Boswellia, also known as frankincense, is the sap from the Boswellia carteri tree. The tree grows almost exclusively in the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Deep cuts are made into the tree during certain times of the year to collect the sap, which is then dried in the sun for a few months to harden. The harvesting and usage of this herb dates back as far as 500 BC. It has been used in cosmetics and perfumes, as an embalming agent and for medicinal purposes. It has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of arthritis, asthma, bowel conditions and skin ailments. Although more research is needed, scientists are showing positive effects of this herb that was once given as a gift to baby Jesus.
The sap contains boswellic acid, which has been shown in vitro to inhibit 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme that plays an important role in the production of leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are molecules that contribute to inflammation. In rats, the plant extract showed considerable anti-inflammatory action and anti-arthritic activity without significant side effects. In humans, according to a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study published in Arthritis Research & Therapy 2008, it showed significant improvement in those who suffered from osteoarthritis in as little as seven days. Boswellia may be a safe alternative to corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for the treatment of arthritis. It is also believed that NSAIDs accelerate cartilage degradation over time, while boswellia can actually protect joint proteins from destruction.
Other Inflammatory Conditions
People who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) and asthma may also benefit from this herb. Boswellia showed similar effects to the drug sulfasalazine in patients with ulcerative colitis, and to the drug mesalazine in patients with Crohn's disease. It also showed therapeutic effects in 70 percent of patients with bronchial asthma in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 40 participants.
Boswellic acid may help in the prevention of anaphylaxis. According to an immunological study, it was shown to inhibit C3-convertase, which is involved in the production of anaphylatoxins – toxic substances that trigger anaphylaxis.
Boswellic acid has been implicated in apoptosis (cell suicide) of cancer cells, particularly tumors of the brain and cells affected by colon cancer or leukemia.
Boswellic acid has potent antimicrobial activities, and has been shown to be effective against a range of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus.
Preparations, Side Effects and Precautions
Boswellia comes in the forms of capsules and topical cream. Use as directed.
Side effects are rare, but may include skin rash, abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea.
Although there are health benefits of boswellia, the following should be noted:
- Information regarding safety in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Therefore, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid use.
- If you are taking medications or have a medical condition, consult your health care provider before use.
- The safety of using this herb for more than 12 weeks is unknown.
1. Drugs: https://www.drugs.com/npp/frankincense-indian.html
2. Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080729234300.htm
3. Supplement News: https://www.supplementnews.org/wiki/boswellia
4. BMC Microbiology: https://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2180-11-54.pdf
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