Typically, “lemongrass” conjures an image of a favorite flavorful curry at a favorite Thai restaurant, or perhaps its fresh citrusy aroma that makes it the perfect addition to a homemade household cleaner.
On the other hand, very few people would admit that they recognize lemongrass as a “potential cancer treatment,” but that’s exactly what a recent study is aiming to prove. While it’s a very preliminary piece of research, the findings published in Pharmacognosy Communications may very well reshape the way we see lemongrass in the future.
Study Shows Lemongrass Extract Kills Cancer Cells
At a university in India, researcher Kavisa Ghosh conducted a study to find out how lemongrass extract interacted with two different cell lines commonly used in cancer research: HeLa and ME-180, which are both cervical cancer cells. The tests involved using lemongrass oil and citral emulsion, one compound found in lemongrass.
In this lab study, lemongrass oil and citral emulsion both had significant effects. Both substances decreased the proliferation, or separation and spread, of the cells, while also increasing intracellular ROS (oxidative stress) on the cancer cells, changing the potential of the mitochondrial membrane (the “power house” of the cells) and causing apoptosis (programmed cell death).
The study’s abstract ends with the author’s conclusion that, “All the results suggest lemongrass oil and citral emulsion could be considered as potent candidates for anticancer agents.” (1)
This isn’t the first time that lemongrass has been effective in killing cancer cells in a lab. Overall, lemongrass and/or its components have been shown to potentially slow or stop:
- Cervical cancer (1, 2)
- Prostate cancer (2)
- Breast cancer (3, 4)
- Ovarian cancer (4)
- Liver cancer (4)
- Skin cancer (5)
- Sarcoma (bone/soft tissue cancer) (6)
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Now, while these results are exciting and hopeful, it’s important to understand that these studies have been completed using either cells in a lab or animal models. No human subjects—or cancer patients, in particular—have undergone trials to see if this effect translates to the human body. So I want to make it clear that you should not try substituting lemongrass oil or lemongrass tea for cancer treatments recommended by your oncologist.
However, this is the first step towards potentially developing a lemongrass-based treatment for cancer that might be potent and efficient while also free of the side effects common with conventional cancer medicines.
What are the proven benefits of lemongrass?
Lemongrass and its compounds are well-known for their antibacterial, antiseptic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which explains why integrating lemongrass essential oil and tea into your daily routine is such a good idea.
Some of the many benefits of lemongrass include:
Antifungal: Multiple studies find that lemongrass oil helps to kill off fungus like Candida in lab experiments. (7, 8) A pilot study in humans found it may also be effective against Malessezia spp., a fungus that causes white patches on the skin, without the side effects associated with common medications traditionally used to treat the condition. (9) Lemongrass oil may also be able to kill fungi such as C. tropicalis and Aspergillus niger. (10)
Anti-parasitic: Also in lab studies, lemongrass essential oil is an anti-parasitic agent against the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite. (11)
Antiviral: A study conducted in rats in 2014 found that lemongrass oil and citral successfully protected the animals against the norovirus, the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in humans. (12)
Antimicrobial: A human study in India found a solution of 2 percent lemongrass essential oil in gel form was effective in preventing further infection in patients with periodontal disease (infections of the gums). (13) This might be partly due to the fact lemongrass has potent antimicrobial power against S. mutans, a bacteria commonly responsible for infections of the mouth. (14) Although it had incredible antimicrobial benefits that may help with various infections, lemongrass oil isn’t safe to be used internally on its own. However, some researchers are working to develop vehicles for lemongrass that would be safe for internal use, such as nanocapsules. (15)
Anti-inflammatory: Researchers at an Algerian university discovered lemongrass essential oil was effective in reducing skin inflammation in mice. (10)
Anti-anxiety: Some small human studies have discovered that inhalation of lemongrass oil helps to quell anxious reactions to stimuli and improve the recovery time for people exposed to stress-inducing situations. (16)
Sleep aid: Animal studies have found that lemongrass essential oil may help increase sleep time in rats. (17)
How to Use Lemongrass
There are two main ways to get the benefits of lemongrass in your daily life: lemongrass essential oil and lemongrass tea.
Lemongrass tea is available online and through many major retailers. The taste is reminiscent of lemon, but sweeter and less strong, making for a delicious herbal tea that pairs well with just a bit of honey. Many people use lemongrass tea for healthy digestion and to support their body’s disease-fighting defenses.
To take advantage of some of the great things lemongrass can do, such as potentially calming anxiety or improving sleep, you can also use lemongrass essential oil. Use 4-5 drops in a diffuser to breathe in the aromatic power of this popular oil, or dilute it in a carrier oil and use it topically to kill off external bacteria. As an antibacterial essential oil, lemongrass might be just the ingredient you’re looking for when mixing up a homemade hand soap.
It’s important to note that lemongrass essential oil is not to be ingested, as it is associated with various side effects including liver issues and allergic reactions.
Even though this research is in its infancy, the results of the studies testing lemongrass’ effects on cancer are extremely promising. While you should not use lemongrass as a cancer treatment yet—as it has not been established scientifically as a treatment effective in humans—it may still be a great idea to harness the healing power of lemongrass by integrating it into your daily life.