When you hear the word "frankincense," no doubt you think of the biblical three wise men who presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newly born baby Jesus. But what you may be less familiar with is the medicinal properties of frankincense. Now, new research suggests it may help in the treatment of ovarian cancer.
Frankincense is an aromatic plant resin that comes from a tree called Boswellia sacra, found in Africa and Arabia.
According to researchers from the University of Leicester in the UK, led by Kamla Al-Salmani, frankincense has been used for centuries as an anti-infllammatory, making it useful for the treatment of conditions such as asthma, various skin conditions and gastroenteritis.
In 2011, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that frankincense may help to treat arthritis.
Previous research has also suggested that frankincense may be useful for the treatment of some cancers, including breast, colon and prostate cancer. This is due to a compound it contains, called acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA).
AKBA compound 'effective against ovarian cancer cells'
The compound effectively killed ovarian cancer cells. Furthermore, the researchers say they were surprised to find that chemotherapy-resistant cell lines appeared to become more sensitive when the AKBA compound was applied.
They say this suggests that frankincense may be useful for overcoming drug resistance, and it could also lead to an improved survival rate for patients with late-stage ovarian cancer.
Commenting on the findings, Al-Salmani says:
"After a year of studying the AKBA compound with ovarian cancer cell lines in vitro, we have been able to show it is effective at killing the cancer cells.
Frankincense is taken by many people with no known side effects. This finding has enormous potential to be taken to a clinical trial in the future and developed into an additional treatment for ovarian cancer."
Importance of late-stage ovarian cancer treatment
Frankincense is an aromatic plant resin that is famous for its role in the story of Jesus' birth, but researchers have found it also kills ovarian cancer cells.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are estimated to have been 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed throughout 2013, and there were 14,030 deaths from the disease.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, increased urgency or frequency of urination, and difficultly eating or feeling full quickly.
However, previous research has shown that these symptoms can often be misdiagnosed, meaning the cancer is often diagnosed in its late stages.
The researchers note that in countries such as Oman, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late due to lack of visible symptoms and women's lack of knowledge on what symptoms to look out for.
They stress that these factors further emphasize the importance of their findings, in that frankincense may be able to treat the cancer in its late stages.
The researchers say they are looking to carry out more research to further understand exactly how the AKBA compound in frankincense kills cancer cells - another step toward clinical trials.
Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study detailing a new screening strategy that may lead to earlier detection of ovarian cancer.