health researcher, health educator, author and motivational speaker.

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