When conventional medicine is not helping or the side affects of medical treatments are almost as bad as the symptoms of the disease, people are searching for something else. Often it looks like our ancestors had calmer, healthier, happier lives. Can we use their knowledge and find relieve to “modern” diseases?
I recently heard about boswellia oil and what I’ve read so far looks quite promising or at least worth trying. Also, it is natural and side effects are minimal.
Boswellia, also known as Indian frankincense, is an herbal extract taken from the Boswellia serrata tree.
Resin made from boswellia extract has been used for centuries in Asian and African folk medicine. It’s believed to treat chronic inflammatory illnesses as well as a number of other health conditions. Other types of boswellia, including Boswellia sacra, Boswellia frereana, and Boswellia carteri, have similar effects. It is available as a resin, pill, or cream.
How boswellia works
The gummy resin derived from the bark of boswellia is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. It was found to contain boswellic acid, which scientists think accounts for its biological activity. The anti-inflammatory benefits of boswellia come mainly from boswellic acids and terpenes, strong-smelling antioxidant compounds that are also found in citrus, eucalyptus, mint, and other plants. Four acids in boswellia resin contribute to the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties. These acids inhibit 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO), an enzyme that produces leukotriene. Acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA) is thought to be the most powerful of the four boswellic acids. However, other research suggests other boswellic acids are responsible for the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties.
In lab animals, boswellic acid inhibited an enzyme that is important in the process of inflammation, and it therefore reduces swelling caused by chemicals or arthritis. It also slowed down the replication of cancer cells and caused cell death of some cancer cells in the laboratory. Unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs, boswellic acid does not appear to reduce pain or fever, in lab animals.
Boswellia similar to turmeric in mechanisms of action and conditions treated; used together, curcumin and boswellia may have synergistic effects that make them more powerful than using each alone. In one study, a combination of boswellia and turmeric was significantly more effective in reducing pain than the prescription NSAID celecoxib, commonly used for arthritis.
What the research says
Boswellia’s anti-inflammatory effects were supported in a few clinical trials of patients with colitis and osteoarthritis. Boswellia was also studied in the maintenance of Crohn’s disease remission, but showed no significant benefit. Even though similar in many functions, boswellia should not be confused with guggul or myrrh.
Because boswellia is an effective anti-inflammatory, it can be an effective painkiller and may prevent the loss of cartilage. Some studies have found that it may even be useful in treating certain cancers, such as leukemia and breast cancer.
Some research shows that boswellic acid can prevent the formation of leukotrienes in the body. Leukotrienes are molecules that have been identified as a cause of inflammation. They may trigger asthma symptoms.
Studies show that boswellia may reduce inflammation and may be useful in treating the following conditions:
Many studies of boswellia’s effect on OA have found that it’s effective in treating OA pain and inflammation.
One 2003 study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that all 30 people with OA knee pain who received boswellia reported a decrease in knee pain. They also reported an increase in knee flexion and how far they could walk.
Another study, funded by a boswellia production company, found that increasing the dosage of enriched boswellia extract led to an increase in physical ability. OA knee pain decreased after 90 days with the boswellia product, compared to a lesser dosage and placebo. It also helped reduce the levels of a cartilage-degrading enzyme.
Studies on the usefulness of boswellia in RA treatment have shown mixed results. An older study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that boswellia helps to reduce RA joint swelling. Some research suggests that boswellia may interfere with the autoimmune process, which would make it an effective therapy for RA. Further research supports the effective anti-inflammatory and immune-balancing properties. It appears to be especially helpful in osteoarthritis of the knee; several studies have found significant reductions in knee pain, knee jerking, swelling, and pain while walking, and improvements in flexion in test subjects who took boswellia. Unlike some herbs, which may take weeks to be effective, boswellia works quickly: in one study, boswellia extract reduced pain and considerably improved knee-joint functions, in some cases providing relief even within seven days.
Due to the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties, boswellia may be effective in treating inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). Studies also suggest boswellia can improve gastrointestinal health by maintaining immune activity in the lining of the digestive tract and offering antioxidant protection.
A 2001 study compared H15, a special boswellia extract, to the anti-inflammatory prescription drug mesalamine (Apriso, Asacol HD). It showed that the boswellia extract may be effective in treating Crohn’s disease.
Several studies found the herb could be effective in treating UC as well. We’re just beginning to understand how the anti-inflammatory and immune-balancing effects of boswellia can improve the health of an inflamed bowel.
Boswellia can play a role in reducing leukotrienes, which causes bronchial muscles to contract. A 1998 study of the herb’s effect on bronchial asthma found that people who took boswellia experienced decreased asthma symptoms and indicators. This shows the herb could play an important role in treating bronchial asthma. Research continues and has shown the positive immune-balancing properties of boswellia can help the overreaction to environmental allergens that happens in asthma.
Frankincense, derived from boswellia, has traditionally been used to treat respiratory system ailments, including coughs, bronchitis, and breathing disorders; now, modern studies show boswellic acids in frankincense modulate the inflammatory process that drives asthma, and can dramatically improve asthma symptoms. In one study of patients with asthma, 70 percent of those who took 300 mg of boswellia three times daily showed significant improvement, including disappearance of physical symptoms and signs of asthma, such as difficulty in breathing and the number of attacks. In another study, asthma patients who took a combination of boswellia, curcumin, and licorice root showed a significant decline in levels of inflammatory compounds and markers of oxidative stress.
Boswellic acids act in a number of ways that may inhibit cancer growth. Boswellic acids have been shown to prevent certain enzymes from negatively affecting DNA.
Studies have also found that boswellia may fight advanced breast cancer cells, and it may limit the spread of malignant leukemia and brain tumor cells. Another study showed boswellic acids to be effective in suppressing the invasion of pancreatic cancer cells. Studies continue and the anti-cancer activity of boswellia is becoming better understood.
AKBA and other boswellic acids appear to act in several ways that can inhibit cancer growth. They may prevent changes to DNA, and studies show boswellic acids can induce apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells. Other compounds called triterpenoids in various Boswellia species have demonstrated antitumor properties. A number of studies show boswellia can:
- Slow even aggressive tumor growth in breast cancer cells.
- Halt the spread of malignant leukemia and brain tumor cells.
- Suppress pancreatic cancer progression and metastasis.
- Inhibit prostate tumor growth.
- Stop cancer cell viability and induce bladder cancer cell death.
- Reduce cerebral edema in patients with brain tumors following radiotherapy.
Boswellia may stimulate blood flow in the uterus and pelvis. It can accelerate menstrual flow and may induce miscarriage in pregnant women.
Boswellia extract may also interact with medications, including ibuprofen, aspirin, and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Do not use if:
- You are taking drugs that are substrates of P-Glycoprotein (P-Gp): Boswellia may affect how these drugs are absorbed or metabolized.
- You are using anticoagulant and/or antiplatelet drugs: Boswellia may increase risk of bleeding when used with these drugs.
Boswellia products can differ greatly. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and remember to speak to your doctor before using any herbal therapy.
You’ll find boswellia serrata extract in capsules, powders, and tinctures. Boswellia products are generally rated on their concentration of boswellic acids. Because preparations vary, look for standardized boswellia extracts that contain at least 37.5 percent boswellic acids (sometimes listed as boswellin). Some preparations contain as much as 65 percent boswellic acids. Though dosage recommendations vary, a typical dose is 300 mg, three times a day, or follow the directions on the package. Some experts say boswellia is safe for children at half the adult dosage.
If you’re willing to give Boswellia a try, there’s plenty of products to choose from: