Cancer is not a death sentence. Not only is there hope, there are several natural solutions that people have successfully implemented for literally centuries! And the truth about essential oils and cancer is this: Research strongly suggests that oils can help not only prevent, but treat cancer and its debilitating side effects.

It's important to remember that the peer-reviewed articles discuss the success clinical researchers have experienced in using various essentials oils to prevent, stop and even reverse the growth of various cancer lines in animal and human cell studies. It is important to keep in mind that a vast majority of these studies are in vitro — based off of cells in a petri dish.

Subsequently, many experts and critics of using essential oils for cancer therapy insist that we cannot extrapolate the data from these studies to live, in vivo cancer patients. Even though there is merit to what these people say, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Essential Oils and Cancer Research

These are a few of the studies from selected essential oils that discuss benefits to cancer patients:

Clary SageClary Sage
A primary component of clary sage essential oil, sclareol, has shown some promising anti-cancer effects in lab tests. Over the last couple of decades but as recently as this year (2015), studies have emerged that analyze sclareol's effect on cancer cells. With the caveat that these benefits occurred within the confines of lab cultures and dose adjustments, sclareol may have an impact on the way that cancer cells proliferate, and it could help induce apoptosis (cancer cell death) [1, 2].

While this does not tell us how much potential sclareol has to directly treat cancer — and it's exciting to think about where that could go one day! — it is a common thread that we see in many antioxidant-rich essential oils. This is especially interesting for clary sage, which also contains high values of phytoestrogens, which are commonly avoided in those who have certain breast cancer. With potential anti-cancer benefits built into clary sage, you have to wonder if it is meant to work as a whole package that ultimately delivers only benefits.

Arguably the most potent medicinal EO out there, recent research studies suggest that frankincense not only kills cancer cells, but it also promotes health and vitality in neighboring non-cancerous cells.

While we do know that the various forms of frankincense (essential oils, extracts, pure resin, etc.) have the potential to fight cancer, much is left to be understood, making this a controversial topic in the natural health and research world.

Current research demonstrates anti-mutagenic and apoptotic (programmed cell death) abilities. Though the results have occurred in lab tests and we have yet to see how to best replicate these results in active cancer in humans, the demonstrated results remain. Researchers found that boswellic acids are “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]” However, there is a serious debate as to whether frankincense oil contains boswellic acids (BAs).

Regardless if it's because of the BAs or some other chemical in the essential oil, studies continue to emerge, demonstrating similar effects on bladder [4], breast [5], colon [6], skin [7], stomach [8], and pancreatic cancers [9].

For those who have added frankincense essential oil to their cancer care plan, the benefits may go beyond anti-tumor effects. Particularly, in helping manage the side effects of conventional treatments, which can be more painful and difficult than the symptoms of cancer itself. Brain cancer patients, for example, sometimes experience swelling in the head called cerebral edema after their tumors have been removed. Steroid treatment is common but also associated with difficult side effects and complications.

Frankincense, on the other hand, has shown remarkable effects against this particular problem. In 2011, a clinical trial evaluating 44 individuals monitored frankincense as a remedy for cerebral edema. In 60% of the patients, the swelling was reduced by 75% or more. The concluding remarks called for frankincense to be prescribed for cerebral edema in these circumstances, avoiding the struggles of steroid therapy [10].

The essential oil has also been used with much success to treat issues related to digestion, the immune system, oral health, respiratory concerns and stress/anxiety [11, 12].

A recurring theme in any natural health discussion, antioxidants are, in effect, the super healers that our culture needs. The free radicals created by toxins, pollutants, chemicals, and even stress are the culprits for a cascade of cellular damage, immune inhibition, and limitless health risks – including chronic illness and cancer.

If free radicals are the villain, antioxidants are the hero.

The body itself creates antioxidants in the form of the enzymes glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT), among others. But we expose our bodies to an onslaught of free radicals and drain our bodies in sedentary lifestyles, so our natural production is not always sufficient.

We've already seen some super antioxidants, like clove essential oil, and lavender joins the ranks as a powerful natural antioxidant support.

Chinese researchers observed that lavender essential oil would upregulate all three major antioxidant enzyme levels in mice within the first day of treatment [13]. In Romania, researchers noted similar activity using inhaled lavender for an hour each day and, according to the study, “Taken together, our results suggest that antioxidant and antiapoptotic activities 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 severe illness and cancer [14].

To date, seven studies have evaluated lemongrass' potential connection with cancer [15].

In 2009, a study was published that evaluated the essential oil from a lemon grass variety of Cymbopogon flexuosus for its in vitro cytotoxicity against 12 human cancer cell lines, as well as in vivo anticancer effects on mice. The results were quite promising, as researchers discovered various mechanisms of how the oil killed the cancer lines.

“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]”

The ability myrrh essential oil has in healing cancer is becoming a popular topic in the industry. One of the most thorough studies on the topic was published in the journal Oncology Letters in 2013, and this is what they discovered about frankincense and myrrh oils:

“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]”

Recommendation: For a truly Biblical combination, use frankincense and myrrh essential oils together for a synergistic blend of antimicrobial benefits.

Notably, these two resins are generally prescribed simultaneously in traditional Chinese medicine. They are used primarily to treat blood stagnation and inflammatory diseases, as well as for the relief of swelling and pain [18]. Even though there was no synergism noted 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].

PeppermintPeppermint and Spearmint
According to a 2014 article in BioMed Research International, peppermint and spearmint are highly effective at helping cancer patients manage side effects from cancer itself — as well as from conventional treatments. Taken directly from the article, the ability of these precious oils (as well as the others mentioned below) to combat debilitating and annoying cancer side effects is literally amazing:

• “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].

Spearmint• EOs of Leptospermum scoparium and Kunzea ericoides 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.”

In a 2010 article from the journal Molecules, cancer cells were evaluated to see how they could stand up against 10 powerful essential oils. Thyme was one of those oils, and it stood out from the crowd as most beneficial against the cells of the prostate, lung carcinoma, and breast cancers [29]. While it can't be stated enough that these studies are preliminary, I'm filled with hope for a future where naturally occurring products replace toxic chemicals for cancer treatment and — dare we hope? — cures!

As one of the top herbs for estrogen binding, thyme may be able to help the body balance and regulate hormones [30].

Incidentally, this is not the only time we have seen a potential estrogenic herb noted for its anticancer potential, as well. Because cancer frequently holds receptors for estrogen, thus being fed by anything estrogenic, we often suggest avoiding estrogen if you have or are at high risk for cancer. But with potent anticancer potential, we may one day find that what we thought were cancer-causing plants and foods were really giving our bodies a blueprint for fighting cancer on its own.

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More on Essential Oils:
Are Essential Oils the Missing Link to Cancer Prevention?
Essential Oils researcher Dr. Eric Zielinski seeks ‘Garden of Eden’ lifestyle

To learn more about Dr. Eric Zielinski, visit his website.