Boswellia extracts are derived from the Boswellia serrata found in India, Pakistan and North Africa. The boswellia tree also gives us frankincense oil which is known for its enormous variety of health benefits and is being investigated for its abilities to treat cancer.
Boswellia is now known to have excellent anti-inflammatory properties and long before the advent of modern medicine, extracts made from boswellia were used to treat arthritis, bowel inflammation and heart diseases.
Types of Boswellia
There are several different types of boswellia which are derived from separate but closely related plants and medicinally they are used in very similar ways. Boswellia serrata is perhaps the best known and the variety of boswellia most often used in medicine.
Three other types are also used medicinally – boswellia sacra, boswellia carteri and boswellia frereana. All four of these species produce frankincense extracts or resin.
The resins produced from the Boswellia serrata tree contain up to 10% pure essential oil. These oils are full of medicinal compounds including monoterpenes, triterpenes diterpenes and triterpenic acids. Some of these compounds are known to inhibit inflammation and help protect against autoimmune disease.
Health Benefits of Boswellia
During the past few decades, science has begun to understand that boswellia and its oils can benefit our health in a host of different ways. Its ability to combat inflammation gives of a range of medical applications. Scientists have found that boswellia can act in the following ways:
- It interferes with pro-inflammatory cytokines.
- It helps regulate white blood cell production.
- It delays reaction to sensitivities,
- It regulates the production of antibodies protecting against infections from viruses and bacteria.
1. Inflammatory Conditions
Inflammation is right at the heart of the majority of illnesses including severe and life threatening ailments like heart disease, liver disease and cancer. Fortunately, boswellia has exhibited impressive anti-inflammatory actions owing to natural compounds like boswellic acids and terpenes.
Terpenes which are also found in aromatic plants like citrus trees, peppermint and basil are important are powerful antioxidants. In the same way that they protect the plants from which they are derived, they can also protect human health against damage from free radicals.
Another compound found in boswellia known as AKBA works in a similar way to NSAID medications though research has found that it cause far fewer side effects and the risk of toxicity is greatly reduced. AKBA has proven to be effective against a range of inflammatory conditions including colitis, asthma, arthritis, cancer and Crohn’s disease. (1)
2. Arthritis and Joint Pain
Boswellia has received a fair bit of attention for its ability to reduce pain, inflammation and difficulties with movement in people suffering from arthritis and osteoarthritis. Numerous studies have confirmed its traditional use as a treatment for arthritis.
One study demonstrated that people suffering from arthritis experienced significant reductions in pain comparable with popular prescription medication. (2)
In another study, published in 2003, researchers demonstrated that boswellia was able to significantly improve a range of arthritis symptoms including knee pain, jerking and walking pain when compared to the placebo group. (3)
Boswellia has been used for centuries to help treat respiratory complaints ans infections of the sinuses helping people to breathe more comfortably and overcome other symptoms such as coughs and sore throats.
Studies have also revealed that boswellia can help treat asthma and allergies, helps to eliminate phlegm from the lungs and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the respiration system and nasal passages.
4. Antiviral activity
Both boswellia and frankincense have been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to improve circulation, expedite healing and relieve pain associated with viral infections like flu, cold and gonorrhea.
Studies have demonstrated that boswellia has natural antiviral properties which can help to treat viral infections ranging from mosquito borne infections (4) to the flu. (5)
Frankincense essential oil which is derived from the boswellia tree has been showing a great deal of promise when it comes to cancer treatment and prevention. It has the ability to destroy cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells intact and is a popular adjunctive treatment.
Boswellia sacra essential oils have proven effective in destroying breast cancer cells (6) while acids isolated from boswellia seratta proved deadly to multiple myeloma cells. (7) Research has also showed that boswellia is effective against leukemia and prostate cancer. (8)
And that is not all, research also indicates that boswellia extract can reduce the risk of cerebral edema in people with brain tumors.
As well as being destructive to cancer cells, oil derived from boswellia may also help patients overcome some of the side effect associated with cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. (9)
Recent research suggests that boswellia may also be an effective treatment for people with type 2 diabetes. In a study published in 2014 patients were either given 400 mg of a boswellia supplement or a placebo twice each day. After 12 weeks those who had taken boswellia experienced significant improvements with regard to their fasting blood sugar levels, insulin levels and cholesterol. (10)
7. Inflammatory Bowel Disorders
Boswellia and its derivative oils have long been used to treat a wife range of autoimmune diseases and especially inflammatory conditions like arthritis, asthma and bowel disorders. Boswellia helps to normalize antibody production helping the body’s immune system fight off threats from viruses, bacteria and other toxins.
A study published in 2012 reports that by modulating the immune system, boswellia had a significant effect on many chronic inflammatory conditions including inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.(11)
Boswellia helps people with IBS to go into remission because of its ability to reduce bowel inflammation associated with the disease and ability to heal the bowel walls. A study published in 1997 found that patients given boswellia extract 3 times each day experienced significant improvements. 82% of the participants entered remission which was a higher number than those taking a standard inflammatory bowel prescription medication. (12)
How to Use Boswellia
Boswellia can be taken in supplementary capsule form or you can opt for frankincense essential oil instead.
When buying boswellia supplements, check that your extract contains a minimum of 37% boswellic acid or boswellin. The higher the percentage, the more pure the supplement and the more effective it will be.
Follow any directions on the label carefully but it is usually recommended that you start at a lower dosage.
- To reduce inflammation, take between 600 and 900 mg standardized boswellia extract each day.
- For arthritis, chronic pain or osteoporosis a higher dose of between 900 and 1200 mg a day is recommended.
- There are many ways to use frankincense oil. Some of the most popular include the following:
- Inhale it directly or diffuse it to help remedy respiratory problems or sinus complaints.
- You can apply it topically so long as you dilute it first. Combine it with a carrier oil like coconut oil and massage it into your aching muscles or joints.
- Add a few drops to your bath and relax to overcome any aches or pains.
- You can take it orally so long as you are careful not to exceed the recommended amount. Place a drop or two beneath your tongue or mix it into your tea or juice.
It may take several months before you begin to notice the benefits of taking boswellia. Don’t expect immediate results, be patient and give your supplements the time they need to work….good luck.