Perillyl Alcohol
Perillyl Alcohol
This information describes the common uses of Perillyl Alcohol, how it works, and its possible side effects.

Common Name

Perillyl, POH

How It Works

A specific form of perillyl alcohol may be helpful in palliative care patients with recurrent gliomas. However, oral forms were not effective in several cancers and were accompanied by adverse side effects.

Perillyl alcohol (POH) is a natural substance called a monoterpene, isolated from the essential oils of lavender, peppermint, spearmint, cherries, celery seeds, and several other plants. Laboratory evidence suggests that it interferes with the replication of dividing cells. POH has shown antitumor activity against a range of cancer types including pancreatic, lung, colon, and liver cancers in laboratory and animal studies, but these results have not yet translated into benefits in humans. Clinical trials of oral POH for various cancers including breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers did not find benefit and also noted adverse side effects, even after modifying dosing regimens to try to improve effectiveness and tolerability. However, an inhaled form of POH has shown preliminary evidence of safety and effectiveness in patients with recurrent gliomas. In addition, other purified forms are being studied as chemical modifiers of established drugs used to treat cancer in order to improve outcomes.

Purported Uses

  • To prevent and treat cancer
    POH developed as a nasal spray has shown initial evidence of safety and effectiveness in palliative care patients with recurrent gliomas. A study of topical POH applied to sun-damaged skin did not suggest it could prevent skin cancers. Oral POH has yet to suggest benefit in humans and was also associated with adverse side effects.

Side Effects

  • Oral POH: nausea, unpleasant taste, gastrointestinal distress, feeling full after eating a small amount of food, fatigue

    Toxicity can develop at high doses including nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, low blood potassium levels, inflamed oral mucous membranes, and loss of appetite. There have also been cases of vomiting, low white blood cell counts, and inflammation of the pancreas.

  • Intranasal POH: Initial studies have shown good tolerability and no adverse effects.

Special Point

Natural products such as tart cherry juice may contain POH. However, the POH that occurs in natural products are different from the highly purified forms that are being used for research and clinical trial purposes to determine safety and efficacy.