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Biological effects of essential oils – A review

Biological effects of essential oils – A review

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Review
Biological effects of essential oils – A review
F. Bakkali
a,b
, S. Averbeck
a
, D. Averbeck
a,*
, M. Idaomar
b
a
Institut Curie-Section de Recherche, UMR2027 CNRS/IC, LCR V28 CEA, Baˆ t. 110, Centre Universitaire, 91405 Orsay cedex, France
b
Universite´ Abdelmalek Essaˆ adi, Faculte´ des Sciences, Laboratoire de Biologie et Sante´ , BP 2121, Te´ touan, Morocco
Received 29 December 2006; accepted 21 September 2007
Abstract
Since the middle ages, essential oils have been widely used for bactericidal, virucidal, fungicidal, antiparasitical, insecticidal, medicinaland cosmetic applications, especially nowadays in pharmaceutical, sanitary, cosmetic, agricultural and food industries. Because of themode of extraction, mostly by distillation from aromatic plants, they contain a variety of volatile molecules such as terpenes and terpe-noids, phenol-derived aromatic components and aliphatic components.
In vitro
physicochemical assays characterise most of them as anti-oxidants. However, recent work shows that in eukaryotic cells, essential oils can act as prooxidants affecting inner cell membranes andorganelles such as mitochondria. Depending on type and concentration, they exhibit cytotoxic effects on living cells but are usually non-genotoxic. In some cases, changes in intracellular redox potential and mitochondrial dysfunction induced by essential oils can be asso-ciated with their capacity to exert antigenotoxic effects. These findings suggest that, at least in part, the encountered beneficial effects of essential oils are due to prooxidant effects on the cellular level.
Ó
2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords:
Essential oil; Cytotoxicity; Genotoxicity; Antigenotoxicity; Prooxidant activity
Contents
1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4472. Chemical composition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4472.1. Terpenes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4492.2. Aromatic compounds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4493. Biological effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4493.1. Cytotoxicity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4493.2. Phototoxicity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4553.3. Nuclear mutagenicity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4553.4. Cytoplasmic mutagenicity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4613.5. Carcinogenicity of the essential oils. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4623.6. Antimutagenic properties of essential oils . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4624. Underlying mechanisms: mitochondrial damage and prooxidant cytotoxic effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4635. Specificity of essential oils . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4666. Synergism between the components of essential oils . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4667. Medicinal and future medical applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 466Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 467References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 467
0278-6915/$ - see front matter
Ó
2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.fct.2007.09.106
*
Corresponding author. Tel.: +33 169867188; fax: +33 169869429.
E-mail address:
www.elsevier.com/locate/foodchemtox
 Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
Food and Chemical Toxicology 46 (2008) 446–475
 
1. Introduction
Essential oils are volatile, natural, complex compoundscharacterized by a strong odour and are formed by aro-matic plants as secondary metabolites. They are usuallyobtained by steam or hydro-distillation first developed inthe Middle Ages by Arabs. Known for their antiseptic,i.e. bactericidal, virucidal and fungicidal, and medicinalproperties and their fragrance, they are used in embalment,preservation of foods and as antimicrobial, analgesic, sed-ative, anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic and locally anesthe-sic remedies. Up to the present day, these characteristicshave not changed much except that more is now knownabout some of their mechanisms of action, particularly atthe antimicrobial level.In nature, essential oils play an important role in theprotection of the plants as antibacterials, antivirals, anti-fungals, insecticides and also against herbivores by reduc-ing their appetite for such plants. They also may attractsome insects to favour the dispersion of pollens and seeds,or repel undesirable others.Essential oils are extracted from various aromatic plantsgenerally localized in temperate to warm countries likeMediterranean and tropical countries where they representan important part of the traditional pharmacopoeia. Theyare liquid, volatile, limpid and rarely coloured, lipid solubleand soluble in organic solvents with a generally lower den-sity than that of water. They can be synthesized by all plantorgans, i.e. buds, flowers, leaves, stems, twigs, seeds, fruits,roots, wood or bark, and are stored in secretory cells, cav-ities, canals, epidermic cells or glandular trichomes.There are several methods for extracting essential oils.These may include use of liquid carbon dioxide or micro-waves, and mainly low or high pressure distillation employ-ing boiling water or hot steam. Due to their bactericidaland fungicidal properties, pharmaceutical and food usesare more and more widespread as alternatives to syntheticchemical products to protect the ecological equilibrium. Inthose cases, extraction by steam distillation or by expres-sion, for example for Citrus, is preferred. For perfume uses,extraction with lipophilic solvents and sometimes withsupercritical carbon dioxide is favoured. Thus, the chemi-cal profile of the essential oil products differs not only inthe number of molecules but also in the stereochemicaltypes of molecules extracted, according to the type of extraction, and the type of extraction is chosen accordingto the purpose of the use. The extraction product can varyin quality, quantity and in composition according to cli-mate, soil composition, plant organ, age and vegetativecycle stage (Masotti et al., 2003; Angioni et al., 2006). So,in order to obtain essential oils of constant composition,they have to be extracted under the same conditions fromthe same organ of the plant which has been growing onthe same soil, under the same climate and has been pickedin the same season. Most of the commercialized essentialoils are chemotyped by gas chromatography and massspectrometry analysis. Analytical monographs have beenpublished (European pharmacopoeia, ISO, WHO, Councilof Europe;Smith et al., 2005) to ensure good quality of essential oils.Essential oils have been largely employed for their prop-erties already observed in nature, i.e. for their antibacterial,antifungal and insecticidal activities. At present, approxi-mately 3000 essential oils are known, 300 of which arecommercially important especially for the pharmaceutical,agronomic, food, sanitary, cosmetic and perfume indus-tries. Essential oils or some of their components are usedin perfumes and make-up products, in sanitary products,in dentistry, in agriculture, as food preservers and addi-tives, and as natural remedies. For example, d-limonene,geranyl acetate or d-carvone are employed in perfumes,creams, soaps, as flavour additives for food, as fragrancesfor household cleaning products and as industrial solvents.Moreover, essential oils are used in massages as mixtureswith vegetal oil or in baths but most frequently inaromatherapy. Some essential oils appear to exhibit partic-ular medicinal properties that have been claimed to cureone or another organ dysfunction or systemic disorder(Silva et al., 2003; Hajhashemi et al., 2003; Perry et al.,2003).Owing to the new attraction for natural products likeessential oils, despite their wide use and being familiar tous as fragrances, it is important to develop a better under-standing of their mode of biological action for new applica-tions in human health, agriculture and the environment.Some of them constitute effective alternatives or comple-ments to synthetic compounds of the chemical industry,without showing the same secondary effects (Carson andRiley, 2003).
2. Chemical composition
Essential oils are very complex natural mixtures whichcan contain about 20–60 components at quite different con-centrations. They are characterized by two or three majorcomponents at fairly high concentrations (20–70%) com-pared to others components present in trace amounts.For example, carvacrol (30%) and thymol (27%) are themajor components of the
Origanum compactum
essentialoil, linalol (68%) of the
Coriandrum sativum
essential oil,
a
- and
b
-thuyone (57%) and camphor (24%) of the
Artemi-sia herba-alba
essential oil, 1,8-cineole (50%) of the
Cinna-momum camphora
essential oil,
a
-phellandrene (36%) andlimonene (31%) of leaf and carvone (58%) and limonene(37%) of seed
Anethum graveolens
essential oil, menthol(59%) and menthone (19%) of 
Mentha piperita
(=
Men-tha
·
piperita
) essential oil. Generally, these major compo-nents determine the biological properties of the essentialoils. The components include two groups of distinct bio-synthetical origin (Croteau et al., 2000; Betts, 2001; Bowles,2003; Pichersky et al., 2006). The main group is composedof terpenes and terpenoids and the other of aromatic andaliphatic constituents, all characterized by low molecularweight (seeFig. 1).
F. Bakkali et al. / Food and Chemical Toxicology 46 (2008) 446–475
447
 
1. Terpenes
-Monoterpenes
Carbure monocyclicCarbure bicyclic
Cymene (y) or p.cymene SabineneAlpha-pineneBetapinene
OHH
2
C
Phenol
CarvacrolThymol
OHOHOH
Alcohol acyclic
CitronellolGeraniol-Sesquerpitenes
Carbure
Farnesol
OHH
2
CHH
Alcohol
Caryophyllene
2. Aromatic compounds
HOOHOHOHOCH
3
CH
2
Aldehyde
Cinnamaldehyde
Alcohol
Cinnamyl alcohol
Phenol
Chavicol
Phenol
Eugenol
OCH
3
Methoxy derivative
Anethole
Methoxy derivative
Estragole
Methylene dioxy compound
Safrole
OO
3. Terpenoides (Isoprenoides)
OO
OH
AscaridoleMenthol
OCH
3
Fig. 1. Chemical structures of selected components of essential oils.448
F. Bakkali et al. / Food and Chemical Toxicology 46 (2008) 446–475

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