They’ve gained considerable notoriety in recent years for their myriad uses in both aromatherapy and integrative medicine.
But did you know that essential oils can also be an effective anti-cancer remedy?
Chinese researchers learned this after studying the healing properties of 10 of the most popular essential oils in current use: mint, ginger, lemon, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, chamomile, thyme, rose, and cinnamon.
Each of these oils was tested for antibacterial potency as well as in vitro toxicology against three human cancer cell lines, which included the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line. Also evaluated were the A-549 lung cancer cell line and the PC-3 prostate cancer cell line.
Essential oils exhibit strong cytotoxicity against certain variants of prostate, lung and breast cancer
In tests, the research team exposed the three cancer cell lines to increasing concentrations of each essential oil. Overall, a dose-dependent decrease in the survival of the three cell lines was observed, meaning that more cancer cells died as more essential oil was administered.
At a concentration of 0.2 percent, all of the essential oils exhibited strong cytotoxicity against the PC-3 prostate cancer cells, with cell viability in the sub-four percent range. Most of the essential oils were also effective against the A-549 lung cancer cells, with the only outlier being mint essential oil.
But when it came to the MCF-7 breast cancer cell lines, the following four essential oils proved significantly stronger than the other six: cinnamon, thyme, chamomile, and jasmine. The most powerful was thyme, followed by jasmine, cinnamon, and chamomile.
The least respondent of all the cell lines to essential oils, MCF-7 was mostly annihilated by all four of these oils, with chamomile killing up to 93 percent of them in the lab. Even more effective was thyme oil, which resulted in a 97 percent kill rate of MCF-7 breast cancer cells.
“For MCF-7 cell, the cytotoxicities of cinnamon, thyme, chamomile, and jasmine essential oils was significantly stronger than that of the other six essential oils,” explains the study.
“The fractions of viable cells were reduced to 5.31%, 3.47%, 6.93% and 4.34%, respectively.”
Chamomile oil: a powerful antibacterial agent
As far as antibacterial potency, chamomile ranked similarly high on the list. Though not as powerful as rose, cinnamon, thyme, and lavender essential oils, which killed the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, or P. Acnes, the microorganism responsible for what is commonly known as acne, in just five minutes, chamomile oil was still found to be effective.
“The bactericidal activities of the other essential oils decreased in the order: chamomile > grapefruit = lemon > ginger > mint > jasmine,” adds the study.
“The bacteria were completely killed after 20 [minutes] by chamomile essential oil, 30 [minutes] by grapefruit and lemon essential oils, and 45 [minutes] by ginger essential oil.”
Chamomile oil: a powerful antioxidant
Known for its calming benefits, chamomile oil has long served as an effective treatment for other serious conditions like inflammation (antophlogistic), muscle spasms, migraine headaches, upset stomach and flatulence, fungi, and parasites (anthelmintic), among others.
An earlier study published in the journal Industrial Crops and Products found that chamomile oil is also a powerful antioxidant. Among 11 essential oils tested, including lavender, thyme, winter savory, rosemary, sage, peppermint, French tarragon, bitter, and sweet fennel, Roman chamomile was found to have the highest antioxidant activity.
“Thyme and winter savory oils exhibited the greatest inhibition against the growth of all the tested organisms possibly due to the high content of thymol and carvacrol respectively,” states the study’s abstract.