I recently befriended the brilliant adventurer Sheena Smith. I am proud and excited to have her as a guest author on the GIGI Blog this week. With a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois, her research has focused on engineering proteins to target cancer cells. In addition to a passion for science and research, Sheena is a strong advocate for environmental conservation and natural living practices.
About 4 years ago after taking several aromatherapy workshops, Sheena began incorporating essential oils into her life by making her own cleaning and spa products as an alternative to commercially available products. As a proponent of scientifically-backed natural medicine, she has began to explore the medicinal properties of essential oils from an academic’s perspective. Here she summarizes research on a novel medical application of essential oils that has been recently proposed: The use of essential oils and their chemical components for the treatment and prevention of cancer.
By Sheena Smith
Essential oils (EOs) are aromatic extracts prepared from extracting oils and associated chemicals from plant materials, including flowers, leaves, wood, herbs and more. In addition to having pleasing aromas and mood-altering effects, chemical compounds identified in certain EOs have been shown to have a variety of biological activities, including medicinal properties. But why are these compounds effective and how do they relate to modern, lab-created medications?
EOs have been used since the Middle Ages to treat a variety of aliments. EOs are highly complex mixtures of plant-derived chemical compounds. Each EO contains 20-70 components in varying amounts that endow the EO with its aromatic signature and biological properties . The chemical compounds contained in EOs are very important to plant physiology and have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and insecticidal properties. While most EOs have some antimicrobial properties, others can reduce inflammation, serve as pro- and anti-oxidants, relieve muscle spasms, alleviate pain, and calm or stimulate the body. Although EOs have been recognized for their medicinal properties since ancient times, scientific research linking compounds in EOs to their medicinal properties is starting to show potential for applications in modern medicine. EOs are already being used in experimental treatment of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, and recent studies have suggested EOs may have the potential to treat and prevent some cancers [1-3].
One of the primary challenges of modern pharmaceuticals is delivering biologically active drugs to the interior human cells where they exert their biological effects. Due to their natural chemical composition, EO compounds are able to easily pass through the cell membrane without chemical modification to act where they’re needed most . Additionally, although they are chemically complex, plants have evolved to produce these compounds seemingly effortlessly, where chemical synthesis in a lab of the same compounds is very difficult due to their complex structure and potential for harmful bi-products . Additionally, many medicinal properties of EOs have been ascribed not to single chemical components, but to the naturally-derived plant EO mixture as a whole : an elegant and powerful gift from Mother Nature.
Most recently, scientists have begun to explore the use of EOs for the treatment of cancer. EOs from a variety of different plants have shown to have positive effects against a variety of cancers, including breast, lung, mouth, prostate, colon, liver and leukemia in cancer cell lines and tumor-bearing animals (Select EOs summarized in Table) [1-3]. Current studies focus on deciphering the mechanisms by which EOs are able to affect cancer cells and whether EOs have a potential role in cancer-treatment regiments.
|Citrus, herbaceous||Showed cytotoxic activity in certain lung, colon, breast and leukemia cancer cells lines in a mouse model  as well as antitumor effects in a glioblastoma cell line |
|Melaleuca alternifolia |
|Herbaceous, green, leathery||A component of the oil, called TTO, has been shown to inhibit growth and kill melanoma cells  and other cancers |
|Warm, herbaceous, floral, powdery||Effective against a head and neck squamous cell carcinoma  as well as prostate and lung carcinomas and breast cancer cell lines |
|Citrus bergamia |
|Citrus, spice, with a high floral note||Treatment reduced cell viability in a neuroblastoma  and breast cancer cells |
Interested in trying essential oils? You can purchase them from Sheena Smith at www.mydoterra.com/sheena.