Use of Terpenes to promote healing, rejuvenation, and protection of skin and mucosal epithelium
Fredric J. Burns, PhD
Professor, Department of Environmental Medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center
Introduction and Background
Skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) and aphthous stomatitis (canker sores) as well as oral mucositis resulting from radiation and chemotherapy treatments often result in dryness, weakening, and inflammation of the epidermis and mucosal epithelium. These conditions can be extremely painful and, in the case of oral mucositis, can drastically impair orofacial function and hinder definitive cancer treatment. Current standard of care for oral mucositis is largely ineffective and consists of improved oral hygiene and mucosal coating agents. This absence of efficacious treatment highlights the need for new medicines that can rejuvenate and strengthen damaged epidermis and oral mucosa to effectively treat and/or prevent these painful conditions.
Through his research efforts, Dr. Burns has discovered that a class of compounds called terpenes, which are found in many common fruits and plants, can promote the rejuvenation of the epidermis. Terpene administration directs patterns of gene expression that support increased keratinocyte proliferation, keratin production, reduced inflammation, and protection from oxidative damage within the stratum corneum and related epidermal structures. Accordingly, terpenes may be used effectively to restore and improve skin and mucosal strength, thickness, and barrier functions in patients with atopic dermatitis or oral mucositis. Furthermore, Dr. Burns has shown that topical or oral administration of terpenes significantly reduced inflammation and damage caused by UV exposure in a mouse model, suggesting that terpenes may additionally be useful as a novel form of sunblock by providing lasting protection against UV radiation thus reducing the risk of skin cancers including melanoma.
Collectively, these findings suggest that terpens represent an important class of compounds with the potential to protect fragile epidermal and mucosal tissue and to treat a wide range of dermatological and mucosal conditions including:
- Oral and gastrointestinal mucositis resulting from radiation and chemotherapy treatment
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
- Aphthous stomatitis (canker sores)
- Dry/cracked and dehydrated skin
- Burns and excessive scarring
- Erythema and inflammation caused by UV exposure and oxidative damage
Terpenes, it turns out, are healthy for people as well as plants. A September 2011 report by Dr. Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology discussed the wide-ranging therapeutic attributes of terpenes.
Beta-caryophyllene, for example, is a sesquiterpene found in the essential oil of black pepper, oregano, and other edible herbs, as well as in various cannabis strains and in many green, leafy vegetables.
It is gastro-protective, good for treating certain ulcers, and offers great promise as a therapeutic compound for inflammatory conditions and auto-immune disorders because it binds directly to the peripheral cannabinoid receptor known as “CB2.”
In 2008, the Swiss scientist Jürg Gertsch documented beta-caryophyllene’s binding affinity for the CB2 receptor and described it as “a dietary cannabinoid.” It is the only terpenoid known to directly activate a cannabinoid receptor.
And it’s one of the reasons why green, leafy vegetables are so healthy to eat.
Terpenoids and cannabinoids both increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity, and kill respiratory pathogens, including MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that in recent years has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.
Dr. Russo’s article reports that cannabinoid-terpenoid interactions “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”