The search for a cure for Cancer has been in full-swing for many years. Scientists around the globe are investigating every possible substance and protocol that they can dream up to offer mankind relief from this often terminal illness. Included in this research are many plants and plant extracts that have played significant roles in traditional medicine systems throughout history.
In the last few years, interest and research into the potential of essential oils as anticancer agents has grown tremendously. (For those new to essential oils, they are simply the volatile aromatic constituents of plants -- for example, the chemicals that make up the scent of a Rose or the pungency of fresh Basil. They are complex compounds, very compatible with human physiology, with a host of research-supported health benefits.)
Two Oils Stand Out in Research for Anticancer Activity
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.
From Historically Revered Medicine to Modern Health Miracle
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.
Research is focusing on the chemical components of the essential oil unique to frankincense: the Boswellic acids. These natural compounds have been thoroughly studied for their anti-inflammatory activity, with a significant body of positive results. Boswellic acids can be used to reduce pain and inflammation in arthritic joints, and has even been shown to improve the texture and appearance of skin that may be prematurely aged due to sun overexposure. It is these same Boswellic acids that have been shown to induce natural cell death in cancerous cells -- it is one of the features of cancer that natural cell death does not occur, and the cancerous cells then in essence grow unabated throughout the body.
The Unique Ability to specifically Target Cancerous Cells
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: Nature's Tropical Medicine Get's A Deeper Look
The first result of a search for 'lemongrass' and 'cancer' is a paper titled "Anticancer activity of an essential oil from Cymbopogon flexuosus" (Cf is a popular species of Lemongrass, though other research also shows similar effects from Cymbopogon citratus). This study published in the May 2009 'Chemico-biological Interactions', performed at the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, examined both in-vitro (essentially "in the test tube")and in-vivo (in the body) anticancer activity of Lemongrass essential oil.
The oil was actually evaluated for efficacy against 12 cancer cell lines in-vitro, and 2 in-vivo. The results were no less than astounding. Lemongrass was effective at inhibiting proliferation of all the cell lines, though with significant variation in the concentrations required for this effect. The lowest concentrations of Lemongrass were needed to inhibit growth of colon cancer and neuroblastoma cells in-vitro (a type of cancer of the nerve cells occurring in children and infants). Using mouse models, lemongrass essential oil was effective at limiting proliferation of a type of breast cancer and a connective-tissue cancer.
Israeli researchers, publishing their results in the May 2007 Planta Medica, discovered similar results focusing on a primary constituent of Lemongrass essential oil: Citral. This natural constituent adds the 'lemony' aroma to many essential oils, including of course Lemon, Melissa, and Lemon Verbena. Citral was noted to also show cancer cell specificity (liver cancer cells were evaluated in this case), causing only the cancer cells to die off. It appears that lemongrass essential oil, like Frankincense, also induces natural cell death in cancer cells, sparing normal healthy cells in the process.
Looking Forward: Alternative Therapies as Cancer Treatments
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. Because of the current climate regarding funding of alternative therapies, it will take either a government wishing to significantly save on health care costs, or a large grass roots effort, to further the research to a point where specific therapeutic protocols are developed. In the meantime, there are many respected, well-educated health professionals that may be willing to offer advice for those wishing to learn more on how alternative therapies -- including essential oils -- may be best utilized in an overall health program. 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.