Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Commiphora molmol
Common Name

Mo Yao, abyssinica, heerabol

Clinical Summary

The oleo gum resin obtained from Commiphora species, myrrh is well known as a fragrance used in incense and in perfumes. It is also used in traditional medicine for treating inflammation, stomach problems, asthma and other bronchial conditions.
Studies indicate that myrhh has anti-inflammatory, cytotoxic (13), anti-trichomonas (14) and antipyretic effects in vitro and in mice (2).
Constituents of myrrh have also been shown to inhibit certain cancers (3) (4) (5) (12), but human data are lacking.

A small study showed effectiveness of myrrh against trichomoniasis vaginalis in affected women (15).

Purported Uses
  • Asthma
  • Cough
  • GI disorders
  • Indigestion
  • Inflammation
Constituents
  • Volatile oils: Terpenes, sesquiterpenes, esters, cinnamaldehyde, cuminaldehyde, cumic alcohol, eugenol, heerabolene, limonene, dipentene, pinene, m-cresol, and cadinene
  • Resins: Alpha-, beta-, and gamma-compiphoric acids; commiphorinic acid; alpha- and beta-heerabomyrrhols; heeraboresene; commiferin; campesterol; beta-sitosterol; cholesterol; alpha-amyrone; and 3-epi-alpha-amyrin
  • Gum: Arabinose, galactose, xylose, and 4-o-methylglucuronic acid
    (3)
Mechanism of Action

In animal studies, an aqueous suspension of C. molmol has been found to protect against gastric mucosal damage caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and ethanol (7). C. molmol is thought to have free radical-scavenging, thyroid-stimulating and prostaglandin-inducing properties. These effects are caused by an increase in mucus production and in nucleic acid and non-protein sulfhydryl concentration. It has also been proposed that aqueous extracts of myrrh may induce hepatic microsomal enzymes, causing a more rapid metabolism of warfarin (10).

C.molmol inhibits the growth of Ehrlich carcinoma cells in mice (4). The cytotoxic activities appear to be as effective as cyclophosphamide in solid tumor-bearing mice. Results of one study reveal that the Na, K and Ca levels in cancer cells were reduced by treatment of C. molmol, leading to inhibition of cellular proliferation and tumor growth (3). Another in vitro study found that myrrh gum had tumoricidal effect against a malignant murine neuroblastoma cell line (5).

Contraindications

Patients who have sensitive skin should avoid topical products containing myrrh.
(6)

Adverse Reactions
  • High doses may affect heart rate (5).
  • Topical preparations containing myrrh have been reported to cause contact dermatitis (6).

Herb-Drug Interactions

Warfarin: A published case report describes the antagonism of the anticoagulant effects of warfarin after a patient began concomitantly taking C. molmol (10).

Dosage (Inside MSKCC Only)
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References
  1. DerMarderosian A, editor. The Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Facts and Comparisons; 1999.
  2. Tariq M, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of Commiphora molmol. Agents Actions 1986;17:381-2.
  3. Qureshi S, et al. Evaluation of the genotoxic, cytotoxic, and antitumor properties of Commiphora molmol using normal and Ehrlich ascites carcinoma cell-bearing Swiss albino mice. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol 1993;33:130-8.
  4. al Harbi MM, et al. Anticarcinogenic effect of Commiphora molmol on solid tumors induced by Ehrlich carcinoma cells in mice. Chemotherapy 1994;40:337-47.
  5. Mazzio EA and Soliman KF. In vitro screening for the tumoricidal properties of international medicinal herbs. Phytother Res. 2009;23(3):385-398.
  6. Lee TY, Lam TH. Allergic contact dermatitis due to a Chinese orthopaedic solution tieh ta yao gin. Contact Dermatitis 1993;28:89-90.
  7. al Harbi MM, et al. Gastric antiulcer and cytoprotective effect of Commiphora molmol in rats. J Ethnopharmacol 1997;55:141-50.
  8. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 3rd ed. Sandy (OR): Eclectic Medical Publications; 2001.
  9. Barnes J, et al. Herbal Medicines. Second Ed. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 2002.
  10. Al Faraj S. Antagonism of the anticoagulant effect of warfarin caused by the use of Commiphora molmol as a herbal medication: a case report. Ann Trop Med Parasitol. 2005 Mar;99(2):219-20.
  11. Gruenwald J, et al. PDR for Herbal medicines, 2nd ed. Montvale (NJ): Medical Economics Company; 1998.
  12. Wang XL, Kong F, Shen T, et al. Sesquiterpenoids from myrrh inhibit androgen receptor expression and function in human prostate cancer cells. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2011 Mar;32(3):338-44.
  13. Tipton DA, Lyle B, Babich H, Dabbous MKh. In vitro cytotoxic and anti-inflammatory effects of myrrh oil on human gingival fibroblasts and epithelial cells. Toxicol In Vitro. 2003 Jun;17(3):301-10.
  14. El-Sherbini GT, El Gozamy BR, Abdel-Hady NM, Morsy TA. Efficacy of two plant extracts against vaginal trichomoniasis. J Egypt Soc Parasitol. 2009 Apr;39(1):47-58.
  15. El-Sherbiny GM, El Sherbiny ET. The Effect of Commiphora molmol (Myrrh) in Treatment of Trichomoniasis vaginalis infection. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2011 Jul;13(7):480-6.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Myrrh has not been shown to treat cancer in humans.

Myrrh is an extract of a tree gum resin that has been used as a fragrance for centuries. It has also been used medicinally, and recent laboratory studies in animals have shown certain biological activities. Myrrh extracts have been found to protect against damage to the mucus lining of the stomach by substances such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and alcohol. Based on laboratory experiments, scientists think that myrrh extracts might have antioxidant properties and might stimulate the thyroid gland. Myrrh has also been able to reduce inflammation and fevers in lab mice. It may also have anti-cancer activity, based on experiments that have shown slowing of cancer growth in mice and decreased proliferaton or death in isolated cancer cells. It is unknown, however, if these effects occur in humans.
A small study showed that myrhh may be effective in treating trichomoniasis vaginalis, a sexually transmitted disease.

Purported Uses
  • To treat asthma
    Experiments in animals suggest that myrrh might reduce inflammation.
  • To treat coughs
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To treat gastrointestinal disorders and indigestion
    Myrrh extracts have been found to protect against damage to the mucus lining of the stomach.
  • To reduce inflammation
    Experiments in animals suggest that myrrh might reduce inflammation.
Do Not Take If
  • You are taking warfarin (it has been reported that myrrh may reduce the therapeutic effects of warfarin).
  • You have sensitive skin (Topical myrrh products can cause irritation).
Side Effects
  • High doses of myrrh can affect heart rate.
  • Topical myrrh products can cause contact dermatitis (redness, swelling, and itching of the skin).
E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.