A new study published in the journal Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics suggests that the scent of citronella can inhibit the growth of cancer cells, including cancer of the liver. Researchers from the Ruhr University Bochum, say terpenes, a main component of essential oils, can prevent or slow cancer cell growth.
Headed by Professor Dr. Hanns Hatt, a team of scientists analyzed the molecular mechanisms by which cancer cell growth is slowed, using citronellal, the primary chemical compound responsible for giving citrus its distinctive lemon scent. Their experiment identified the olfactory receptor OR1A2 as being crucial for stopping cancer cell replication.
Large amounts of plant matter are needed to extract just a tiny bit of essential oil, explaining the product’s markup on store shelves.
Used for centuries by many cultures around the world, essential oils offer many health benefits and have been used to treat a variety of ailments including asthma, bronchitis, HIV, heart strokes and many others.
Essential oils help protect you from bacteria, viruses and fungi
Aside from improving your health, essential oils can help make your skin more beautiful, as well as assist with relaxation and sleep. There are more than 90 essential oils, all of them having their own unique benefits. You can reap the benefits of essential oils by applying them directly to your skin, through inhalation or by using a diffuser.
This latest experiment involving essential oils zeros in on the power of scent, unlocking the key to our bodies’ sense of smell and how that relates to fighting disease.
Due to their many benefits, essential oils are being widely researched for their antiviral, antibacterial and fungicidal properties. Terpenes, which are produced by a variety of plants, were thought to influence cancer cell growth; however, how that actually worked was not well understood until recently.
“Terpenes can trigger signalling processes in cells by activating olfactory receptors,” the researchers reported in a press release. “Those receptors are mainly located in the nose, but they have been proved to occur in all types of human tissue, including skin, prostate and spermatozoa.”
Scent receptors exist all over the body including the bladder, gut, skin tissue, spine and even sperm
In 1991, scientists learned that there are more than 1,000 genes involved in generating scent receptors, a discovery that earned a Nobel Prize.
Because these receptors exist all over the body, scientists wondered if terpenes would have an impact on cancer cells. To test this theory, Dr. Hatt and his team utilized a cellular model of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver tumor; about four in five cancers that start in the liver are hepatocellular carcinoma.
Scientists exposed the cells to a subset of terpenes with varying concentrations, and then monitored their reactions.
The results found that two of the eleven terpenes, citronellal and citronellol, tested prompted a significant increase in calcium concentration in the cells. A follow-up analysis focusing on citronellal scanned for a receptor that the terpene would fit into like a key fits into a lock.
Natural oils found in plants trigger signaling pathways in cells
Scientists were able to demonstrate that the olfactory receptor OR1A2 occurs in liver cells and is responsible for detecting the citrus scent and the following cellular reaction. When researchers removed the cell’s option for producing OR1A2, they no longer reacted to the terpene.
Researchers were successful in tracking the signaling pathway that is used by the terpene compounds to increase calcium concentration inside cells, thus reducing cell growth.
“These results are yet another example for the significance of olfactory receptors outside the nose, and they give rise to hope that new drugs with no severe side effects may be developed for cancer therapy.”