It’s interesting where ideas for posts can come from…friends, enemies (a few), a website comment…you name it. This post was inspired by a reader, (Milla) who commented on my article on weed and suggested copaiba essential oil as an alternative to CBD. You can check out her website here. Today we’ll look at a supplement called Copaiba Essential Oil, or copaiba oleoresin. As usual, we’ll proceed with an open mind. And away we go…
Copaiba: The low down
Copaiba, (pronounced co-pie-ee-ba or co-pie-ba) is a resin from the genus of trees called Copaifera, native to South America and Africa. The resin is obtained by tapping the tree, in a similar manner to tapping for maple syrup.
Copaiba has been used for centuries in folk medicine in South America, for various disorders and has been shown to be an effective anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-tetanus, antiseptic and anti-blenorrhagea agent (claim)…Brazil is the largest producer of the world’s supply of Copaiba oil, exporting to countries like France, Germany and the United States.
Anti-inflammatory All the studies that I’ve found, shows anti-inflammatory effects, either in vitro (test tube/petri dish) or in vivo [1, 2, 3, 4]. Copaiba also demonstrated neuro-protective effects by modulating an inflammatory response, following damage to the central nervous system . Sounds good (in vivo) right? Well, yes and no. It does show promise, however, in vivo studies were performed in rats and not humans.
So, what’s the problem? Well, human and rat physiology are not the same, and the effects can be different. Studies that examine populations of people already taking copaiba against those that don’t, need to be performed. Additionally, controlled studies where the oil is used as an intervention to determine the effects on a population of non users, need to be carried out. Now, listen carefully, before you start with the “science doesn’t know everything….my family has been using this since my great, great, great grand daddy….”. I’m not saying it doesn’t have benefits, just that it hasn’t been concretely proven, as of yet.
Anti-septic/Wound Healing A 2015 study examined the effects of the copaiba resin on a variety of multi-resistant bacterial strains, in a laboratory setting . By multi-resistant, I mean resistant against a variety of drugs (just in cases you didn’t know). The study concluded that the diterpene (-)-copalic acid, found in copaiba, was the most effective against the bacterial strains.
Another study investigated the anti-microbial properties of copaiba, with potential applications to wound and scar healing . Oil extracts from the copaiba tree were applied to Staphylococcus aureus, which is a micro-organism responsible for wound infection. The extract showed anti-microbial properties and was able to inhibit growth of the bacteria.
Now for the kicker…It might have antiseptic properties, but when wound healing was studied in rats by various researchers the results were mixed at best. It was observed that wounded rats treated with copaiba oleoresin obtained from C. reticulata took longer to heal and showed more inflammation than the controls.
Other research showed copaiba oleoresin from C. langsdorffii impairs the normal process of wound repair in the presence of a foreign body. In another study, it was observed that there was an increase in tissue inflammation in rats injected with the C. multijuga oleoresin.
When the crude C. langsdoffii oleoresin was investigated, there was no effect on wound healing in intestinal mucosa of rats, when treated orally . Coversely, in a 2002 study, when using the C. langsdoffii oleoresin variety, it was found that the topical application of oleo‐resin, at a concentration of 4%, accelerated wound contraction in open wounds . The explanation given for such discrepencies, is that oleoresins have different sources, and different varieties of the plants along with various environmental conditions, produce different metabolites that can directly influence observed results [7, 8].
Anti-Cancer Activity β-caryophyllene, is a substance (sesquiterpenes) found in copaiba and other oleoresins. Research has shown anti-cancer, anti-mutagenic effects of β-caryophyllene in laboratory tests. This suggests that copaiba when administered should could be used as part of a cancer treatment plan. .
The anti-cancer activity of copaiba oleoresins from some several species of the tree have also been investigated. In the case of the species C. officinalis, it was observed that tumor growth was increased in the Walker 256 carcinoma, which was inoculated into the vagina and uterine cervix of rats. The C. multijuga oleoresin showed a significant inhibitory effect on Erlich tumor-bearing mice. It was also found to reduce the growth of melanoma cells on mice. In both cases, the resin was administered orally [7, 9, 10, 11].
Just like in the wound healing case, inconclusive. Again because of different varieties being compared with different experimental conditions. Also, no human trials. But obviously worth further investigation.
Other claims and research There are other studies that have showed promise in using copaiba for acne treatment, liver damage, and psoriasis [12, 13, 14]. All of which, like the previous studies, were performed either in rats or in a petri dish. The research itself is not very extensive, with few papers published.
Summary There seems to be a lot of unproven potential benefits of using copaiba oils. It does look promising, however the lack of research and human trials makes it difficult to determine if it is truly effective. This, coupled with the fact that the effectiveness of copaiba oils depends on which species of tree it comes from. Aditionally, within the same species, environmental conditions can influence the effectiveness of the oleoresin.
I’m not saying don’t use it. You could try it out and see if it helps with acne, inflammation, etc…There has been no reported toxicity effects in any research conducted so far. You might have to do a little digging to find out the most effective brands out there. I’ll get back to you with a recommendation…I promise. If you’ve tried copaiba and can recommend a good supplier…let us know. Also, how has it helped you?