Anethole: Cancer Signal Inhibitor

Within the essential oils of anise, camphor, and fennel is a substance called anethole. According to an article in the journal Nature, anethole has the effect of blocking "early and late cellular responses transduced by tumor necrosis factor", which means it may help stop the spread of cancer.

Diagram of Anethole

Because it was similar to some carcinogenic agents, it was once suspected of helping cause cancer. However, studies done in the 1970s1 showed that the substance was not carcinogenic. The tests, done on mice and rats also showed a slight reduction in weight of animals (with a diet comprised of one to two percent anethole). Anethole was also found to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Anethole is used as both a flavoring and a fragrance, but is seldom used in high doses. Government recommendations are no more than 10% for fragrances, or 1500 parts per million in flavorings.2 The flavor and smell of anethole is commonly referred to as licorice.

The chemical name for anethole is trans-1-methoxy-4-(prop-1-enyl)benzene (C10H12O). In its solid state, below 20° C, it forms white crystals. Its liquid state is clear and colorless. It has a boiling point of 234° C. Anethole can be made to crystalize out of the essential oil of fennel or anise by quickly cooling the oil.

Anethole is one of the main flavoring ingredients in several liquors and spirits, including absinthe. In absinthe it helps to form the opaque effect that occurs when water is added to the spirit.

13 times sweeter than sugar, anethole can be used as a sugar substitute. It also has powerful anti-microbial properties, attacking bacteria, yeast, and fungi. It has been found to be effective against insects.

On the down side, anethole is a precursor for PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine) a drug commonly called "ecstasy". In its pure state, undiluted, it can also be a skin/eye irritant.

More on Nutrition


  1. Studies of Anethole
  2. (E)-anethol: The Good Scents Company

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