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Essential Oils vs. Cancer: Scientific Research Updates Pt. 1

This is part one of our review of all the latest peer-reviewed science publications regarding essential oils and their effect on cancerous cells. It’s REALLY QUITE EXCITING! So much has come to light in the last few years that we want everyone to understand, and incorporate into their aromatherapy practice as they are able. We [...]

This is part one of our review of all the latest peer-reviewed science publications regarding essential oils and their effect on cancerous cells.

Can plant medicine and essential oils hold the key to solving the most complex problems we face as humans?

It’s REALLY QUITE EXCITING! So much has come to light in the last few years that we want everyone to understand, and incorporate into their aromatherapy practice as they are able. We will get to information regarding research using specific oils like Frankincense, Myrrh, Bergamot, Sandalwood, and Clary Sage, but please first follow our introduction, as it is important to give an overview of the current state of cancer and natural medicine research! We are not going to specifically touch on the CBD side of things (we don’t want to give you a novel), but we will talk generally about how essential oils and plant medicine as a whole may be the bridge needed to merge a western and eastern medicine approach to solving big problems in the medical field.

In vitro on the left (latin for “in the glass”) and in vivo on the right side (latin for “in the body”)

An Important Note About These Studies

All the research we will discuss is either ‘in vitro’  (meaning, essentially, performed in a test tube – rather than a live animal), or some being ‘in vivo’, meaning in this case in an animal (mouse, rat, etc.). None of the examinations of the killing of cancerous cells using essential oils has been performed in humans. Why? Because there is no single group or company that can afford to have these long-term, very expensive studies done. And even if the largest EO companies in the world could pay for them, they have no reason to do so, as they could not use the resultant information for their own profit.

The bottom line is that we will not anytime soon have FDA-Approved, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies using human beings because there is simply no source of funding these extremely expensive ventures. ‘Big Pharma’ is a multi-multi-billion dollar industry that relies almost solely on new “patentable” drugs for their income. You can’t patent a natural medicine – no one ‘invented’ it, so no one is going to pay for research needed for Western medical doctors to ‘prescribe’ essential oils (and other natural treatments).

Disclaimer – Please Read and Understand

BECAUSE these studies have only been performed in cell cultures (ie. the ‘petri-dish’) or in animals, the FDA does not allow a correlation to be made to the potential effects on cancerous conditions of humans. SO, be clear: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA, and it is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The FDA does have some studies that have been approved because some extracts have been added to supplements and have crossed into the mainstream.

However, it does turn out that some patented pharmaceutical products have active ingredients or actual essential oil extracts within the formula. This is amazing from an information standpoint because the FDA panel then looks into the efficacy of these essential oils in relation to cancer. We have a few of those highlights as they relate to Turmeric and it’s active components of curcumin and tumerone!

Informing the Public of This Research

Despite these tests not being done on humans, we believe it very interesting for both the clinical aromatherapist and “lay-practitioner” to know the data resulting from the World’s most state-of-the-art research in the area of essential oils and cancer. We ask that, in whatever way possible, you “share” this information (via Facebook, forwarding the newsletter, etc) to as many friends, family and other interested parties that you can. We’d appreciate this very much! SO, on to the science!

There is a HUGE body of evidence that essential oils are highly effective at ‘killing’ cancer cells ‘in vitro’, again translating loosely to “in the test tube”, or in most cases, in Petri-dishes and cell cultures – both cancerous and healthy (as controls).

Medicine: East vs. West, the ‘Great Divide’

Plant materials have long been implemented by the Eastern medicine community, along with other alternative approaches that differ greatly from the Western medicine ideologies of the modern world. Here we will simplify the differences between these approaches, and highlight some of the exciting peer-reviewed studies published in highly-regarded scientific journals that have been ongoing over the last decade. (Fortunately, research on cell-cultures is affordable enough that many ‘Eastern’ researchers are willing to take the time and effort to investigate the potential of natural, inexpensive alternative treatments – because their medical systems are not driven primarily by the profit motive, but rather the health of the patient(s), the “least expensive, most effective” way to cure anything, in their culture, is their greatest focus).

In truth, it turns out that perhaps both Western and Eastern approaches do hold some merit when tackling such an enormous problem, like cancer.

Eastern and Western Healing Modalities - Essential Oils can play a roll in both parts.

The Duality of Western Medicine on the left, and Eastern – or more ‘esoteric’ approaches on the right. Working together, they can make a great team!

In the West, for cancer specifically, it has long been the approach of pharmaceutical interests that one single compound (or one or more acting together) can directly target pathways that lead to either apoptosis (natural cell death, which does not happen naturally in cancer cells) or block cancer cell proliferation (prevent their spreading). That is to say, a single compound can be responsible for destroying selective cancer cells (apoptosis) or destroy the pathway responsible for creating more of the cancer cells (anti-cell proliferation). Although this westernized approach seems very reasonable it may be missing the target slightly. And it IS THE Western approach, as it is the only way that any company could profit from the success of such chemical cures: They can be patented so the would be available, via prescription, ONLY from the company which invented/discovered them. (Honestly, we’re not ‘against’ this in any way – we truly hope they do ‘find a cure’ – we just believe the approach to be narrow-minded, in that it inherently eliminates EACH AND EVERY ‘already available’ natural compound available on the entire face of the planet

What if the single compound approach is incorrect and a symbiotic relationship must be done to target the entirety of the body, not just single pathways responsible for apoptosis or anti-cell proliferation? More specifically does the plant medicine world hold the key to targeting a problem using both the western and eastern approaches, by using the entire plant to study multiple compound’s interactions at once? This excerpt below from a Turmeric study on curcumin and it’s anti-cancer properties discusses this point eloquently.

“No natural agent has yet been described which modulates so many signal transduction pathways as curcumin does. Is that to our disadvantage? Probably not. Most cancer biologists are of the opinion that tumor cells use multiple pathways to escape hostdefense mechanisms. Thus the drug which is specific for inhibition of one signal transduction pathway in the tumor cell may not be adequate. Finding a drug that attacks multiple pathways and yet is pharmacologically safe is difficult. Curcumin, however, is one such drug that meets this criterion. The inability to patent curcumin, because of its natural occurance and well-established, long history of dietary use, prevents the involvement of pharmaceutical industry to examine this drug closely as a therapeutic or preventive agent. The structure of curcumin can serve as lead compound for the design of a better molecule that is also patentable. It is our hope that other nonprofit organizations see the value in this compound and provide the kind of evidence needed to help cancer patients.” [10]

Where the Research Stands Now: Now that we see the overall problem or perhaps better yet the solution or potential solution that essential oils or plant medicine could supply, let’s look at exactly the number of publications of recent years. Below is the exact number of studies based on essential oil research for each type of cancer.[4]

The number of recent publications in this space has exploded and over 200+ more studies since 2014 have been recorded on PUBMED that discuss essential oils and their anti-cancer potentials.  These articles have all gotten mostly to the invitro phase of development, but some exciting in-vivo studies have slowly made it to the forefront of the research.

At Ananda, we have specifically helped provide our essential oils to a nursing study. This placebo-controlled study works with post breast cancer treated patients. We specifically provided Turmeric, Peppermint, Geranium, Black Pepper, Rosemary, and Ginger to be applied for 6 weeks on 20 participants to help a nursing study that as IRB approval, which is the highest standard of approval and monitored by the FDA regulative body. We are confident that studies like this will become the mainstream as the pharma companies begin to show less promise in QOL (quality of life) measures for post-cancer treatment.

The research that is the most flushed out when it comes to plant medicine and pain management/tumor reduction surrounding all types of cancer, is the research surrounding cannabis. Ananda utilizes cannabis in it’s CBD form which is a CO2 extraction from industrial hemp that has profound research surrounding it. Although we are only discussing essential oil research we recommend you check out for more information on CBD and it’s robust network of cancer research please visit Project CBD’s Cancer Section.

FDA Documentation and Comments on Curcumin and Tumerone found in Turmeric Extract

Turmeric is an amazing plant extract because of its versatility, and its symbiotic relationship within the extract. Let’s first start off by saying curcumin has been studied extensively and anything that is discussed comes straight from an FDA summary on BCM-95 which is made from “100% pure turmeric extract.” These documents are now FDA sanctioned and public knowledge and can act as a template to design human trials for extracts that show promise, like Turmeric. At Ananda we are just simply giving you the Turmeric extract in liquid form and haven’t capsulated it (at this moment we are formulating our encapsulation for this extract!).

Quality of life was assessed by the Persian version of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer prostate cancer-specific quality of life questionnaire (QLQ-PR25). The change in urinary symptoms across the 20-week period differed significantly between groups, and patients in the BCM-95® group experienced much milder urinary symptoms compared with the placebo group. [1]

This is an exciting result because although it applies to prostate cancer specifically we think that turmeric’s mechanism of action here probably applies more broadly to help supplement pain manage in a post-radiation cancer patient.

The authors conclude that curcumin can confer Page 44 of 125 DolCas Biotech, LLC GRAS Assessment – BCM-95® October 21, 2016 radioprotective effect in patients with prostate cancer who undergo radiation therapy through reducing the severity of radiotherapy-related urinary symptoms.[1]

Again this statement only applies to urinary symptoms, but the mechanism of action here is probably tied to the anti-inflammation and anti-oxidation symbiotic molecular makeup of turmeric. Specifically the tumerones and the curcumin. These have been identified specifically by researchers of turmeric to be the most active compounds the FDA also goes onto say a specific statement on tumerones and curmumin.

Several in vitro studies have been performed to demonstrate the efficacy of turmerone and to show that the combination of curcumin and turmerone could result in better bioavailability than curcumin alone. Lantz et al. (2005) reported that a combination of curcuminoids and turmeric oils produce a better anti-inflammatory effect than that produced by curcuminoids alone in HL-60 cells exposed to proinflammatory mediators. Similarly, Yue et al. (2012) found that a turmeric extract including curcumin and turmerones were transported in Caco-2 cells more readily than curcumin alone.

What an exciting result! This follows our basic premise of the entire plant working in concert to tackle complex natural pathways in the body. It’s a natural biological solution to a biological problem in the body. What we found next was by far the most exciting result from any study we could have found, and it was all on this patented BCM-95 supplement document that the FDA has housed on their website!

Curcumin also exhibited the ability to effectively suppress cancer stem cell (CSC) pools as evidenced by a decreased number of CSC marker positive cells. Goel and Aggarwal, (2010), in a review paper, outlined curcumin’s role as a chemo resensitizer and protector. The paper provides a review of the literature while addressing curcumin’s effect as a chemosensitizer in a large number of cancers including breast, colon, pancreas, gastric, liver, and prostate. Similar studies have also revealed that this agent can sensitize a variety of tumors to gamma radiation. The mechanism believed to be responsible for these effects is the downregulation of various growth regulatory pathways and specific genetic targets including genes for NF-κB, STAT3, COX2, Akt, antiapoptotic proteins, growth factor receptors, and multidrug-resistance proteins. Research also supports curcumin’s effect in protecting normal organs from chemotherapy and radiotherapy-induced toxicity through its ability to induce the activation of NRF2 and induce the expression of antioxidant enzymes. Page 46 of 125 DolCas Biotech, LLC GRAS Assessment – BCM-95® October 21, 2016 An unpublished protocol by C. R. Becerra addresses an ongoing colon cancer study at Baylor University for terminally ill patients (Becerra, 2013).

This document in its entirety can be found here, if you scroll down to page 11 a nice table of contents appears in which the FDA discusses safety as well as addressing other clinical studies such as joint health, urinary health, mood and depression, cognitive function, chemoprotection, and other studies in progress.

What is to come!

We think at Ananda that the medical world will open up to the idea of essential oils, and plant medicine in general once the research catches up to the single molecule isolationist approach to medical problems. The cancers that we see nowadays are just as violent and debilitating to one’s life as ever before, and we feel that an open mind to mother nature would be a good thing for the medical field. We are currently pushing more and more studies and are interested in collaborating with any practitioner who may have seen results by using essential oils or plant medicine in general. We hope to be a voice in this space for a long time and hope to bridge the western and eastern medicine communities and create a space for open discussion and problem-solving. Upcoming will be our in-depth look at Clary Sage, Frankincense, Myrrh, Bergamot, Lavender, and more!




Western Medicine vs Eastern Medicine Image Source


[2] Andrade, Milene Aparecida, et al. “Anticancer Properties of Essential Oils: an Overview.”Current Cancer Drug Targets, vol. 18, 2018, doi:10.2174/1568009618666180102105843.

[3] Dimas, K., et al. “Labd-14-Ene-8,13-Diol (Sclareol) Induces Cell Cycle Arrest And Apoptosis In Human Breast Cancer Cells And Enhances The Activity Of Anticancer Drugs.”Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, vol. 60, no. 3, 2006, pp. 127–133., doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2006.01.003.

[4] Bhalla, Yashika, et al. “Anticancer Activity of Essential Oils: a Review.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 93, no. 15, 2013, pp. 3643–3653., doi:10.1002/jsfa.6267.

[5] Martin, Tracey. “ANTI-METASTATIC AND CYTOTOXIC PROPERTIES OF FRANKINCENSE AND SCENTED MYRRH.” Anticancer Research, vol. 35, 2015, pp. 4283–4370.

[6] Ni, Xiao, et al. “Frankincense Essential Oil Prepared from Hydrodistillation of Boswellia Sacra Gum Resins Induces Human Pancreatic Cancer Cell Death in Cultures and in a Xenograft Murine Model.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, BioMed Central, 13 Dec. 2012,

[7] Implication of Limonene and Linalyl Acetate in Cytotoxicity Induced by Bergamot Essential Oil in Human Neuroblastoma Cells.” Fitoterapia, Elsevier, 23 May 2013,

[8] Dozmorov, Mikhail G, et al. “Differential Effects of Selective Frankincense ( Ru Xiang ) Essential Oil versus Non-Selective Sandalwood ( Tan Xiang ) Essential Oil on Cultured Bladder Cancer Cells: a Microarray and Bioinformatics Study.” Chinese Medicine, BioMed Central, 2 July 2014,

[9] Jaafari-Ashkavandi, Zohreh, et al. “The Effects of Frankincense on Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cell Line.” International Journal of Cancer Management, Kowsar, 1 Jan. 1970,

[10] Aggarwal, Bharat B., et al. “Anticancer Potential of Curcumin: Preclinical and Clinical Studies.”Anticancer Research, International Institute of Anticancer Research,

[11] RenPeng, et al. “Frankincense, Pine Needle and Geranium Essential Oils Suppress Tumor Progression through the Regulation of the AMPK/MTOR Pathway in Breast Cancer.”Oncology Reports, Spandidos Publications, 1 Jan. 2018,

[12] Multicenter, Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel-Group Study of the Efficacy, Safety, and Tolerability of THC:CBD Extract and THC Extract in Patients with Intractable Cancer-Related Pain.” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Elsevier, 5 Nov. 2009,

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