Research: Frankincense & Sandalwood Essential Oils Kill Cancer Cells in Different, Complementary Ways

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Frankincense Resin

The sap of Boswellia trees when dried becomes Frankincense

As reported in the Journal of Chinese Medicine, Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) and Sandalwood (Santalum album) essential oils were tested for their ability to cause the death of cancer cells and “immortalized” cells, and to examine the mechanisms by which each oil causes cancer cell death.

The research article states: “This study aims to investigate the anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic activities of frankincense and sandalwood essential oils in cultured human bladder cancer cells. It was found that “each essential oil had a unique molecular action on the bladder cancer cells”.* (Two lines bladder cells were used in these experiments).

Sandalwood

Sandalwood heartwood is distilled into the highly-prized essential oil

Frankincense essential oil showed a “greater potency” in causing apoptosis of the cancer cells.* Apoptosis is natural ‘programmed’ cell death, the lack of which is the hallmark of cancer cells in general. Sandalwood essential oil affected both the cancer cells and the immortalized cells equally via a different pathway.* (Immortalized cells are the in-vitro equivalent of cancerous cells, used for research purposes).

How Frankincense & Sandalwood Worked Together to Kill Cancer Cells

It is extremely interesting to see the essential oils caused cell death in complementary ways. While both caused changes in gene expression of these cells, they each affected significantly different groups of of genes. While frankincense and sandalwood essential oils have shown to kill cancer cells in laboratory research alone (Frankincense researchSandalwood research), this study appears to demonstrate the greater potential of these two oils working together.*

Frankincense and sandalwood essential oils-activated gene networks in bladder cancer J82 cells. Gene networks were composited by HV genes that were regulated (A) specifically by frankincense essential oil (red), (B) specifically by sandalwood essential oil (green), or (C) commonly by both frankincense and sandalwood essential oils (gray). Identified genes that belong to definite biological processes were highlighted.

What follows is the article abstract (summary). The complete article is available here.

Title: Differential effects of selective frankincense (Ru Xiang) essential oil versus non-selective sandalwood (Tan Xiang) essential oil on cultured bladder cancer cells: a microarray and bioinformatics study.

Published in: Chinese Medicine. 2014 Jul 2;9:18. doi: 10.1186/1749-8546-9-18. eCollection 2014.

Authors: Dozmorov MG1, Yang Q2, Wu W3, Wren J1, Suhail MM4, Woolley CL5, Young DG5, Fung KM6, Lin HK7.

Background: Frankincense (Boswellia carterii, known as Ru Xiang in Chinese) and sandalwood (Santalum album, known as Tan Xiang in Chinese) are cancer preventive and therapeutic agents in Chinese medicine. Their biologically active ingredients are usually extracted from frankincense by hydrodistillation and sandalwood by distillation. This study aims to investigate the anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic activities of frankincense and sandalwood essential oils in cultured human bladder cancer cells.

Methods: The effects of frankincense (1,400-600 dilutions) (v/v) and sandalwood (16,000-7,000 dilutions) (v/v) essential oils on cell viability were studied in established human bladder cancer J82 cells and immortalized normal human bladder urothelial UROtsa cells using a colorimetric XTT cell viability assay. Genes that responded to essential oil treatments in human bladder cancer J82 cells were identified using the Illumina Expression BeadChip platform and analyzed for enriched functions and pathways. The chemical compositions of the essential oils were determined by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

Results: Human bladder cancer J82 cells were more sensitive to the pro-apoptotic effects of frankincense essential oil than the immortalized normal bladder UROtsa cells. In contrast, sandalwood essential oil exhibited a similar potency in suppressing the viability of both J82 and UROtsa cells. Although frankincense and sandalwood essential oils activated common pathways such as inflammatory interleukins (IL-6 signaling), each essential oil had a unique molecular action on the bladder cancer cells. Heat shock proteins and histone core proteins were activated by frankincense essential oil, whereas negative regulation of protein kinase activity and G protein-coupled receptors were activated by sandalwood essential oil treatment.

Conclusion: The effects of frankincense and sandalwood essential oils on J82 cells and UROtsa cells involved different mechanisms leading to cancer cell death. While frankincense essential oil elicited selective cancer cell death via NRF-2-mediated oxidative stress, sandalwood essential oil induced non-selective cell death via DNA damage and cell cycle arrest.

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease

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