Simply speaking, boswellia is an herb extracted from the Boswellia serrata tree, which is native to India and some parts of Africa. Widely praised for its diverse range of medicinal qualities, Boswellia serrata, otherwise known as “Indian frankincense,” was used for thousands of years as an herbal therapy in Asian and African cultures. And when we say “therapy,” we’re talking everything from mouthwash for bad breath to menstrual cramp relief. Talk about a well-rounded herbal supplement! More recently, however, boswellia has peaked our interest – and garnered our support! – because its far reaching health benefits are widely applicable to a host of major diseases and conditions we deal with today. Looking to remedy your health woes? From asthma, to depression, and everything in between, boswellia may be the natural solution to give your body the health boost it so desperately needs. Keep reading if you need further convincing on boswellia health benefits.
Boswellia serrata, also known as Indian frankincense, is a plant extract that has been featured as an important component of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. As with many herbs used in the treatment of osteoarthritis, Western medicine has corroborated traditional usage because Boswellia serrata elicits potent antiinflammatory activity through its inhibition of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme. Several forms of Boswellia serrata have been studied and used clinically, including traditional 60% to 70% extracts of Boswellia serrata gum resin and the commercial preparations 5-Loxin and Aflapin.
Five randomized controlled trials have been conducted assessing the effects of boswellia serrata extracts on osteoarthritis of the knee.89-93 All of these trials found statistically and clinically significant reductions in pain and improvements in physical function. Improvement in symptoms was noticed as early as 5 days after treatment commenced, and in one trial, these benefits persisted for 1 month following conclusion of treatment.
Daily dosages used in these studies were 100 mg of Aflapin, 250 mg of 5-Loxin, and 333 mg of 65% standardized boswellia serrata extract. Boswellia serrata was well tolerated in all trials, and aside from minor gastrointestinal distress in some participants, very few adverse effects were noted.
What is boswellia extract used for?
1. Boswellia is great for pain management
Move over Advil. There’s a new kid on the block. Rather than reaching over the counter for NSAIDs, it may behoove you to go the more natural route with boswellia. Traditionally, boswellia cream was used as a topical analgesic to reduce pain associated with burns, cuts etc. By preventing the rapid accumulation of inflammatory mediators to the injury site, boswellia can help to put the kibosh on pain. Its ability to stop inflammation in its tracks thus makes it a powerful contender for pain management inside and out! Added bonus boswellia health benefit: boswellia is MUCH easier on the gut than your more classic pain reducers.
2. Boswellia can reduce joint pain due to arthritis
Generally speaking, boswellia’s potent anti-inflammatory activity helps to reduce mediators of inflammation like leukotrienes, tumor necrosis factors, and other proinflammatory cytokines, thereby downplaying the generalized sensation of pain. More specifically, however, boswellia supplementation can lead to a significant reduction in joint pain for people managing inflammatory joint disorders like osteoarthritis. By decreasing the influx of white blood cells into the fluid surrounding the joints (and the unpleasant throbbing that results), boswellia works to relieve the pain associated with arthritis and osteoarthritis. Consider supplementing with boswellia if you’re looking to give your bones and joints a health boost!
3. Boswellia can help treat people with asthma
While Ayurvedic traditions demonstrate the usage of boswellia in the treatment of asthma and bronchitis for thousands of years, more current research has also implicated the role that boswellia extract may play in controlling asthmatic symptoms. The aforementioned anti-5-lipoxygenase activity of boswellia suppresses levels of proinflammatory leukotrienes, which have been associated with the pathogenesis of asthma. So breathing may just be a bit more of a breeze if we throw boswellia in the mix.
4. Boswellia has immunomodulatory effects
While the supplement combats an overactive immune system, boswellia also boosts the immune system – in a good way! While various autoimmune conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (included Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus involve the dysregulation and consequent hyperactive response of the immune system, natural remedies like boswellia extract downregulate these processes. By squelching the production of proinflammatory cytokines like Th1 that, when overexpressed, inevitably destroy healthy cells, boswellia leaves room for the immune system’s “good” defenses (i.e. Th2 cytokines) to do their thing, like fending off foreign pathogens. More about that below. So boswellia ultimately benefits the immune system in more ways than one!
5 & 6. Boswellia helps with infection prevention and accelerated wound healing
Boswellia may be paving the way for a more natural antibiotic therapy without the unpleasant side effects of mainstream antibiotics to which we have become accustomed. In vitro studies suggest that the boswellia serrata extract exerts antibacterial effects against common pathogenic strains including streptococcus pneumonia and e. Coli. Other studies indicate it has strong antiviral activity (i.e., against supremely unpleasant viruses like the flu). This is because boswellia positively mediates the production of immunoglobulins like IgG, which play a role in fighting off bacteria and viruses.
So why does this matter to us? Simply put, an important boswellia health benefit is that it may be a powerful preventative measure against infections, both systemic and localized. Furthermore, its impressive antimicrobial properties also make this powerful herb an appealing prospect for accelerated wound healing. Does this mean there may no longer be a need for powerful drugs like Ciprofloxacin? It’s too soon to tell, but the news is surely encouraging!
7. Boswellia has anti-anxiety effects
Traditional Ayurvedic anecdotes which point to the positive effects that boswellia has on the brain have also implicated this powerful herb in the therapeutic prevention of high levels of stress and anxiety. By helping to rebalance stress hormones (think, cortisol) throughout the body, boswellia extract may indeed have a calming, relaxing effect. Mouse studies have also suggested that rodents treated with a purified extract of the frankincense component (incensole acetate) had reduced levels of anxiety as determined via anxiety tests when compared to normal controls. While there is room for more research on this health benefit, we have no reason to doubt boswellia may have an added bonus of warding off the Sunday scaries. Simply put, it’s certainly worth a try.
8. Boswellia has anticarcinogenic/cytotoxic properties
As mentioned above, that super powerful acid inherent in boswellia (AKBA) plays a role in downplaying the 5-LOX enzyme. It’s worth mentioning again at this point that it’s the activity of 5-LOX that generates leukotrienes. These are inflammatory mediators that upregulate free radical damage (which, in turn, adversely affects cellular DNA). Abnormal alterations in DNA can ultimately give way to cancer. In this way, research shows that boswellia works to shield healthy cells from the DNA damage that accompanies carcinogenesis (aka, the growth of cancer cells).
A few more tidbits worth mentioning…
If the preceding health benefits of boswellia are not sufficiently convincing, one of the additional reasons we love this miraculous herb is that it truly does come from nature. In this case, “all natural” is 100% accurate. Though it is advised to take boswellia supplements as directed, we’d like to point out that this herb has demonstrated very few side effects (those reported include the potential for increased blood flow to the pelvic area, undesirable gastrointestinal symptoms and skin rash).
Since boswellia is naturally occurring and not produced from a mess of chemicals in a factory, its possible side effects aren’t particularly worrisome when taken appropriately. Contraindications would include pregnancy, allergy to boswellia, or concomitant NSAID use. But that’s about it. Typical recommendations suggest 300 to 500 milligrams by mouth two to three times per day, which can be taken in the form of a powdered pill. Boswellia extract, or frankincense oil, can also be applied to the skin or taken sublingually. Attention if you are taking medications: it is always crucial to talk to your doctor before introducing a new supplement like boswellia into your regimen in order to discuss potential risks for drug interactions.