Lemongrass, sometimes written as lemon grass, is an herb commonly used both as a seasoning and as an ingredient in herbal teas. In recent years, Lemongrass has received a great deal of press surrounding its potential to treat or prevent cancer. This article explores the degree to which these claims have been verified by science, and the mechanisms through which it is thought lemongrass may be able to treat or prevent cancer.
Citral is the primary component of the essential oil of lemongrass, constituting well over half the total oil content. Citral is one of the many chemicals giving lemongrass its strong lemony aroma, and it is also found in lemons and a number of other lemon-scented herbs.
Citral has been studied for its potential to treat cancer, due to its ability to induce cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells. Cancer cells are able proliferate in part by deactivating the cell death program, which normally causes damaged or mutated cells to self-destruct. The work on citral inducing cell death in cancer cells comes from in vitro experiments (controlled laboratory experiments, as in test tubes or petri dishes), and these results have not been verified in human or animal studies. It is not known the degree to which these properties would actually carry through into humans drinking lemongrass tea or taking extracts of lemongrass as herbal supplements.
Citral also has been studied for other mechanisms of anti-cancer action. A study in rats found Citral to inhibit the formation of retinoic acid from retinol, a chemical reaction involved in the formation of skin tumors.
Other anti-cancer activity of Lemongrass:
Lemongrass also has a number of other active constituents with medicinal properties, including geraniol and citronellol. Some studies have looked at lemongrass as a whole, rather than its individual component chemicals. One study in rats found lemongrass to protect against the formation of cancer cells in the liver. There is also some evidence that lemongrass inhibits the formation of cancer in the digestive tract.
Lemongrass also has been found to have powerful antioxidant effects–stronger than the food preservatives BHA and BHT. Antioxidants are often touted as having the potential to prevent cancer, although these claims are controversial and not universally true. However, there are other benefits to antioxidants, including the prevention of spoilage of food. This benefit has been firmly established for lemongrass–the herb acts as a powerful natural preservative.
The research on lemongrass and its role in cancer prevention or treatment is young and inconclusive. However, there is some evidence that lemongrass may be useful for preventing or treating cancer. A number of different chemical components of the essential oil of lemongrass have been studied for anti-cancer properties, and a number of different anti-cancer mechanisms have been discussed.
Lemongrass has been studied in lab animals for its potential to prevent the formation of several different types of tumors and cancers, including colon cancer and cancer of the digestive tract, lung cancer, liver cancer, skin cancer and other a number of other types of tumors. In vitro experiments and some animals studies show promising results for prevention, and to some degree for treatment, but it has yet to be shown whether or not these benefits carry through into humans. In addition, dosages necessary to achieve any benefits in humans (if they exist) are also unknown.
Lemongrass is, however, safe for general consumption both as a seasoning and as an herbal tea, and no adverse effects have been documented from moderate use of lemongrass tea. In addition, it has a pleasing lemon scent. For people interested in cancer prevention, lemongrass certainly cannot hurt and might be worth a try.