If you know bergamot at all, you probably know it as the exquisite added flavor that makes Earl Grey tea a favorite of tea-drinkers who know their stuff.
Because of its delightful fragrance, the essential oil of bergamot has also been added to perfumes and cosmetics since at least 1714. It’s even used in aromatherapy and massage therapy for its calming and soothing effects. Aromatherapists say it relieves anxiety, depression and tension.
Research now shows this essential oil does far more than that. It prevents liver, colon and skin cancer cells from growing, and helps manage cancer pain.
The oil can be traced back to Italy, and is named after a town there — Bergamo. It starts life as a delicate white blossom on a small citrus tree, emerging into a fruit that’s yellowish in color and shaped like a pear. The essential oil is extracted from the rind.
You can use it – safely – to help roll back cancer and even ease cancer pain…
Although it’s a hybrid of the lemon, the citrus fruit from which the Italians extract the oil is called the bergamot orange. Its scientific name is Citrus bergamia. And it doesn’t much resemble the type of oranges you’re used to.
But orange or not, you’re going to want to know more about not only the oil, but the juice, too . .
Bergamot juice diminishes liver and colon cancer cells
Among cancers, hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) is the third leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. It’s expected to continue to increase in the coming years.
Since eating natural foods regularly can play an important role in the prevention of cancer, researchers at the University of Messina in Italy investigated the effects of bergamot juice (BJ) in human liver cancer cells.
This study, published in Life Sciences in 2016, focused on BJ’s antiproliferative activity–the ability to prevent malignant cells from spreading into surrounding tissues.
“Our results demonstrate BJ reduces liver cancer cell growth by causing it to self-destruct (apoptosis). BJ also increases certain proteins that may be responsible for liver cancer cells to die,” states Nadia Ferlazzo, lead researcher.
This data reveals bergamot juice’s ability to slow the growth rate of liver cancer cells and suggests it has a promising role as an anticancer drug. The study was conducted on cancer cells cultured in the lab, so confirming studies are needed in animals and humans. And we have a few more hints of where those studies will take us…
Kills colon cancer cells
In a study published in Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, scientists examined bergamot juice extracts in colorectal cancer. Many studies show that, in general, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some cancers, including CRC.
In this study, the scientists documented the extract’s ability to prevent human colon cancer cells from increasing and spreading by causing the cells to commit apoptosis.
Their results point to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of bergamot juice extract. The flavonoid element of bergamot juice may play a role in fighting cancer.
Bergamot counteracts UV ray damage to the skin
The skin contains many antioxidants to provide protection from normal free radical damage. But overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation reduces the skin’s antioxidant supply, allowing free radicals to reach damaging levels.
Photoaging (damage to the skin caused by long-term sun exposure) is the reason for most age-associated changes in the skin’s appearance, such as wrinkles, age spots and even skin cancer.
Since the occurrence of skin cancer and other skin conditions related to UV radiation is increasing at an alarming rate every year, researchers from the University of Catanzaro in Italy and the University of Colorado in Denver examined bergamot as a possible solution.
They saw bergamot’s antioxidant properties counteract the damaging effects of UV radiation. It could wind up as a way to prevent cancer and aging of the skin.
The researchers also discovered two of the major flavonoids in bergamot–hesperetin and naringenin–show significant protection from radiation-induced cell damage in the skin. The study demonstrated the protective ability of both flavonoids, which easily absorb into the deeper layers of the skin.
The authors believe their flavonoid-rich extracts of bergamot can be applied to the skin OR taken by mouth to protect the skin from photoaging, and potentially from cancer.
Bergamot oil stops neuroblastoma cell growth
Besides preventing liver, colon and skin cancer cells from growing, bergamot oil contains compounds that restrict neuroblastoma cells from increasing. Neuroblastoma are malignant tumors usually found on the adrenal glands.
An Italian study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacologyin 2015 explored five different types of bergamot essential oils on a human neuroblastoma cell line. The researchers observed that these oils decreased the growing and spreading of the cancer cells by inducing cell death.
They also detected that the compounds responsible for preventing the neuroblastoma cells from growing are bergamottin and 5-geranyloxy-7-methoxycoumarin. Both compounds possess anti-cancer properties.
“Our study provides novel insights into the anti-spreading effects of BEO [bergamot essential oils], which could be applied in a multi-targeted drug strategy,” states Michele Navarra, head researcher.
Bergamot oil helps manage cancer pain
Earlier I mentioned that bergamot essential oil can reduce cancer pain. We shouldn’t be surprised. In complementary medicine, a number of essential oils have been used to reduce agitation and aggression, manage depression, improve mood and help relieve chronic pain.
Researchers in Italy conducted a study at the University of Calabria. That’s the region where the town of Bergamo is located and where the fruit is grown. Their aim was to assess bergamot oil’s ability to minimize symptoms of cancer pain. And indeed it turned out that the essential oil enables the release of amino acids to the brain’s neurotransmitters to lessen the sensitivity of the nerves that create pain.
We need to know more before we can say this is an important new pain remedy. But the study does show that bergamot essential oil may be helpful.
Another recent study in Italy investigated bergamot essential oil’s ability to reduce cancer pain. The researchers found the essential oils adjust the brain’s sensitivity to pain from two sources.
One pain source is from tumors crowding and squeezing other body parts or blocking blood flow. The other source is actual nerve damage produced by a tumor pressing on a nerve.
In an animal study, when the researchers added the oils to morphine for pain, a lower dose of morphine was needed to reduce the pain when compared to morphine alone.
This data indicates bergamot essential oil contains pain-reducing properties to assist in complementary medicine.
How to take advantage of bergamot’s benefits
I don’t know that you’re getting much of a bergamot dose when you drink Earl Grey tea, but it can’t do any harm!
You can also use the essential oil as incense or in a vaporizer. Or add it to bath water to inhale its citrus scent for a relaxing and calming aroma. (Some will probably be absorbed through the skin as well.)
Another idea, if you get regular massages, is to ask your massage therapist to try a bergamot-scented oil. The only thing I would mention is that many massage therapists have definite ideas of their own about what oil is best (people often have allergic reactions and therapists have to take that into account.)
That said, bergamot oil is safe for most people when added to food or applied topically in small amounts. If applied directly to the skin, it may make the skin sensitive to the sun, so check with your physician or naturopath first.
Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should also check with their doctor before using any essential oil – or any other natural remedy or OTC drug. It’s not that they’re dangerous, but these things have rarely been studied for their possible effects on babies. Experts just don’t know for sure.
- Hepatocellular carcinoma.
- NF-κB mediates the antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects of bergamot juice in HepG2 cells.
- Bergamot juice extract inhibits proliferation by inducing apoptosis in human colon cancer cells.
- Bergamot polyphenolic fraction counteracts photoageing in human keratinocytes.
- Effects of bergamot essential oil and its extractive fractions on SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cell growth.
- Neuropharmacology of the essential oil of bergamot.
- Rational basis for the use of bergamot essential oil in complementary medicine to treat chronic pain.