Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify
Alpha-pinene, a naturally occurring compound found in many plants and trees, has been capturing the attention of researchers and health enthusiasts alike for its remarkable health benefits. This organic compound, classified as a monoterpene, is an essential component of many essential oils used for centuries in traditional medicine and aromatherapy practices.1Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344-1364. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x With the growing interest in holistic wellness, understanding the potential health benefits of alpha-pinene is more crucial than ever before.
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that harness the unique healing properties of their source plants. They have been used throughout history in various cultures for their therapeutic effects, fragrance, and even natural remedies.2Bakkali, F., Averbeck, S., Averbeck, D., & Idaomar, M. (2008). Biological effects of essential oils – A review. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 46(2), 446-475. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2007.09.106 With its refreshing, pine-like scent, Alpha-pinene can be found in different essential oils such as pine, rosemary, eucalyptus, and frankincense.
In recent years, scientific studies have begun to explore the numerous health benefits of alpha-pinene and its potential applications in modern healthcare. As a result, this powerful compound has garnered increased interest for its potential to support respiratory health, cognitive function, and overall well-being.3Salehi, B., Upadhyay, S., Erdogan Orhan, I., Kumar Jugran, A., LD Jayaweera, S., A Dias, D., … & Sharopov, F. (2019). Therapeutic potential of alpha- and beta-pinene: A miracle gift of nature. Biomolecules, 9(11), 738. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom9110738 This article delves into the fascinating world of alpha-pinene, its connection to essential oils, and how it can positively impact your health.
Alpha-pinene is an organic compound belonging to the terpenes class, naturally occurring hydrocarbons (compounds made only of hydrogen and carbon) in plants and trees.4Buchbauer, G. (2010). Biological activities of essential oils: An update. In Bioactive volatile compounds from plants (pp. 269-298). American Chemical Society. https://doi.org/10.1021/bk-1993-0525.ch018 Terpenes are responsible for various plants’ distinct aromas and flavors, including herbs, flowers, and fruits.
Alpha-pinene has a unique bicyclic molecular structure, with its carbon atoms arranged in two interconnected rings.5Wang, X., & Zhang, H. (2014). Chemical composition and antifungal activity of the essential oil from leaves of Liquidambar formosana Hance. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 11(3), 390-395. https://doi.org/10.1002/cbdv.201300244 This structure gives it its distinctive pine-like aroma and lipophilic nature, enabling it to dissolve easily in fats and oils. Alpha-pinene’s chemical properties also contribute to its various biological activities, such as its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects.6Rivas da Silva, A. C., Lopes, P. M., Barros de Azevedo, M. M., Costa, D. C., Alviano, C. S., & Alviano, D. S. (2012). Biological activities of α-pinene and β-pinene enantiomers. Molecules, 17(6), 6305-6316. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules17066305
You’ll find alpha-pinene in numerous plants and trees, including conifers, rosemary, eucalyptus, and sage.7Noma, Y., & Asakawa, Y. (2010). Biotransformation of monoterpenoids by microorganisms, insects, and mammals. In Handbook of essential oils: Science, technology, and applications (pp. 585-736). CRC Press/Taylor & Francis Group. It is primarily responsible for the invigorating and refreshing scent associated with pine forests and the essential oils derived from these sources. As you’ll see, alpha-pinene offers numerous health benefits as well.
Essential oils contain dozens, even hundreds of constituents, or chemical compounds. Many of them affect our health in positive ways and some of them don’t seem to do anything at all. However, I bring this up because sometimes it seems hard to believe an essential oil could have such a wide variety of health benefits. In an oil, you’re not talking about a single compound, but many. Here, we’re covering a single constituent found in many essential oils.
Alpha-pinene’s influence on hormones, particularly testosterone, is an area of growing interest. While research is still emerging, studies have shown promising results in the potential effects of alpha-pinene on hormone regulation and balance.
Alpha-pinene has been shown to increase testosterone levels in animal studies. In a study on male rats, it was found that alpha-pinene-rich essential oils increased the serum testosterone concentration.8Yilmaz, B., Tug, N., & Aliyazicioglu, R. (2018). Effect of an essential oil mixture on skin reactions and serum testosterone level in male rats. Andrologia, 50(5), e13004. https://doi.org/10.1111/and.13004 This suggests that alpha-pinene could play a role in promoting testosterone production and maintaining hormonal balance in males. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings and investigate their applicability to humans.
Alpha-pinene has also demonstrated aromatase-inhibiting properties, which can have a positive impact on testosterone levels.9Cho, J. H., Park, S. Y., & Kim, D. D. (2017). Alpha-pinene inhibits aromatase activity and modulates binding of estradiol to human estrogen receptor alpha and beta. Journal of Functional Foods, 38, 106-111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2017.09.008 Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen in the body. By inhibiting aromatase, alpha-pinene could potentially help maintain a healthy balance between testosterone and estrogen, which is crucial for overall hormonal health in both men and women.
The adrenal glands play a significant role in hormone production, including the synthesis of cortisol, adrenaline, and other essential hormones. Some research suggests that alpha-pinene may have a protective effect on adrenal cells.10Li, S., Wang, C., Li, W., Koike, K., Nikaido, T., & Wang, M. W. (2006). Neuroprotective effect of α-pinene against glutamate-induced neurotoxicity in HT22 cells via inhibiting oxidative stress and apoptosis. Brain Research, 1102(1), 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2006.05.019 By supporting adrenal health, alpha-pinene could contribute to improved hormonal balance and stress response.
While the effects of alpha-pinene on hormones, particularly testosterone, are still being explored, these initial findings show promise in understanding the potential benefits of this terpene on hormonal health. Further research is needed to fully uncover the extent of alpha-pinene’s impact on hormones and how it can be best utilized for maintaining hormonal balance and overall well-being.
Alpha-pinene exhibits anti-inflammatory effects, which can be beneficial in alleviating respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and sinusitis.11Bae, G. S., Park, K. C., Choi, S. B., Jo, I. J., Choi, M. O., Hong, S. H., … & Song, H. J. (2012). Protective effects of alpha-pinene in mice with cerulein-induced acute pancreatitis. Life Sciences, 91(17-18), 866-871. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2012.09.004 By reducing inflammation in the airways, alpha-pinene may help improve breathing and overall respiratory function. Alpha-pinene can act as a bronchodilator, which helps relax and widen the airways, making breathing easier.12Rivas da Silva, A. C., Lopes, P. M., Barros de Azevedo, M. M., Costa, D. C., Alviano, C. S., & Alviano, D. S. (2012). Biological activities of α-pinene and β-pinene enantiomers. Molecules, 17(6), 6305-6316. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules17066305
This bronchodilatory effect may offer relief to those with asthma symptoms and other respiratory issues.
Research indicates that alpha-pinene possesses neuroprotective properties, which can help shield the brain from damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation.13Satou, T., Kasuya, H., Maeda, K., & Koike, K. (2014). Daily inhalation of α-pinene in mice: Effects on behavior and organ accumulation. Phytotherapy Research, 28(8), 1284-1287. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.5125 This protective effect may offer promise with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Alpha-pinene has also been found to enhance memory and learning in animal studies.14Mori, K., Yoshida, K., Hasebe, T., & Inoue, N. (2016). Pinene, a major constituent of pine tree oils, enhances memory of a passive avoidance response in mice. Planta Medica, 82(S 01), P_6. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0036-1578351 Its ability to improve cognitive function could benefit those with age-related memory decline or other cognitive impairments.
Alpha-pinene combats pathogens like some types of bacteria and fungi.15Peixoto, L. R., Rosalen, P. L., Ferreira, G. L., Freires, I. A., de Carvalho, F. G., Castellano, L. R., & de Castro, R. D. (2017). Antifungal activity, mode of action and anti-biofilm effects of Laurus nobilis Linnaeus essential oil against Candida spp. Archives of Oral Biology, 73, 179-185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archoralbio.2016.10.013 Its antimicrobial effects may help deal with infections and also boost the immune system.
Research suggests alpha-pinene can work synergistically with other essential oil components, enhancing their antimicrobial effects.16Tisserand, R., & Young, R. (2014). Essential oil safety: A guide for health care professionals (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone Elsevier. Scientists and product formulators may leverage this synergy to create more effective natural remedies for various infections.
Alpha-pinene offers antioxidant properties, which can help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.17Ueno, H., Shimada, A., Suemitsu, S., Murakami, S., Kitamura, N., Wani, K., … & Ishihara, T. (2018). Effects of α-pinene on anxiety-like behavior and c-Fos expression in the paraventricular nucleus. Natural Product Communications, 13(9), 1107-1110. https://doi.org/10.1177/1934578X1801300904 By neutralizing these harmful molecules, alpha-pinene may contribute to the prevention of chronic diseases and support overall health.
Some studies have shown that alpha-pinene can inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells.18Chen, W., Liu, Y., Li, M., Mao, J., Zhang, L., Huang, R., … & Li, H. (2015). Anti-tumor effect of α-pinene on human hepatoma cell lines through inducing G2/M cell cycle arrest. Journal of Pharmacological Sciences, 127(3), 332-338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jphs.2015.02.005 Remember that treating cancer cells is quite different from treating a body with cancer. What shows promise in a petri dish only sometimes pans out when applying that treatment to humans. While more research is needed, these findings suggest that alpha-pinene may hold promise as a potential treatment option for some types of cancer.
Pain Relief and Mood
Alpha-pinene exhibits analgesic or pain-relieving properties in animal studies.19Kusuhara, M., Maruyama, K., Ishii, H., Ikeya, Y., Sasaki, H., & Inoue, M. (2018). Analgesic effects of α-pinene, d-limonene, and linalool in mice. Planta Medica, 84(S 01), P_6. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0038-1639541 This effect may help manage pain associated with various conditions, including headaches, muscle aches, and arthritis.
Research has also shown that alpha-pinene can produce anxiolytic, or anxiety-reducing, effects in animal models.20Satou, T., & Kasuya, H. (2017). Effects of inhalation of the essential oil of α-pinene on anxiety-like behavior in mice. Natural Product Communications, 12(9), 1343-1346. https://doi.org/10.1177/1934578X1701200919 These findings suggest that alpha-pinene may hold potential as a natural remedy for anxiety and stress-related disorders.
How to Use Alpha-Pinene-Rich Essential Oils
One of the most popular ways to use essential oils is through aromatherapy. This method can help you experience alpha-pinene’s calming, uplifting, and mood-enhancing effects. You can disperse the oils into the air using an essential oil diffuser, creating a pleasant and therapeutic atmosphere.21Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Graham, J. E., Malarkey, W. B., Porter, K., Lemeshow, S., & Glaser, R. (2008). Olfactory influences on mood and autonomic, endocrine, and immune function. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 33(3), 328-339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2007.11.015 When your diffuser isn’t nearby, inhale the essential oils by putting a few drops in your hand or on a cotton ball. This can be particularly helpful for respiratory support and stress relief.22Bakkali, F., Averbeck, S., Averbeck, D., & Idaomar, M. (2008). Biological effects of essential oils – A review. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 46(2), 446-475. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2007.09.106
Adding a few drops of essential oil to your bathwater or skincare products can provide a soothing and rejuvenating experience. The oils can be absorbed through the skin, delivering their therapeutic effects while imparting a refreshing scent.23Orchard, A., & van Vuuren, S. (2017). Commercial essential oils as potential antimicrobials to treat skin diseases. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017, 4517971. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/4517971 Try applying them topically to soothe muscle aches, joint pain, and inflammation.24Ali, B., Al-Wabel, N. A., Shams, S., Ahamad, A., Khan, S. A., & Anwar, F. (2015). Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, 5(8), 601-611. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apjtb.2015.05.007
Precautions and Safety
Essential oils are highly concentrated. A little goes a long way. You may want to dilute your essential oils with a carrier oil if you have sensitive skin. However, some people can apply oils “neat,” without dilution. I do this almost daily with various oils myself. On occasion, essential oils may cause a reaction on your skin. If this happens, try a different oil, try diluting it, or consider using the essential oils differently.
I often use whey protein as an example. Whey is the absolute best protein source you could consume, but if I drink it as a protein shake, it runs right through me. That doesn’t make whey protein bad. It just means that I can’t drink it as a protein shake. I find different ways to consume it, or I choose other high-quality protein sources. Apply the same common sense to essential oils as well.
For pregnant women or for using essential oils with babies and young children, I recommend reading Debra Raybern’s book, Gentle Babies.
Alpha-Pinene-Rich Essential Oils
The following is not a definitive list but merely a starting point in discovering essential oils rich in alpha-pinene and that you also enjoy using.
- Pine25Judzentiene, A., & Budiene, J. (2016). Variability of the essential oil composition of the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) needles in Lithuania. Baltic Forestry, 22(2), 261-267.
- Frankincense26Hamm, S., Bleton, J., Connan, J., & Tchapla, A. (2005). A chemical investigation by headspace SPME and GC-MS of volatile and semi-volatile terpenes in various olibanum samples. Phytochemistry, 66(12), 1499-1514. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phytochem.2005.04.025
- Eucalyptus27Silva, J., Abebe, W., Sousa, S. M., Duarte, V. G., Machado, M. I., & Matos, F. J. (2003). Analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of essential oils of Eucalyptus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 89(2-3), 277-283. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2003.09.007
- Juniper Berry28Kędzia, B., Hołderna-Kędzia, E., & Al-Ghamdi, A. A. (2018). Chemical composition of essential oil from Juniperus communis L. berries growing in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Essential Oil Bearing Plants, 21(5), 1235-1243. https://doi.org/10.1080/0972060X.2018.1506823
- Rosemary29Atsumi, T., Tonosaki, K., & Fujisawa, S. (2014). Rosmarinus officinalis L. essential oil components: Relationships between oral intake and psychological and autonomic function. Journal of Functional Foods, 11, 528-538. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2014.09.025
- Tea Tree30Carson, C. F., Hammer, K. A., & Riley, T. V. (2006). Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: A review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 19(1), 50-62. https://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006
- Myrtle31Barboni, T., Luro, F., Chiaramonti, N., & Desjobert, J. M. (2010). Distribution of the volatile fraction in the organs of the Corsican myrtle (Myrtus communis L.). Chemistry & Biodiversity, 7(5), 1224-1235. https://doi.org/10.1002/cbdv.200800280
- Cypress32Božović, M., Garzoli, S., Sabatino, M., Pepi, F., Baldisserotto, A., Andreotti, E., … & Manfredini, S. (2017). Essential oil extraction, chemical analysis and anti-Candida activity of Cupressus sempervirens L. grown in north-western Italy. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 195, 33-40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2016.11.046
- Black Pepper33Yashin, Y. A., Yashin, A. Y., Xia, X., & Nemzer, B. (2014). Antioxidant activity of spices and their impact on human health: A review. Antioxidants, 3(3), 626-647. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox3030626
- Bergamot34Sarrou, E., Chatzopoulou, P., Dimassi-Theriou, K., & Therios, I. (2013). Volatile constituents and antioxidant activity of peel, flowers and leaf oils of Citrus aurantium L. growing in Greece. Molecules, 18(9), 10639-10647.
Each person’s sense of smell is unique; you might love some of the following and dislike others. The only way to know for sure is through trial and error. Personally, my favorite alpha-pinene-rich essential oils include frankincense and the majority of oils from conifers.
Alpha-pinene-rich essential oils offer a range of potential health benefits, including respiratory support, anti-inflammatory effects, cognitive enhancement, and mood improvement.35Bakkali, F., Averbeck, S., Averbeck, D., & Idaomar, M. (2008). Biological effects of essential oils – a review. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 46(2), 446-475. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2007.09.106,36Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: Potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344-1364. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x Incorporating these essential oils, such as pine, frankincense, eucalyptus, juniper berry, rosemary, myrtle, cypress, black pepper, lavandin, and bergamot, into your wellness routine, you can harness the power of alpha-pinene and its therapeutic properties.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash