Latest Study: Wound Healing Properties of Beta-Caryophyllene

Even though the word “terpene” may be relatively new to mainstream nomenclature, humans have been interacting with these compounds since our olfactory nerves kicked in. Because, if you can smell something, there’s a terpene involved.

It is thought that terpenes provide plants with protection from predators and parasites, and it is known for certain that terpenes are responsible for a plant’s distinctive scent. Think of pine trees, courtesy of a terpene called alpha-pinene, or limonene, derived from the rinds of oranges and other citrus fruits.

Though the research on how terpenes may help with overall health is still limited, there is at least one mouse study showing that the terpene beta-caryophyllene (BCP) - found in cloves, rosemary, and in our kitchen cupboards as black pepper - may enhance wound healing. 

They are also very familiar to us as essential oils, a wellness trend that at least one-third of Americans have tried. Thought to help with conditions ranging from morning sickness to acne, the essential oils market is expected to reach nearly $15 billion by 2026, though any purported benefits of these oils are not well-researched in humans.

Sachiko Koyama, Ph.D.,  is an Associate Medical Scientist at the Indiana University Bloomington. She had worked previously with the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Studies, where scientists were studying cannabinoid receptors. BCP not only activates olfactory receptors, but also interacts with a cannabinoid receptor called CB2, whose activation is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Koyama told south central Indiana radio station WBIW, “This is the first finding at the chemical-compound level showing improved wound healing in addition to changes in gene expression in the skin. The way gene expression changed also suggests not only improved wound healing, but also the possibility of less scar formation and a more full recovery. It is an example of how essential oil works; however, it’s not through our sense of smell,” she added.

The study was not able to distinguish the exact mechanism by which BCP and CB2 played a role in wound healing, though they noted that wound healing seemed to be accelerated due to suppressed inflammation, which helps move skin more efficiently through the healing process. 

Noting that the Indiana University team hopes to continue research in this area, Koyama says they are interested to learn more fully how terpenes like BCP and CB2 may work together to improve healing. And if more studies like this prove successful in mice, perhaps these mechanisms could be studied in humans for a fuller understanding of how terpenes may benefit overall health.