You may have heard the hype about Frankincense Essential Oilcuring cancer? Unfortunately, hype may be all it is. Although there are many testimonials, and articles, from those who swear by the anti-cancer capabilities of frankincense oil – particularly with regards to skin cancer – there are other, more effective essential oils and forms of natural treatment available.
Dr Axe, a well-known promoter of essential oils, is one of the main hype culprits. In his article, Frankincense Oil – Natural Cancer Treatment1, Dr Axe implies that Frankincense Essential Oil can be used as a treatment to cure cancer: “People who have added Boswellia serrata into their natural health cancer care plan may find themselves experiencing double-benefits from this amazing essential oil….who knows what could happen if more people utilized this frankincense oil as a cancer natural treatment approach.”
Dr Axe refers to the research conducted by the University of Leicester in the UK which details its success at killing late-stage ovarian cancer cells in vitro. However, the study used the compound AKBA (acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid) which is derived from the frankincense resin. It did not use frankincense oil and this is an all-important difference. It's the boswellic acid which has incredible properties and research to date is very encouraging.
Dr Mark Evans, who supervised the University study, says: “We have shown that this frankincense compound is effective at killing ovarian cancer cells at realistic concentrations.
“What has been most surprising is that the cells we have tested which are resistant to chemotherapy have shown to be more sensitive to this compound, suggesting frankincense may indeed be able to help overcome drug resistance, and lead to an improved survival rate for patients with late-stage ovarian cancer”.2
Although this is an exciting opportunity for the world of natural medicine, it’s not necessarily the case for frankincense essential oil. Now don’t get me wrong, I love frankincense essential oil, I use it all the time, I make my own antibiotics with it, it is a strong anti-inflammatory and it has many other incredible properties. But, curing cancer as effectively as the claims make out, is not necessarily one of them.
In an article debunking the hype, Frankincense Oil and Cancer in Perspective, Robert Tisserand from the Tisserand Institute explains that boswellic acid is not water or oil soluble and therefore remains in the frankincense resin during steam distillation, rather than passing to the oil.
He says: “…boswellic acid is much too heavy a molecule to be volatile. There are several boswellic acids found in frankincense gum resin, and they have molecular weights in the 450-500 range. However, volatile molecules – those capable of evaporation – all have molecular weights below 300….Even if you could produce a frankincense oil with about 1% boswellic acid, this would not compare well with frankincense extracts, which contain 40-60% boswellic acid.”3
Tisserand explains that there is no commercially produced frankincense oil that contains any boswellic acid in significant enough quantities – and that includes dōTERRA frankincense oil.
dōTERRA admits that their frankincense oil does not contain boswellic acid: “Boswellic acid is not found in frankincense essential oil. Boswellic acid is a large, non-volatile compound that does not naturally occur in essential oil. However, dōTERRA recognizes the benefits of this compound and has included it in our Deep Blue Polyphenol Complex® and Alpha CRS®+.”
While Dr Axe does point out in his article that boswellic acid is only found in the powder form of frankincense, he goes on to say: “However, there are other compounds found in frankincense oil that have been shown to be beneficial in test tubes when treating cancer cells.”
But this statement is rather all encompassing. There are many different types of cancer and the treatment of each will vary. When I contacted the product team of Dr Axe regarding details of what the other compounds might be, they refused to comment.
An article by Dr Eric Z, Can Frankincense Kill Cancer and Boost Immunity? may be able to shed some light on the situation. Dr Z too agrees that BAs are too large to pass the steam distillation process but points out that recent research suggests that Beta-elemene – a cancer-fighting terpene found in frankincense and myrrh with the ability to cross the blood brain barrier – may be partly responsible for testimonials claiming that the oil helped them beat cancer.4
In his article, he includes a statement by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center:
“Beta-elemene is a compound found in plants such as celery, mint, and in many others used in traditional medicine. Although the pure form is not used as dietary supplement, some cancer patients use herbs high in beta-elemene as treatment. Beta-elemene was shown to prevent growth of cancer cells in laboratory cells by different mechanisms. A few poorly designed studies done in humans showed that it may improve quality of life in cancer patients. It is unclear if raw herbs containing beta-elemene have the same effects in humans. More research is needed.”5
Tisserand points out that there are 200 research papers on garlic oil compared to just 12 on frankincense oil.
In her booklet Essential Oil Cancer Research, Nicole Stevens points out that Douglas Fir, Fir, Galbanum, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Thyme and Tsuga are all more effective than frankincense against cervical cancer, each displaying inhibitory activity of more than 90% on cancer cells. Frankincense ranked at 72.1%. Sandalwood was also effective against prostate cancer, breast cancer and skin cancer whereas frankincense oil did not display any effectiveness in these areas.
She says: “While the results of this screening study and other studies are still preliminary, there appears to be mounting scientific evidence that has demonstrated that many essential oils are active against several types of cancer.”6
As mentioned, there are many, many testimonials from people who have effectively rid themselves of tumours and skin cancers by using frankincense oil. So, no doubt, it’s certainly worth trying. But the claims that are being made regarding frankincense oil being an all-encompassing cure for cancer perhaps need further investigation. Other, possibly more effective, essential oils and natural remedies also merit attention.
Please note that I have no commercial or any other interests with any persons or websites mentioned in this article other thandōTERRA.
Sources of information:
 Dr mark Evans is no longer with Leicester University and so the press release is unavailable.
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