Essential oils are highly concentrated liquid extracted from natural plant oils. Extraction is done through distillation (steam, steam/water and water) or expression (also known as cold pressing). Essential oils have been used medicinally since the late 11th century. Aromatherapy is the most common modern therapeutic use of essential oils. Healing effects are related to an oil’s specific scent. Many essential oils are thought to have an uplifting effect on the mind, while others have antiseptic properties.
Essential Oil Research
Contemporary scientific studies analyzing holistic approaches to wellness have revived interest in the use of essential oils for potential physical and psychological healing. Research has shown essential oils from some herbs and spices have both antibacterial and chemopreventive properties (ability to inhibit cancer cells).
A 2010 study analyzed the anti-cancer properties of 10 of the most popular essential oils – mint, ginger, lemon, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, chamomile, thyme, rose, and cinnamon. For breast cancer cells (MCF-7), cinnamon, thyme, chamomile, and jasmine essential oils had significantly stronger cytotoxicity than other oils. Cytotoxicity is the mechanism underlying chemotherapy, in which specific drugs target and kill cancer cells. Of the 10 essential oils investigated, thyme essential oil exhibited the strongest cytotoxicity against breast cancer cells.
A 2011 study investigated the use of Boswellia sacra essential oil (Frankincense) to mediate cell death in established human breast cancer cell lines (T47D, MCF7, MDA-MB-231) and in a normal breast cell line (MCF10-2A). All three human breast cancer cell lines were sensitive to essential oil treatment, reducing cell viability and increasing cell death. The normal human breast cell line was more resistant to this treatment. Suppression impacted the same signaling pathways and cell cycle regulators that have been proposed as therapeutic targets for breast cancer. These findings suggests Frankincense may be an effective agent for advanced breast cancer, however, pre-clinical and clinical studies are needed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of this usage.
Essential Oils as Complementary Treatment
One breast cancer survivor shared her experience with essential oils. On the irradiated breast, she used a four-ounce spray bottle filled with distilled water and added equal amounts of Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) and Blue Tansy (Tanacetum annuum). She sprayed this onto the skin after radiation and after her morning shower, boosting the amount as the skin became increasingly tender. She did so every day during treatment and for one month post radiation. To help heal the incisions, she applied a 50:50 ratio of Helichrysum and Artemisia (Artemisia arborescens, high chamazulene, Pacific Northwest variety) diluted at 10% in fractionated coconut oil. Although her doctors were skeptical, her radiologist was amazed at how well her skin fared compared to most patients.
While the in vitro studies (performed in petri dishes) and patient’s experience offer promise, the efficacy of essential oils has not been proven scientifically. To reap purported benefits, use only 100% pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils. Oils diluted with alcohol or other liquids do not provide medicinal benefits.
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