What is Boswellia?
Boswellia resins, also known as frankincense/olibanum, are obtained from Boswellia trees. Incisions are made in the trunks of the trees to produce exuded gum, which appears as milk like resin, and hardens into orange-brown gum resin [1, 2].
There are many Boswellia species and varieties, including Boswellia sacra from Oman and Yemen, Boswellia carteri from East Africa and China, Boswellia frereana from Somalia and Boswellia serrata from India.
Today the most traded frankincense is produced in Oman, Yemen, and Somalia .
Boswellia resins have been considered throughout the ages to have a wealth of healing properties .
Since ancient times, frankincense has been used in Africa, China, India, and the Middle East for the prevention and treatment of various illnesses, especially chronic inflammatory diseases .
Resins from this herb have been traditionally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease .
Boswellia serrata is one of the ancient and most valued herbs in Ayurveda , and in the Indian system of medicine, it has been used as an anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, antiproliferative, and analgesic agent for the treatment.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, frankincense of B. carterii is commonly used as a remedy for improving the blood circulation and in relieving pain .
Boswellic acids have been identified as the major chemical components in herb extracts that provide anti-inflammatory activity .
Modern medicine and pharmacology strongly support Boswellia’s anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory, blood-lipid-regulating, anti-atherosclerotic, pain-relieving and liver-protecting properties .
It has anti-inflammatory activity, due to the ability to regulate immune cytokine production and leukocyte infiltration .
Extracts from this herb have further been shown to possess anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-neoplastic properties .
Boswellia acids provide anti-neoplastic activity through their anti-proliferative and cell-death-inducing properties in multiple human cancer cell lines, including meningioma cells, leukemia cells, hepatoma cells, melanoma cells, fibrosarcoma cells, colon cancer cells, and prostate cancer cells .
The four major boswellic acids found in frankincense are responsible for the inhibition of pro-inflammatory enzymes . They are:
- β-boswellic acid (BA)
- acetyl-β-boswellic acid (ABA)
- 11-keto-β-boswellic acid (KBA)
- 3-O-acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA)
KBA is the most potent anti-inflammatory component of the resin and selectively blocks leukotriene biosynthesis through inhibiting 5-lipoxygenase activity .
AKBA has shown to be effective against a large number of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, bronchial asthma, chronic colitis, ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn’s disease (CD), and cancer .
Besides boswellic acids, additional triterpene acids (i.e., tircuallic, lupeolic, and roburic acids) isolated from frankincense have the anti-inflammatory potential .
Snapshot: Pros & Cons
- Great anti-inflammatory and combats autoimmune disease
- Protects gut
- Good for mood and cognition
- Great for Th1 dominant
- Diversely beneficial supplement
- Boosts fertility
- I have not come across any negatives
The Health Benefits of Boswellia
1) Protects the GI Tract
Boswellia serrata oleo-gum extract (BSE), has antioxidant activity and protects the intestinal epithelial barrier from inflammatory damage .
It was also effective in the treatment of chronic colitis with minimal side effects .
In rats, it showed anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, inhibiting inflammation in acute colitis .
B. serrata gum resin extract (BSE) prevents diarrhea and normalizes intestinal motility in rodents, without slowing the rate of transit in control animals .
Oral therapy with Boswellia extract significantly attenuated gastrointestinal ileum injury in rats .
One study showed no superiority of this herb versus placebo in patients with Crohn’s disease .
2) Is Beneficial in Asthma
Boswellia has traditionally been valued for its effect on the respiratory system and has been used in steam inhalations, baths, and massages to treat a cough, catarrh, bronchitis, and asthma .
Boswellic acids found in frankincense have shown to be responsible for the inhibition of leukotriene biosynthesis and, therefore, can reduce and prevent the inflammation in many chronic inflammatory diseases like asthma .
Gum resin of B. serrata improved bronchial asthma in 70% of patients, as evident by the disappearance of physical symptoms and signs such as difficulty in breathing, hissing lung sound and the number of attacks .
3) Improves Cognitive Functions
Boswellia is traditionally believed to improve learning and memory .
Young rats whose mothers were treated with this herb in pregnancy showed increase in the power of learning, short-term and long-term memory, and an increase in the volume of hippocampal neurons, and the number of synaptic connections .
In a temporal lobe epilepsy rat model, Boswellia extract improved learning ability and eliminated the adverse effects of seizures on cognitive function .
B. papyrifera showed significant improvement in visuospatial memory in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients .
B. serrata enhanced cognitive outcomes in patients with diffuse axonal injury .
In a traumatic brain injury mouse model, incensole acetate (IA) isolated from Boswellia resin inhibited hippocampal neurodegeneration and exerted a beneficial effect on cognitive ability .
Incensole acetate also protected against ischemic neuronal damage and reperfusion injury in mice .
4) Combats Headaches
5) Could be Beneficial in Anxiety and Depression
Incensole acetate (IA), exhibits an anti-depressive-like effect in mice following a single dose administration .
6) Reduces Inflammation
They affect the cellular defense system by inhibiting the production/release of cytokines .
Boswellia has shown to be a specific inhibitor of leukotrienes, inhibiting inflammation and shrinking the inflamed tissue which is the primary cause of pain and discomfort in many cases .
Clinical studies show efficacy in treating autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and bronchial asthma. Side effects are not severe when compared to modern drugs used for the treatment of these diseases .
7) Relieves Rheumatoid Arthritis
Boswellic acids exhibited 25-46% inhibition of edema in rats and mice and exhibited 45-67% anti-arthritic activity in animal models .
Oral administration of Boswellia serrata gum resin extract (BSE) resulted in significantly reduced levels of inflammatory mediators in rats with rheumatoid arthritis .
Clinical trials of gum-resin of this herb showed improvement of symptoms in patients with osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis .
8) Is Good for Gums
9) Reduces Breast Tissue Density
Boswellic acid, betaine, and myoinositol, further reduced breast pain and reduced benign breast tumor dimension .
It reduces fibroadenoma (benign breast tumor) volume and dimension with no relevant side effects .
10) Protects the Liver
B. serrata extract had protective properties in animal livers .
In chronic hepatitis-associated fibrosis in mice, the combined oral administration of Boswellia and Salvia extracts improved the course of the disease .
Parasite Schistosome eggs induce liver granulomatous inflammation, and Boswellia extract can significantly reduce Schistosome japonicum egg-induced hepatic granuloma .
11) Relieves Pain
Boswellia sacra has algesic properties .
B. serrata significantly increased the pain threshold and pain tolerance in humans .
12) Combats Cancer
Boswellic acids are potent cell-death causing agents to cancer cells .
Boswellia reduces cell viability and induces cell death in human breast cancer cells, bladder cancer cells, pancreatic cancer cells, hepatocellular carcinoma and colorectal cancer cells, myeloid leukemia cells, neuroblastoma cells and meningioma [1, 2, 43, 44, 3, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52].
In mice, oral application of these acids prevented intestinal tumorigenesis more potently than aspirin .
Administration of Boswellic acid significantly inhibited ascitic and solid Ehrlich tumor growth in mice .
It was highly effective in suppressing tumor growth and metastasis in mice .
Boswellia serrata inhibited pancreatic cancer cell and breast tumor cell invasion and metastasis .
13) Reduces Brain Swelling
An ethanolic extract of the gum resin of B. serrata reduced peritumoral brain edema by 22-48% .
In patients with malignant glioma, administering 3600 mg/day of Boswellia extract (60% boswellic acids), 7 days prior to surgery, caused decrease in the fluid around the tumor to an average of 30% in 8 of the 12 patients and the signs of brain damage further decreased during the treatment .
B. serrata reduced radiotherapy-related edema in 60% of patients .
14) Is Cardioprotective
Boswellia carteri exhibited mild cardioprotective effect and weak antioxidant activity in animals with a heart attack .
β-boswellic acid (β-BA) ameliorates plasma coagulation parameters and protects blood vessels from injury .
15) Is Beneficial in Diabetes
Oral administration of Boswellia glabra leaf and root extract decreased the blood glucose level in diabetic patients. Continuous use decreased blood glucose, cholesterol, triglyceride, urea, and creatinine levels and enzyme activities .
Administration of Boswellia serrata in diabetic rats significantly decreased the level of blood glucose and prevented complications of diabetes in the kidneys and liver .
Boswellia extract prevented the increase of blood glucose levels, prevented pancreatic islet destruction and consequent hyperglycemia in an animal model of type 1 diabetes .
16) Has Anti-Obesity Properties
Boswellia extract in mice reduced the accumulation of fat under the abdomen .
17) Is Good for the Skin
Use of a cream containing Boswellic acids on facial skin led to significant improvements in photoaging, tactile roughness, and fine lines; increased elasticity; and decreased sebum excretion .
Boswellia serrata extract has a soothing effect on irritated skin, reduces redness and irritation and produces an even skin tone .
Boswellic acid (AKBA) is an effective topical agent to soften facial lines and relax the skin .
Patients with psoriasis, scales, and erythema improved both with a cream containing Boswellic acids .
In a routine toxicity study, Boswellia resin and AKBA showed moderate to low toxicity on the skin .
18) Boosts the Immune System
Boswellia serrata fraction enhances macrophage activation .
19) Combats Pathogens
Boswellia serrata gum resin showed antiviral activity against the mosquito-transmitted chikungunya virus (CHIKV) and vesicular stomatitis virus in the laboratory .
AKBA exhibited an inhibitory effect on various oral cavity pathogens tested .
Diterpenes of this herb were found active against sleeping sickness inducing Trypanosoma brucei and malaria-inducing Plasmodium falciparum .
20) May Boost Male Fertility
Oral administration of frankincense increased both sperm motility and sperm density in adult male rats, boosting fertility, and increasing the number of implantations and viable fetuses in females .
However, in a different study, it was shown that Boswellia smoke decreases FSH, LH, and testosterone, decreases sperm count, motility, and speed, and increases sperm anomalies [79, 80]. However, it can be argued that these effects come from the chemicals found in the smoke, and not from the plant itself.
Boswellia is generally taken as a capsule, tablet or its bark decoction orally .
Chemical constituents of the essential oils differ significantly due to the differences in climate, time of harvest, storage conditions, geographical source of resins, and methods of preparation .
The main component of frankincense is oil (60%). It contains mono- (13%) and diterpenes (40%) as well as ethyl acetate (21.4%), octyl acetate (13.4%), and methyl anisole (7.6%) .
The suggested dosage for inflammatory or asthmatic conditions is 300-400 mg of the standardized extract (containing 60% boswellic acids) three times daily .
Frankincense has not shown any severe side effect and is considered to be safe .
The anti-inflammatory effects of Boswellia, unlike many anti-inflammatory chemical drugs, do not cause any adverse effects on blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, or other autonomic responses, and the resin has remarkably low toxicity .
The gum resin of this herb is included in the list of safe substances and its use is permitted by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) as a food additive .
A repeated dose oral (90 days) toxicity study of Boswellia serrata was carried out in rats, and Boswellia was relatively safe up to the dose of 500 – 1,000 mg/kg. No adverse impact on health was observed [81, 82].
How to Take It
Plasma levels of boswellic acids became only detectable when administered with a high-fat meal .
I really enjoy the anti-inflammatory effect of Boswellia. It’s a good supplement for Th1 dominant people such as myself.
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