Can Frankincense really kill cancer cells? That is the question on many minds these days, as the claims of the benefits of frankincense essential oil surface. The resin has been used ceremoniously for eons it seems, but the uses for the king of oils don’t stop there. When studied, frankincense essential oil seems to have some remarkable benefits to the body. Could there be more that meets the eye with this ancient resin?
Frankincense Throughout History
Frankincense is also known as olibanum; which comes from the Hebrew language, and it is scientifically known as Boswellia. Frankincense was used in the religious ceremonies of ancient cultures and has been traded for over 5000 years in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Ancient Egyptians were burning frankincense in their temples thousands of years ago; and they believed the smoke had the ability to cleanse the soul and enhance your spiritual wellbeing.
The ancient Greek and Roman cultures both used frankincense for its life-giving and restorative properties. There is also the story of three Magi bringing a baby a heap of frankincense along with two other gifts – myrrh and gold. The story is thousands of years old, and attributed to the Hebrew culture; showing further widespread significance of the resin in the ancient world.
As the resin was prized all over the growing world, the kingdoms of Arabia, where frankincense was mainly developed and harvested, became an integral trading partner to both Europe and China. Frankincense was once so prized in Europe, that the name for Arabia at the time was Arabia Felix; or “Arabia the Blessed”. With the modern era comes a new use for frankincense – distilling frankincense essential oil.
Frankincense Essential Oil
Through steam distillation of the resinous sap from the Boswellia tree, a clear to pale yellow liquid is produced. It has a thin consistency, and is just as richly scented as the resin itself. Of course, we are talking about frankincense essential oil. The essential oil of frankincense is just as sought after today as the resin was in the ancient era; particularly in the realm of aromatherapy and natural medicine. It is commonly known as the king of oils; a title it has earned when you consider the benefits of including the oil in your daily life. Frankincense oil is useful for the limbic, immune, nervous and respiratory systems, and has been studied heavily due to the high concentration of bioactive compounds within the oil.
Compounds in Frankincense Essential Oil
In traditional medicines, herbs and resins such as frankincense have properties, which can be used to achieve certain holistic ends in the body. For instance, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, frankincense is seen as a warm, bitter substance which can be used to activate blood, move qi, and alleviate pain. On a scientific level; the health benefits that come from using frankincense essential oil are caused by any number of bioactive compounds within the oil.
Both ways of looking at the oil are therapeutic; though for the fact-based scientific western mind, the latter is more appealing. The main constituents in frankincense essential oils are based on the type of sap used, and include a wide variety of Boswellic acids, lupeolic acids, tirucallic acids, roburic acids, terpenes, and sesquiterpenes. The most common are as follows.
- E-B-ocimene- commonly referred to as simply ocimene, this compound is used heavily in the fragrance industry; and is also a pheromone used by bee colonies.
- Limonene- Limonene is one of the most abundant compounds in nature, most commonly attributed to lemon essential oil. Limonene has been studied for its antioxidant and anti-cancer abilities, as well as the believed ability to inhibit tumors. It is also a potent antiviral compound.
- Alpha-boswellic acid– Boswellic acids make up the most notable ingredients in frankincense essential oil. Alpha boswellic acid has been studied to reduce gastric upset and general oxidative stress thanks to its function as an antioxidant.
- Beta-boswellic acid– Arguably the most significant compound in frankincense essential oil is a beta-boswellic acid known as It is this compound which has been for its potential as an anti-carcinogenic agent.
Benefits of Frankincense Essential Oil
With the powerful combination of compounds in frankincense essential oil, there simply has to be some amazing benefits for human use. Again it appears that traditional medicines have beat science to the punch; as many of the modern uses for the oil stem from the oldest known practices with the oil.
In the Body
When frankincense essential oil enters the body, it is welcomed like an old friend. Rather than seeing it as an intruder, your body immediately begins using the compounds within the oil to heal you and balance out your system. Some of the most eye-opening benefits are as follows.
Until recently; natural medicines were the only treatments for many of the problems we face as we age. There may be good reason for this, as natural medicines like frankincense provide incredible benefits to the body.
One study aimed to show the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of the oil. In identifying possible anti-inflammatory compounds in the oil, researchers found seventeen of them. What’s more is that all but one of the compounds in frankincense showed promise as anti-inflammatory agents. This may be the reason frankincense has been used for years as a natural arthritis treatment.
Arthritis and rheumatism can cause aching, dull pain all over the body. The anti-inflammatory compounds in frankincense oil can help reduce that pain, though many people still rely on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to really finish it off. One study suggests this may not need be the case for long.
Researchers looked to find a reason why frankincense is used to treat pain in traditional medicine. Testing frankincense alongside aspirin; the researchers noted that frankincense essential oil was more effective at reducing pain than the standard medication. Because of these analgesic effects, frankincense oil just may be the perfect oil for inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
New, useful antioxidants are always in high demand. Luckily in the natural world, they are abundantly present in many of the herbs and foods you may already have. For instance, recent research discovered that frankincense oil reduces oxidative stress in the body due to the compound a-boswelic acid. The researchers were particularly studying the ability to reduce gastric injury; meaning frankincense oil helps reduce damage to the digestive system as well.
This is where the buzz has brought us. Frankincense, touted for thousands of years as the king of oils, is now showing us it has the power to eliminate one of the most stigmatic problems of the modern era – cancer. The topic of a natural product healing anything draws a heated debate. On the one hand you have people who understand the power of nature; and on the other hand you have the voices of the companies which stand to lose from people understanding the power of nature. Opinions vary; the facts remain: Frankincense essential oil shows promise in destroying cancer cells.
Some have argued that the essential oils created from steam distillation cannot be as active simply because the anti-cancer compounds within the resin are too big to be extracted by the process. One study has proven otherwise.
Aiming to determine if a steam-distilled frankincense essential oil carried any of the anticancer benefits of the resins; researchers found that even distilled frankincense oil contains complex constituents and has anticancer activity. They stressed the importance of good agricultural practices as a way to ensure the potency of the oil as well.
When a condition known as Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) appears, it starts out benign. If left untreated, however, it begins to form malignant tumors in the intestines; becoming cancerous. Recently, aspirin has shown some promise in the way of reducing these polyps; yet the prevention of colon cancer itself is lacking.
Seeking a new alternative, researchers looked again to AKBA; finding that it did in fact significantly reduce the polyps in the intestines without damaging the body as a whole. The study concluded that the effect was greater than that of aspirin, and was especially noticeable in the colon.
Another study focused on two essential oils traditionally used in cancer treatments: frankincense and sandalwood. The study confirmed that frankincense oil was effective at reducing bladder cancer cells through a selective process, while sandalwood was effective via a non-selective process; though both oils resulted in cell death. It is important to note that frankincense works in a selective manner; meaning normal cells are relatively untouched. This is big news, and is exactly what all the buzz around boswelli is about.
Frankincense essential oil was also shown to specifically target breast tumor cells; causing cell death and reduced aggressiveness. This was attributed to the powerful boswellic acids present in the oil. Researchers noted that the oil may show promise in cases of advanced breast cancer as well; as the essential oil consistently meets prerequisites for therapeutic targets for breast cancer.
Like other forms of cancer cells, human pancreatic cancer cells are sensitive to frankincense essential oil. Thanks to the high content of boswellic acids, frankincense essential oil suppresses the cells’ viability and increases cell death rate and count. Some blends even showed the ability to keep the cells from reproducing; which is especially important in pancreatic cancer research, as the 5 year survival rate for diagnosed patients remains under five percent. Introducing frankincense essential oil into the body with the help of a trained professional may be a life-saving natural remedy, and warrants further research.
For the Brain
The earliest use of frankincense was to prepare the mind to enter into sacred spaces such as temples, or to enter into conversation with deities through prayer. Both of these states require peace of mind, so it is no surprise that frankincense oil helps in creating that tranquil state.
In the modern world, stress seems like an ever-present burden for some. Apart from a holiday or the weekend, the stress from work, the family, schooling, and environmental factors is always hanging around. Looking for healthy ways to reduce this stress can mean the difference between a calm state of mind and disorders such as ulcers and high blood pressure; so it is great to know that frankincense oil reduces stress when inhaled or applied topically. Researchers have found that frankincense essential oil works well with bergamot essential oil to reduce markers of stress and anxiety. When blended together and massaged into the hand, patients rated themselves as much more calm than control groups.
On the Skin
While many are aware of the effects of inhaling essential oils; few are aware that the compounds in the oils are actually small enough to penetrate the membrane of the skin. While this may make you think of all the gross things you are touching which can enter your body through your skin; it should delight you to know that frankincense essential oil is there to help you remove them.
Largely due to the fact that frankincense essential oil is a powerful antibacterial agent, it can be used to treat minor wounds. Rather than reach for a tube of over-the-counter-mystery-goop, you can create your own antimicrobial wound care treatment very quickly. By adding three drops of tea tree essential oil and three drops of frankincense oil to an ounce of coconut oil, you have a quick and gentle way to reduce bacteria in small scrapes and wounds.
Due to the astringent properties of the oil, frankincense is also often mixed with other acne-clearing essential oils to help keep the skin clear of dirt and bacteria – without the chemicals. Ancient hieroglyphs tell us that frankincense resin was often mixed with honey or oil and used as a clarifying facemask thousands of years ago. Try adding a few drops of frankincense essential oil to carrier oil and gently massaging it into your face after washing it. The carrier oil will vary based on your skin type, and the astringent in frankincense oil will help unclog pores naturally.
Frankincense essential oil has also found its way into countless beauty products; due to the fact that frankincense reduces wrinkles. The oil is a powerful astringent, and helps to tighten and protect aging skin, reduces signs of age spots and stretch marks, and may even help with healing wounds.
Recipes Using Frankincense Essential Oil
Aside from uncapping the bottle and smelling it, most of us have little knowledge of how to begin using essential oils! Here are just a couple of examples of recipes using frankincense essential oil. They can be adjusted to your liking; feel free to tell us about any adjustments you make to them as well!
Cellular Supporting oil Blend
- 10 drops frankincense essential oil
- 10 drops lemongrass essential oil
- 10 drops clary sage essential oil
- 2 oz coconut oil
- Add ingredients to a 2oz container, mixing well. Apply to the body as needed to support healthy cells.
Stress Relieving Aromatherapy blend
- 2 drops frankincense essential oil
- 2 drops may chang essential oil
- 2 drops orange essential oil
- Add to an aromatherapy diffuser, using for 30 minutes at a time as needed for stress. Especially good after a long day of work.
A Final Word on Frankincense Essential Oil
Like all pure essential oils, frankincense essential oil shows some powerful abilities when either inhaled or applied topically. If used topically, however, be sure to dilute it. The antioxidant compounds in the oil can be harsh on the skin, and may cause allergic reactions if applied undiluted. Pay attention to any reactions your body may have to the oil as well. Children and pregnant or nursing women should only use essential oils under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner. It is always important to use pure, therapeutic grade essential oils on your body and in the air you breathe to ensure you have the best experience possible. Pure essential oils not only ensure your safety; they ensure the oil contains the greatest number of medicinal compounds available. Remember that any information you read here is not to be seen as a replacement for the guidance of a healthcare professional; but rather as a supplement to their knowledge.
How do you use frankincense essential oil? We would love to hear the many ways to use the oil in the comments below!