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Essential Oils vs Cancer Part 3: Three Important Oils in Scientific Research

In this last of our three part series, we’ll look at three specific studies which exemplify the anti-cancer action of essential oils. These studies were, as is typical of the western medicine approach, all done using isolated constituents of essential oils, rather than whole oils themselves. At the same time, we’re learning some really good stuff: the [...]

Clove Buds, Source of Essential Oil

Clove Buds, Source of Clove Essential Oil, typically between 70% and 85% Eugenol. Review the GC/MS here, under ‘Download CofA’

In this last of our three part series, we’ll look at three specific studies which exemplify the anti-cancer action of essential oils. These studies were, as is typical of the western medicine approach, all done using isolated constituents of essential oils, rather than whole oils themselves. At the same time, we’re learning some really good stuff: the story of Eugenol, noted to be both a cancer preventer and a cancer killer is quite amazing.*

While the approach of testing isolated compounds in the research doesn’t truly give us the whole picture, it does make it easier on the scientists to uncover the “mechanisms of action” – HOW cancer cells were killed by a particular chemical compound. If whole oils were used, which contain, in some cases, over 100 individual, identifiable natural constituents, the researchers would still have to test each compound individually to find out 1) IF it worked, and 2) HOW it worked.

True health science isn’t just testing a particular compound against a particular ailment, it’s uncovering and clearly describing “why” it works. Before any medical claims can be made on anything in the world of Natural Health, the “mechanism”, or the “why” the particular compound, food, vitamin or whatever does what it does must be described through research. Further, the research must be ‘peer-reviewed’, meaning other scientists must review the work to ensure it was done correctly and the conclusion was properly arrived at before the research is published.

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Three Common Essential Oil Constituents, Their Anti-Cancer Activity, and the Essential Oils They’re Found In

  • #1: Eugenol, found in the highest percentage in Clove essential oil (as well as it’s CO2-extract), was the subject of a study titled: “The Dual Antioxidant/Prooxidant Effect of Eugenol and Its Action in Cancer Development and Treatment (a review)”.[1] This is a really interesting follow up to Part 2 of this article series, which looked at the holistic actions of essential oils and natural medicines in general ~ how natural compounds are able to do “double duty”.

    This research review looked at the in-vitro anti-cancer actions of Eugenol, noting the compound acts as both an antioxidant (clove essential oil in fact has the highest ORAC value of almost any natural compound known: 1,780,700 — whereas vitamin E itself only has a value of 3,309 [2]) AND as a “pro-oxidant”.The study investigates the anti-cancer effects of Eugenol being both an antioxidant AND a pro-oxidant.

    By acting as a strong antioxidant, Eugenol prevents cellular / DNA damage induced by free radicals – or any substance which does biological damage through “oxidation”.In the research, Eugenol is called a “chemo-preventative” agent for this reason: it can prevent the formation of cancer by “quenching” free radicals, which otherwise cause damage to healthy, normal cells. The research review, found here, includes in Table 1, a summary of Eugenol’s cancer-preventative actions.

    At the same time, Eugenol has been show in many studies noted within the review to cause cancer cell death itself by “oxidation”. Eugenol is reviewed to cause apoptosis in a range of concentrations – some of them very small. This means, in the laboratory (in test tubes and in “mouse models”) causes the death of cancer cells by the opposite action it prevents cancers in the first place. This table gives a nice visual summary of Eugenol’s dual-action anti-cancer properties.

    For those that are wondering “how did they find out it was causing cancer cell death via oxidation, the research review notes multiple studies where, when known antioxidants (like alpha-lipoic-acid and vitamin C) were added to cancerous cell cultures, Eugenol’s cancer-killing action was lessened. They’re smart, those scientists 😉

    Oregano Essential Oil

    The primary constituent of all varieties of Oregano essential oil is Carvacrol.

    Finally, clove is an ingestible essential oil. We actually ‘test’ it here not only by smelling it, but by tasting it. BECAUSE of it’s potency, if ingested at all, it should be in small amounts. It is not known to be toxic in small amounts (you can search the internet simply for ‘eugenol’ and see this). If used topically, it should be highly diluted – 1% or less in a carrier ~ be sure to test a spot before using more should you choose to. We are NOT making any recommendations as to how or why you use this oil, but we do strive at Ananda to give you all the facts so you can choose to do what’s best for you 🙂

  • #2: Carvacrol, found in the highest percentage in Oregano essential oil (typically in the range of 60 – 80%; You can view a GC/MS report here, under ‘Download CofA’…as a side note, MORE carvacrol in any oregano essential oil does NOT make it better, there are other potentially beneficial compounds in Oregano, and we believe the natural balance of constituents to be important in EVERY essential oil — otherwise, why would we care about ”100% purity”?).

    Simply reading Carvacrol’s wikipedia page gives one a great overview of this compound’s potentially-therapeutic benefits. It is one of nature’s most potent anti-bacterial compounds, thought to inhibit the growth of bacteria through “membrane disruption” (this is destruction of the cells’ walls, though the mechanism for this is not perfectly clear). It is a COX enzyme inhibitor, meaning it is anti-inflammatory. It too is an anti-oxidant, with an ORAC value of 15,300 [3].

    Finally, in many studies, it has been show to have anti-cancer properties as well. This study (“Effects of carvacrol on human fibroblast (WS-1) and gastric adenocarcinoma (AGS) cells in vitro and on Wistar rats in vivo” [4]) summarizes the action believed to be attributable to many essential oils: that carvacrol causes cell death to all cells at a high enough concentration, but at lower concentrations, it causes cancer cells to die before negatively affecting healthy ones. What follows is a quote from the research abstract:

    “The data obtained from our present study uncovered that carvacrol has the potential to cause toxic effects in both (healthy and cancerous) cells but more effectively in cancer cells than in normal cells. The carvacrol-mediated responses observed in the in vitro and in vivo experiments presented suggest a double-edged pro-oxidative effect. Via this mechanism carvacrol induced cytotoxicity, apoptosis, and DNA damage in a dose-dependent manner in both cancer and normal cells and these activities were higher in cancer cells than those of normal cells.”

    There is a lot of research out there on Carvacrol, again the main constituent of Oregano Essential Oil, surrounding its anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer action. This link will take you to all the research available on

  • lavender essential oil

    Lavender flowers, who’s essential oil is made up primarily of Linalool.

    #3: Linalool, is the primary constituent of Lavender essential oil, and the most widely found — of the three constituents discussed here — in commonly-available essential oils. There is much research available on Linalool and cancer, and here we’ll look at two specifically.

    The first is extremely interesting in that the researchers are testing a ‘nano-particle’ delivery system for treating cancer with Linalool.[5] These scientists were seeking a way to “target” a tumor most effectively, and they dispersed Linalool into extremely small individual droplets (particles is really the correct term, but you can think of it like droplets). In essence, they wanted to get Linalool into more water-friendly form, in a way that would release over time (typically, essential oils are processed through the body within hours).

    Research showed there was more Linalool uptake with their product, and that it also had a significant anti-proliferative effects (significantly reduced the production of cancer cells in-vivo, in a dose dependent manner – ie. the more Linalool, the more cancer cell growth was inhibited). Linalool alone also had an anti-proliferative effect, though the nano-particles of Linalool did have a greater anti-proliferative effect than Linalool as nature offers it — though the researchers didn’t compare their product on healthy cells vs. cancerous ones, and whether the ‘nano-particulation’ was really necessary in the long run.

    More to be seen, we hope! Regardless of the product the researchers were creating with Linalool, the fact is they chose Linalool in the first place because of previous research noting its anti-cancer actions. Finally, our last study examined the anti-tumorial effects of mice with human colon cancer cells. The Linalool was orally administered, and in the group receiving the greatest amount of Linalool, there was an average of 55% less cancerous tissue by weight. Here again, it seems nature was playing both sides. Lavender essential oil is an anti-oxidant, with an ORAC value of 360, though the cancer cells in this study met their death through oxidative stress — via production of what is known as “hydroxyl radicals”.

    So it seems the linalool somehow acted to cause cancer cells to die through pro-oxidative means. The reason for the creation of the hydroxyl radicals is not clear however, but appears to only happen in the presence of cancerous cells. The article states quite clearly: “Linalool inhibits the growth of human xenografted tumor mouse model without side effects”.

And this ends our 3 part series on essential oils and cancer – as more news comes to light, we will get it out to you! If this topic interests you further, we highly recommend you contact a local “medically-trained” aromatherapist, or other health professional trained in the use of essential oils. Thank you much for reading!

1. Daniel Pereira Bezerra,1Gardenia Carmen Gadelha Militão, Mayara Castro de Morais, and Damião Pergentino de Sousa. “The Dual Antioxidant/Prooxidant Effect of Eugenol and Its Action in Cancer Development and Treatment”, Nutrients (Journal) 2017 Dec; 9(12): 1367.

2.“Clove Essential Oil Uses and Medical Benefits”, ORAC value table of essential oils and foods,, accessed Feb. 19 2018. ©

3. Orac Values of 72 Essential Oils,, accessed Feb. 19 2018 ©

4. Günes-Bayir A, Kocyigit A, Güler EM, Bilgin MG, Ergün İS, Dadak A. “Effects of carvacrol on human fibroblast (WS-1) and gastric adenocarcinoma (AGS) cells in vitro and on Wistar rats in vivo”, Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 2018 Feb 13. doi: 10.1007/s11010-018-3329-5.

5. Rodenak-Kladniew B, Islan GA, de Bravo MG, Durán N, Castro GR. “Design, characterization and in vitro evaluation of linalool-loaded solid lipid nanoparticles as potent tool in cancer therapy.” Colloids and Surfaces Biointerfaces. 2017 Jun 1;154:123-132. doi: 10.1016/j.colsurfb.2017.03.021.

6. Iwasaki K, Zheng YW, Murata S, Ito H, Nakayama K, Kurokawa T, Sano N, Nowatari T, Villareal MO, Nagano YN, Isoda H, Matsui H, Ohkohchi N. “Anticancer effect of linalool via cancer-specific hydroxyl radical generation in human colon cancer”, World Journal of Gastroenterol. 2016 Nov 28;22(44):9765-9774.


Note: *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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