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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Essential Oils and Cancer: An Untapped Resource

Cancer in the Headlines
If one were to take survey of the largest concerns in modern America, at the top of the list would be the development of cancer. Headlines from magazines, newspapers and websites denote a rise in cancer among young and old alike. Concerns vary from how to escape this seemingly inevitable disease, how to pay for this disease if diagnosed, to all what is the most effective treatment against developing cancer in the first place.

Another shift in headline news is alternative treatments to often expensive and sometimes invasive forms of health care. More and more individuals are seeking ways to gain freedom from dependence upon pharmaceuticals, intensive scans and often impersonal treatments to both body and soul.

Essential oils are a rather inert yet highly effective method of treating ailments and supporting overall good health. These plant extractions are low in cost compared to often overarching methods of modern medical treatment and can be used safely by all ages.

This paper specifically addresses the rising interest of essential oils in research, specifically on the effectiveness in preventing and treating cancer.

What really is Cancer?
Cancer in general terms is growth of abnormal cells. The mechanism (found in the mitochondria of the cell) to stop the growth of the cell is interrupted or turned off. Once this process begins, these abnormal cells either invade or replace normal tissue. Such a process can occur within any parts of the body.

There are two main groupings of cancer cells: cancers that form in solid tissues like the liver, bone or brain and cancers that do not form solid structures and proliferate in the blood and lymph systems, such as leukemia and lymphomas.

Causes of cancer formation within the body are variable. Most cancers are now attributed an unhealthy lifestyle, dietary choices ? a diet rich in processed foods, genetics and hazardous chemical exposure either though air, water or direct contact.

According to a 2005 paper produced by the American Cancer Society (Cancer Facts and Figures, 2005), over one million new cancer cases were expected to be diagnosed in the United States alone. According to this publication, cancer is the second leading cause of death, taking the lives of 1 in 4 Americans.

Essential Oil Research
Conventional or orthodox medical treatments of cancer currently in use are chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Yet in the last few years, there is a rising interest among American laboratory researchers on the effectiveness of essential oils in preventing as well as treating cancer or combining essential oils with conventional treatments.

European practitioners have been using essential oils to treat various illnesses for years, even centuries. Yet, in the United States, it is now just stirring the interest of medical practitioners. In the paragraphs below a brief overview of current research on essential oils and cancer is provided.

Findings of Current Research
Numerous studies looking at various essential oils on the cytotoxic (killing of cells) properties of cancer cells have been conducted. The results are promising and hopeful. In the last three years alone, studies have found isolated compounds in essential oils to have noticeable cyotoxicity on cancer cells.

In Anticancer Research (2007 Sept.Oct; 27(5A):3293-9) University of Calabria, Italy published findings that essential oils from the Lauraceae families to inhibit human tumor cell growth in vitro (out of living cells, such as in a test tube or Petri dish) environments.

In the Journal of Ethnopharmacol (2006 Jan. 3; 103(1): 99-102) University of Quebec, Canada researchers identified compounds in the leaf essential oil of Croton flavens L. that are cytogentic against tumor cells.

In Natural Product Communications (2009 Feb; 4(2): 271-4) University of Alabama researchers found compounds within the leaf essential oils of Oreopanax nubigenus, and Schefflera rodrigueziana (plants found in Costa Rica) that showed notable in-vitro cytotoxicity.

A recent study conducted by Canadian researchers found essential oils such as balsam poplar, when combined with Taxol (a chemotherapy drug) increases antitumor activity more than four times.

From the above, it is evident that each study looked at different essential oils and their cytotoxic compounds, yet each study had similar conclusions ? compounds found within essential oils have anticancer properties and can also increase the effectiveness of conventional cancer treatments. Such findings are positive in nature and may drive medicine into another aspect of treating this disease.