"Frankincense 'fights cancer'," is the festive health headline from the Mail Online. The "aromatic substance from the Nativity story could help treat ovarian tumours," it says. The news is based on a University of Leicester press release entitled "Christmas gift brings treatment hope for cancer patients". In tests, Leicester University researchers found that a chemical in frankincense killed cells from hard-to-treat tumours.
Unfortunately, many more Christmases are likely to pass before anyone is treated with frankincense for ovarian cancer. This is because the news is based on positive early findings from research carried out on the AKBA compound found in frankincense and ovarian cancer cells in a lab.
The press release says the researchers have been able to show the ability of the compound to combat cancer cells in late-stage ovarian cancer. This is festive news, and the press team at the University of Leicester should be congratulated for their ingenuity.
However, limited conclusions can be drawn from the preliminary findings of this laboratory study as it is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. And some of the claims should not be taken at face value; in particular the press release's claim that frankincense has no known side effects. Such claims would need rigorous scientific evaluation before they could be verified.
This research is still at a very early stage and as the press release points out, frankincense is yet to be studied for the treatment of ovarian cancer in humans.
While the use of frankincense as a cancer cure may still be a long way off, you may be surprised to learn that all three of Jesus' nativity gifts have been explored for their medical properties.
Myrrh - another resinous compound - has apparently been tested for anti-inflammatory properties, but is not a recommended treatment.
More surprisingly, perhaps, injections of a gold compound can be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.