Can Essential Oils Treat Cancer?
There are some wild claims on the Internet about essential oils and about cures for cancer. And those two often go hand in hand. So what’s the deal? Can they actually help? Can essential oils treat cancer?
Essential Oils And Cancer
The most important thing to know right off the start is that there isn’t anyone who can actually claim that essential oils will cure cancer. Simply because there are no trials, there are no major studies. These botanicals are not tested as a cancer drug, so they cannot be discussed in this way.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t research. Studies show their antimutagenic, antitumour, antioxidant properties. They also demonstrate that essential oils can cause apoptosis (or cell death) as well as stimulate the phase 1 enzymes of the cytochrome P450, the GST — the glutathione s transferase system. This system is responsible for detoxification and helps drain carcinogens and toxins from the liver and kidneys.
The anti-mutagenic mechanism of essential oils works by directly preventing the mutagen from entering the cell. Certain compounds within essential oils inhibit cells from proliferating, or reproduce rapidly, and inhibit tumour growth by increasing oxygen radicals inside cells. This mechanism induces oxidation, which reduces proliferation and ultimately leads to cell death.
These are just a few things that essential oils can do and the processes are complex. What is important to note is that many of the studies have been done only in vitro or on animals, which doesn’t always translate to human health.
Essential Oils & Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Some experts will say that because of their antioxidant properties, essential oils may actually be protective of cancerous cells. Therefore, they should avoid for 1 week before and 4 weeks after chemotherapy treatment. However, other experts disagree, and there is research that demonstrates that using aromatherapy concurrently with chemotherapy treatment actually improves quality of life because they can reduce side effects of treatment, improve symptoms, and prognosis. Girard-Robert reported that conventional treatments had been effiicacy when using essential oils at the same time.
Essential oils reduce pain and nausea, stimulate detoxification, which helps the liver process chemo drugs. Essential oils reduce anxiety and stress, improve the mood, reduce insomnia. They can assist with warding off infections, wound healing, mouth sores, microbe, bacteria and virus control. Using aromatherapy in massage leads to short-term symptom relief of pain control, improvement in anxiety and depression and psychological well being, and improved sleep.
In cases of lung cancer, inhaling certain essential oils can be beneficial. Inhalation allows those naturally existing compounds to enter directly into the lungs. This translates to more effective treatment and essential oil use.
Aromatherapy is not without safety considerations. Here’s a few to remember:
- Not all essential oils are made the same. These kinds of mechanisms do not apply to commercial, synthetic, junk essential oils. If you’ve bought your products from Amazon, a boutique store, or a company who does not specialize in aromatherapy and has just added it to their product mix to satisfy market trends, it’s highly unlikely it’s good quality. Unfortunately, pharmacies also usually carry poor quality essential oils.
- Quality 100% matters. If you absorb and inhale synthetic products, you’re likely to do more harm than good.
- Essential oils may be irritating to radiated or diseased skin, especially essential oils high in aldehydes and phenols. For example, cinnamon, clove, thyme and others. Dilution is necessary.
- Certain essential oils may not be suitable for estrogen cancers based on their natural estrogenic effects. These may include essential oils like fennel, anise, star-anise that contain e-anethole constituent.
- Cancer patients may have impaired detoxification abilities, which may make it difficult to remove essential oils from the system. Liver and kidney patients may be the most at risk for toxicity. However, see above point about detoxification as well.
- Aromatherapy is not a replacement for medical attention. Make sure you are seeking proper care. If you’re interested in using aromatherapy to improve quality of life, seek a qualified and trained aromatherapist.
Blowman, K et al. “Anticancer Properties of Essential Oils and Other Natural Products.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2018 3149362. 25 Mar. 2018, doi:10.1155/2018/3149362
Boehm, Katja et al. “Aromatherapy as an adjuvant treatment in cancer care–a descriptive systematic review.” African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM vol. 9,4 503-18. 1 Jul. 2012, doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v9i4.7
Girard-Robert, Anne-Marie. “Essential Oils to Improve Quality of Life During Cancer.” 77-118.