Does it work?
Known to some as the “king of oils,” frankincense is derived from sap found in trees of the Boswellia genus. It’s most often found in the Boswellia sacra tree. These trees are commonly found in Middle Eastern countries, such as Oman and Yemen, and African countries, such as Somalia and Ethiopia.
This sap is thought to have a number of medicinal properties, making it a staple in many herbal and alternative therapies. Some research has suggested that frankincense oil may be a natural way to treat certain kinds of cancer. More research is necessary to determine whether this is a viable treatment option, as well as whether there are short- and long-term effects associated with its use.
The benefits of frankincense
- Its active component, boswellic acid, is an anti-inflammatory.
- When diffused into the air, the oil is said to encourage feelings of peace and relaxation.
People throughout history have used frankincense it to improve personal satisfaction and combat various ailments. The oil’s aromatic properties are said to promote feelings of relaxation, peace, and overall wellness.
It’s also thought that frankincense can help support cellular function, so it’s often used to soothe skin and reduce the appearance of blemishes. Researchers have found boswellic acid, the active component found in frankincense, to have anti-inflammatory properties.
In recent years, researchers have looked at the possible effects of frankincense or its extract, boswellia, on certain cancers.
What the research says
Frankincense oil has been linked to treatments for ovarian, breast, and skin cancers. Studies are generally done in vitro, or on cells in a laboratory. No studies have been conducted on people living with cancer.
The findings of one 2015 study suggest that breast cancer cells may stop growing and die off when exposed to frankincense oil. The researchers concluded that their approach is cost-effective and less time consuming than other methods.
Researchers in a 2009 study looked exclusively at frankincense oil derived from the Boswellia carteri species and assessed its anti-tumor activity on bladder cancer. Researchers concluded that, when administered, the oil appears to differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells. The oil can also suppress cancer cell viability.
Similar results were found in a 2011 study assessing the effects of oil from B. sacra on breast cancer cells.
More research is necessary to determine whether the oil or its extract can be consistently and effectively used to treat people who have these cancers.
How to use frankincense
If you’re interested in adding frankincense to your treatment, consult your doctor. They can help determine whether this is the best option for you and advise you on potential next steps.
Although some may recommend ingesting a small amount of frankincense with food, this isn’t a medically sound approach. You shouldn’t ingest any essential oil.
Instead, dilute one to two drops of frankincense oil with 1 to 2 drops of a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba oil. Carrier oils help reduce the potency of essential oils to prevent your skin from having an adverse reaction.
You can also diffuse to the oil into the air to get potential aromatic benefits. If you have a diffuser, add 3 to 4 drops and allow it to disperse. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can add 3 to 4 drops to a pot of boiling water. The steam will allow the scent to disperse into the air.
Risks and warnings
- Using undiluted oil may cause skin irritation or inflammation.
- Ingesting frankincense oil or extract may have unforeseen consequences.
Applying undiluted frankincense oil to your skin may cause inflammation, irritation, or burning.
Ingesting frankincense oil or its extract, boswellia, isn’t advisable. It isn’t yet clear how ingesting either substance can affect you in the short- or long-term.
Ingestion has risks. If you’re taking P-glycoprotein drugs, the extract may affect how you absorb and metabolize these drugs. If you’re taking anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs, boswellia may increase your risk of bleeding.
Other treatments for cancer
Cancer is usually treated through a plan that you work out with your oncologist and other doctors. Depending on the stage and grade of your cancer, these treatments may include:
- surgery to remove any cancerous tissue and prevent the cancer from spreading
- chemotherapy drugs to kill the rapidly dividing cancer cells
- radiation therapy to kill cancer cells in targeted areas
The bottom line
Talk with your doctor before adding frankincense to your treatment regimen. They can help ensure that the essential oil or its extract won’t interfere with any other medications or therapies you may be using. They can also help you find a dosage that will work for you.
The short- and long-term effects of using frankincense are still unclear. Although some researchers have suggested that frankincense may be an effective treatment, more research is necessary to fully assess the potential benefits and risks.