The Effects of Frankincense Essential Oil on Stress in Rats

J Oleo Sci. 2019;68(10):1003-1009. doi: 10.5650/jos.ess19114.


Frankincense essential oil, obtained from Boswellia carteri, is a popular essential oil, which is widely used in many parts of the world. While some of its properties are known, its effects on stress and sleep have not been studied. The effects of frankincense essential oil and its major components, limonene and α-pinene, on plasma corticosterone and glutathione (GSH) levels, as well as on sleep and wakefulness behaviour, were studied in sleep-deprived rats. The substances were applied topically after dilution in jojoba oil (vehicle). As compared to vehicle, frankincense essential oil at a dilution of 1/1000 (1:103) significantly reduced corticosterone levels (p < 0.05). In contrast, its major constituents (α-pinene and limonene), elevated levels of this stress hormone. Frankincense, limonene and α-pinene, all led to significant reductions in plasma GSH levels. Although frankincense dose-dependently reduced plasma concentrations of antioxidant ions albeit to levels insufficient to neutralize oxidative stress; levels of products of oxidative metabolism metabolites were decreased by the frankincense. In sleep-deprived rats, frankincense 1:103 respectively increased and decreased the amount of wakefulness and non-rapid eye movement sleep. Frankincense essential oil can counter the effects of stress by effectively relieving sleep debt and maintaining antioxidant capacity without increasing oxidative stress, and, therefore, may be beneficial in the management of stress.

Keywords: corticosterone; frankincense essential oil; glutathione (GSH); oxidant stress; sleep.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / isolation & purification
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Boswellia / chemistry
  • Frankincense / chemistry
  • Frankincense / isolation & purification
  • Frankincense / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Oils, Volatile / chemistry
  • Oils, Volatile / isolation & purification
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Stress, Physiological / drug effects*


  • Antioxidants
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Frankincense