Frankincense oil has been used for thousands of years as a “feel-good” oil. But is has only been since the early 20th century that frankincense and other essential oils have been scientifically examined and used for specific medical targets (Source). In this post, we will first examine what frankincense oil is (Section A), thereafter, we will look at some of its many uses in health-care (Section B). From these generalities, frankincense’s usefulness for cancer will be established. (Section C) Lastly, we will conclude with solid science that supports the claim that essential oils benefits are much more than placebo feel-good sensations. (Section D).
WHAT IS FRANKINCENSE OIL ?
Frankincense resin is obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia (family Burseraceae). Incisions are made in the trunks of the trees to produce exuded gum, which appears as milk like resin. The resin hardens into orange-brown gum resin known as frankincense.
There are numerous species and varieties of frankincense trees, including Boswellia serrata in India, Boswellia carteri in East Africa and China, Boswellia frereana in Somalia, and Boswellia sacra in Arabia, each producing a slightly different type of resin.
Differences in soil and climate create more diversity in the resins, even within the same species. The aroma from these resins is valued for its presumed healing properties and superior qualities for religious rituals since the time of the ancient Egyptians (1), and has been used in incense, fumigants and as a fixative in perfumes.
FRANKINCENSE’S GENERAL HEALTH CLAIMS
Frankincense resin has been considered throughout the ages to have a wealth of health supporting properties. The resins of Boswellia carteri and Boswellia serrata have been used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases (2) such as Crohn’s disease (3) in traditional medicine of many countries.
Its anti-inflammatory activity has been attribute to the resin’s ability in regulating immune cytokines production (4) and leukocyte infiltration (5,6). Boswellia serrata extract also exhibits anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activities (8). As shown elsewhere, given cancer’s fungus-like behavior, anti-fugal substances are generally useful in the treatment of cancer.
FRANKINCENSE’S USEFULNESS FOR CANCER PATIENTS
As we saw, frankincense oil is prepared from aromatic hardened gum resins obtained by tapping Boswellia trees. One of the main components of frankincense oil is boswellic acid, a component known to have anti-neoplastic properties. In this perspective, it has been shown that these acids possess anti-cancer activities, based on their anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic activities in rat astrocytoma cell lines (8) and in human leukemia cell lines (9) as well as their anti-carcinogenic activity in chemically induced mouse skin cancer models (10).
In yet another study, extracts from the resin reduced the peritumoral edema in glioblastoma patients (8) and reverses multiple brain metastases in a breast cancer patient (11). These results suggest that frankincense resin contains active ingredients that modulate important biological activities.
FRANKINCENSE’S KEY ACTIVE MEDICINAL MOLECULES AND BIOCHEMICAL PATHWAYS
In search of the active medicinal ingredients of frankincense resins, Chevrier et al. reported that ethanol extract of Boswellia carteri resin comprises 7 boswellic acids (4). Akihisa et al. reported that methanol extract of Boswellia carteri resin consists of 15 triterpene acids, including boswellic acids, and 2 cembrane-type diterpenes (12). 11-keto-β-boswellic acid, the most potent anti-inflammatory component of the resin, selectively blocks leukotriene biosynthesis through inhibiting 5-lipoxygenase activity in rat neutrophilic granulocytes (13) and provides protective effects in a chemically induced mouse ulcerative colitis model (14).
Boswellic acids also prevented endotoxin/galactosamine-induced hepatitis in mice (15). In addition, boswellic acids have been shown to possess anti-cancer activities through their cytostatic and apoptotic effects in multiple human cancer cell lines including meningioma cells (16) leukemia cells (17) hepatoma cells (18) melanoma cells, fibrosarcoma cells (19), and colon cancer cells (20).
In yet another study, it was demonstrated that frankincense oil can discriminate bladder cancer cells from normal bladder urothelial UROtsa cells and suppress cancer cell viability. Based on gene expression analysis, frankincense oil activated several anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic pathways that might be responsible for frankincense oil-induced cancer cell death. This study’s conclusion is as follows:
“Frankincense oil appears to distinguish cancerous from normal bladder cells and suppress cancer cell viability. Microarray and bioinformatics analysis proposed multiple pathways that can be activated by frankincense oil to induce bladder cancer cell death. Frankincense oil might represent an alternative intravesical agent for bladder cancer treatment.” (21)
Most of these studies including the last one where not performed on human beings. More confirmation via clinical trials are therefore indicated. However, we have enough anecdotal and pre-clinical evidence to support the claim that frankincense is safe and useful for cancer patients as an adjunctive therapy.
Pr. Joubert (HM Institute director)
REFERENCE AND PRECISIONS NOTES