The essential oils of four plants could help treat the damage that air pollution wreaks on our livers and lungs, according to a recent cellular study. The study was the first to evaluate the power of essential oil compounds to treat the inflammation caused by the fine particles in polluted air that are known to be carcinogenic.
Miriana Kfoury of the Unité de Chimie Environnementale et Interactions sur le Vivant in France and the Lebanese University led a team that focused on the anti-inflammatory properties of organic compounds called phenylpropanoids that are found in some essential oils. In their study, they used essential oils from trans-anethole (a flavor component of anise and fennel), estragole (found in basil), eugenol (which occurs in clove bud oil) and isoeugenol (contained in ylang ylang).
First, Kfoury and her colleagues collected samples of air pollutants from Beirut, Lebanon, and introduced them to human bronchial cell cultures and cancerous liver cells. They found that the air pollutants kicked off inflammation in both types of cells, causing them to secrete two different cytokines that boost inflammation. Next, the researchers added the essential oil compounds to the cells, and the levels of the two types of cytokines decreased by a lot—one by 96 percent and another by 87 percent.
"The findings provide the first evidence that natural essential oil components counteract the inflammatory effects of particulate matter, such as that contained in polluted air," Kfoury said in a release about the study from the publishers of the journal Environmental Chemistry and Letters, where the results appeared.
As more research is conducted on essential oil compounds, scientists are discovering more about their potential to fight disease. One study found that the components of the essential oil of lavender was effective at relieving migraine pain.