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  • Writer's picturePhilip Niño Tan-Gatue

Frankincense Kills Cancer Cells

Traditional Use of Frankincense

Frankincense has it’s uses in traditional medicine of various cultures.  While not native to China, frankincense has been adapted into the Chinese Materia Medica.  I had previously blogged about it in my previous post. (link) It is traditionally used like other aromatic herbs – to clear stagnations and quite frankly (no pun intended), to get things “moving”.

Currently, I would like to show at least one bit of research that shows evidence for use of frankincense in cancer treatment.

The Study

According to research published in 2009 (link), the oil derived from the frankincense gum resin has long been known to have anti-neoplastic properties.  The goal of the study was to, and I quote, “evaluate frankincense oil for its anti-tumor activity and signaling pathways in bladder cancer cells.” (Frank, 2009).

The stated methods were:

Frankincense oil-induced cell viability was investigated in human bladder cancer J82 cells and immortalized normal bladder urothelial UROtsa cells. Temporal regulation of frankincense oil-activated gene expression in bladder cancer cells was identified by microarray and bioinformatics analysis. (Frank, 2009)

What this means is that they wanted to check how the oil affected the ability of certain types of bladder cancer cells and normal bladder cells.

Immortal Beloved?

“Immortalized” might be confusing to the casual reader.  What it means is that the particular cells don’t “grow old” anymore and die.  They just keep on dividing.  Unlike cancerous cells though, they maintain their genetic code and don’t become mutant monster cells.  If individual cells are normal human beings, then cancer cells are all those zombies you see in walking dead movies.  Immortalized cells mean they don’t die, but still remain normal human beings.

Gene Expression

It was postulated that instead of killing cells directly, frankincense oil affects gene expression.  All cells have genes that regulate it’s activities.  Viruses work by hijacking cells and inserting it’s own genetic code, thus using the cell’s own mechanisms to express it’s genes instead of the cells.  Hence, ways to stop viruses include ways to prevent it’s code from being expressed, or manifested.  Another way is to activate genes that tell the cell to go kill itself, a process called apoptosis.  The same thing can be done with cancer cells.

Normal cells grow old and are pre-programmed to die, giving way to new cells.  Cancer cells don’t do that.  Virus infected cells die when they burst, releasing new viruses.  If only there was a way to get virus infected cells to bite the bucket before they release their cargo.  Normally we have white blood cells to help with that.  But sometimes the good guys need backup.  That’s where altering gene expression comes in.

Long story short, the frankincense oil has an effect on the evil zombie mutant cancer cells but not on the good guy cells.  It activates  the genes that stop the cell cycle, that triggers cell growth suppression, and activates apoptosis.  Namely, it stops the cancer cells from going on with their daily lives, from growing, and it induces the cell suicide genes.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The fun part is that frankincense oil only does this to the BAD guys.  The problem with conventional chemotherapy is that it hits all dividing cells indiscriminately.  It’s like having a dude with a machine gun spraying bullets all around.  It’ll kill the bad guys, but take down some good guys too.

In this case, we have a set of guided missiles that hit only the bad guys.  Or you could say, holy water that burns the baddies but blesses the good guys.

However, the study also says that we don’t drink the oil to kill cancer cells.  They must be used “intravesically”.  This means that we put the oil into the bladder using a catheter.

Not fun.

But better than having bladder cancer take it’s toll.


Frank, et al. Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2009 Mar 18;9:6. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-9-6. (

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