Aromatherapy Essential Oils: Groundbreaking Cancer Research

Posted on Friday 7 August 2009

While acceptance by the mainstream of conventional medicine may be a ways off, essential oils used in aromatherapy are proving themselves to be potential potent allies in the treatment of cancer. The alternative medicine called ‘aromatherapy’ might actually suffer from a misunderstanding of its name — aromatherapy, often confused with the use of a Glad Plug In Air Freshener, is actually an entire branch of medicine with specific treatment protocols for a wide variety of illnesses. This practice is slowly gaining credibility with patients (perhaps more slowly with doctors) partaking in the conventional medical system of the United States. Their healing power, like that of most natural therapies, can not only transform difficult disease states, but can have a long-term positive effect on one’s overall wellness. They are readily available, inexpensive, and just happen to smell nice — but there’s a whole lot more to them than that…

Research into the area of medicinal applications of essential oils has been significant in recent years. Many oils have been proven to have significant antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal action. Now, the body of evidence of essential oils being strongly anti-tumorial, with specific anti-cancer action is growing, too. A search of Pub Med, the National Institute of Health’s online research database produces 391 results for the search ‘essential oils cancer’ and 444 results for ‘essential oil tumor’. MANY of the studies show a direct correlation in tumor and cancer cell line eradication with the use of essential oils. A great many have conclusions that indicate the studies results warrant further investigation of essential oils for the development of accepted therapies. Here’s a review of some very promising results:

Frankincense has had a place in medicine for as long as medical practices have been documented. The resin from these stout trees of Africa and the Middle East is highly revered for its curative and preventative action (with many spiritual uses as well). In 2009, the journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a studied that outright said Frankincense essential oil kills cancer cells while sparing normal, healthy cells. The oil distilled from the tree’s resin acted specifically on bladder cancer cells, with the study concluding that Frankincense might represent and alternative agent for treatment. Odd that the mainstream media has not made much of this finding — it took a subscription to these abstracts for many interested parties to be notified — otherwise it easily could have gone unnoticed! Frankincense essential oil is well known to be non-toxic, with many people able to put the oil directly on their skin, and even ingest the oil in small quantities without any negative response. Though it can induce cell death with incredible specificity, a feature that absolutely suggests further investigation should be performed — hopefully the medical establishment will agree.

The oil distilled from the leaves of Lemongrass, an herb with a long medicinal history itself, also shows similar action. In an evaluation of the essential oil from the Lemongrass species Cymbopogon flexuosus, the oil was found cytotoxic to a number of cancer cell types, and was active particularly in affecting that ‘hallmark of cancer cells’, the ‘dysregulation of apoptosis’ — the natural process of cell death. One study concluded “The easy and abundant availability of the oil combined with its suggested mechanism of cytotoxicity make CFO (Lemongrass Oil) highly useful in the development of anti-cancer therapeutics”. Inexpensive, easy to make, and effective: virtues of all of Nature’s finest medicines!

Another groundbreaking study revealed the potential efficacy of a component of many essential oils. The study suggests the potential for one very common constituent can destroy liver cancer cells at very low concentrations — it may be possible then that an essential oil with similar properties found in one’s own region of the planet can have these same effects, offering the same healing or protective action without needing ‘exotic’ medicines to do so. The chemical ‘linaolool’ lends itself to the sweetness of many aromatics. The higher the linalool concentration in Lavender oil, for example, the sweeter it will be. So this constituent of so many essential oils completely eradicated a liver cancer cell line in a very, very low dilution. The constituent decreased the activity of metabolic pathways producing ATP in the cell, essentially killing the cancer cells by cutting of their energy production. While the study did not conclude anything about further investigation (or not), it was profoundly interesting for those regularly using essential oils in their lives. These folks will naturally absorb the amounts of linalool used in the study in their daily inhalation or topical application of oils, perhaps invoking a protective effect for themselves and their families…this would certainly be an interesting piece of research!

While the studies above show essential oils potential efficacy at treating cancers of internal organs, a number of studies show oils can both eradicate skin cancers and act as protectants from cancer-causing agents. Sandalwood has a very long history in Ayurvedic medicine, the paste from the wood being used in a great many treatments. The oil distilled from the heartwood of the Sandal tree has been the subject of many studies demonstrating its protective action — the oil has a significant effect in the prevention of tumors when skin is exposed to tumor-inducing chemicals and even UV radiation. Tea Tree oil, a well known antiseptic, exhibited anticancer action by impairing the growth of human m14 melanoma cells — and even showed great effect on those melanoma cells which are resistant to other treatments. Many essential oils have significant antioxidant activity, and may be excellent additions to pre-sun skin lotions to lessen radiation absorption and oxidative radical formation.

Components of Thyme and Oregano essential oils have been shown to actually protect human DNA strands from breaking when exposed to extreme oxidative stress. DNA damage is a leading cause of cancer development, as this can lead to an abnormal cell life cycle, essentially turning off the process of natural cell death. Carvacrol and Thymol were singled out in a study by Slovakian researchers in 2007, though they also note that other components of these oils may have chemoprotective effects as well. Other spice essential oils that have demonstrated cancer preventative effects include Ginger, Tumeric, Basil, Garlic and Sage.

Beyond the direct effects on tumor cells, essential oils have been shown to positively effect the immune system on a chemical level. They can enhance the activity of white blood cells, making them more efficient and removing foreign material and microbes from the body. This would likely result in more effective cancer outcomes. Futher, there’s the psychological component of any disease, and many essential oils have demonstrated anti-stress activity in scientific investigations. So, like many plant medicines, essential oils work on a number of levels for many diseases, with cancer being one of them. While its important to recognize that essential oil use is in-fact contra-indicated during chemotherapy (as they may reduce the cytotoxic effects of the treatment), they can certainly be an integral part of any cancer preventative protocol. For any application where an individual has already been diagnosed with the illness, it is important to check with their physician to ensure essential oils and aroma-medicine is an appropriate choice. The overall picture is very bright for the use of essential oils in cancer treatment, and further investigation is certainly warranted by the scientific and medical communities for the development of effective medical protocols for this profoundly life-altering condition.

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