Boswellia resin is also known as frankincense, olibanum and, in India, as Salai Guggal, Sallaki Guggul, or Gaja-bhaksha (elephant tree). Boswellia resin is obtained by peeling strips of bark from the tree, Boswellia serrata, so that a protective gum oozes out to harden over the wound. This fragrant gum contains substances that promote healing of the tree, and has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties to prevent infection.
Boswellia was used by Ancient Egyptians and mentioned in the Ebers papyrus which dates back to 1500 BC. Boswellia is also a traditional Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions including eczema, psoriasis, asthma, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Boswellia is particularly effective when combined with other anti-inflammatory ingredients such as turmeric (curcumin) and, for joints, with glucosamine.
Boswellia reduces pain
Boswellia contains a number of active ingredients, including at least 12 unique boswellic acids which inhibit the production of inflammatory substances such as prostaglandins, 5-lipoxygenase, interleukins and TNF-alpha.
Boswellia is so effective as an analgesic that it increased pain tolerance in male volunteers who were tested by inserting an index finger into a vice. When they took 250mg Boswellia serrata extracts before a pointed probe was applied to the sensitive nail bed and the pressure cranked up, their pain threshold was significantly greater than when they took placebo. This analgesic effect of Boswellia lasted for at least three hours. One hour after taking Boswellia, they could tolerate 6% more pressure pain, two hours later they could tolerate 12.5% more pressure pain, and at 3 hours, they could tolerate 9.7% more pressure pain than after taking placebo.
Boswellia and osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a painful condition of the joints, in which articular cartilage becomes weaker, stiffer and less able to withstand compressive forces. As cartilage cracks and flakes away, the underlying exposed bone becomes inflamed, leading to pain, stiffness, and restricted movements.
Boswellia can improve discomfort by suppressing inflammation. There is also evidence that Boswellia can decrease the breakdown of cartilage building blocks( glycosaminoglycans) to reduce the destruction of joint cartilage.
When 30 people with knee osteoarthritis took Boswellia serrata extract, they experienced significant improvements in joint pain, knee flexion and knee swelling compared to when they took placebo. As a result, the distance they were able to walk also improved.
Similar findings were recorded in another study involving 70 people with osteoarthritis, who took either 100mg Boswellia extract (5-Loxin) or 250mg Boswellia or placebo for 90 days. Both doses of 5-Loxin conferred clinically and statistically significant improvements in pain and physical function with the higher dose producing effects as early as 7 days after starting treatment.
Another trial involving 66 people with knee osteoarthritis compared the effects of Boswellia against a prescribed painkiller (valdecoxib) for six months. After two months, those taking Boswellia had significant improvements in joint pain, stiffness and ability to perform daily activities and these benefits lasted for one month after they stopped taking Boswellia. In those taking the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, benefits were seen within one month but the effects only lasted for as long as the drug was taken and returned as soon as treatment stopped. So, although Boswellia had a slower onset of action, the anti-inflammatory benefits persisted for longer.
The combination of Boswellia serrata plus turmeric (curcumin) is particularly effective, as both herbal ingredients tackle inflammation in different ways. When 201 people with osteoarthritis took either this combination or placebo, three times a day for 12 weeks, significantly greater improvements in joint pain and physical performance were seen with the active supplement compared with placebo.
And when Boswellia was combined with glucosamine and ginger, significant improvements in knee osteoarthritis pain, stiffness and pain-free walking distance were also seen.
Boswellia serrata extract is also included in popular joint creams.
Boswellia and rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease in which the synovial membranes lining some joints become thickened and inflamed, leading to painful swelling and stiffness. Inflammation can gradually spread to the underlying bone, which becomes worn and distorted. Usually, rheumatoid arthritis affects the smaller joints in your hands and feet but can also occur in the neck, wrists, knees and ankles. People with rheumatoid arthritis often feel unwell and may notice weight loss, fever and inflammation in other parts of their body such as the eyes.
Boswellia can improve discomfort throughout the body by helping to suppress inflammation. Boswellia serrata was described as a disease modifying treatment for rheumatoid arthritis as far back as 1996, and produced significant reductions in pain, duration of morning stiffness and disability compared with placebo. However, little follow-up research has been performed. If you are on medications, only take Boswellia under medical supervision.
Boswellia and ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis is associated with inflammation and ulceration of the lining of the colon (large bowel). The main symptoms are blood-stained diarrhoea and abdominal pain which may be accompanied by fever. Symptoms can be continuous, or come and go with periods of remission between attacks.
A study involving 30 people with ulcerative colitis compared the effects of Boswellia serrata (300mg three times a day) against the standard drug treatment, sulfasalazine (1g, three times a day) for 6 weeks. In those taking Boswellia, 18 out of 20 showed significant improvement and 14 went into remission. Of those taking sulfasalazine, 6 out of 10 showed similar improvement with 4 out of 10 going into remission. In a similar study, 82% of those taking Boswellia serrata gum resin went into remission compared with 75% of those using sulfasalazine. This suggests that Boswellia is at least as effective as standard drug treatment, and possible more so.
Boswellia and Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease is a long-term, inflammatory condition which is associated with thickening and ulceration of parts of the bowel wall. The site most usually affected is the end of the small intestine (terminal ileum), but it can affect any part of the gut from the mouth to the anus. Symptoms vary from mild to severe and include abdominal pain, fever, diarrhoea (which may contain blood), loss of appetite, lethargy, feeling unwell and loss of weight. Other parts of the body may also become inflamed, including the eyes, some joints, the spine (ankylosing spondylitis) and the skin, producing an eczema-like rash. Symptoms tend to come and go over many years, but may slowly improve.
A study involving 93 people with Crohn’s disease compared the effectiveness of Boswellia serrata against the drug, mesalazine. The symptoms score for those taking Boswellia reduced by 90 points, compared with an average reduction of 53 points in those taking mesalazine, suggesting that Boswellia is at least as effective as standard drug treatment for Crohn’s disease. In fact, the researchers suggested that Boswellia serrata extract was superior to mesalazine in terms of safety and benefit-risk profile.
Boswellia for psoriasis and eczema
Eczema and psoriasis are inflammatory skin diseases. Eczema most commonly appears on the hands, inside the elbows or behind the knees but may be found anywhere on the body. Psoriasis develops when new skin cells push up to the surface more quickly than normal to form raised, red patches covered with fine, silvery scales. One in five people with psoriasis also develop inflamed joints, known as psoriatic arthritis.
Boswellia serrata is used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve the underlying inflammation to improve skin symptoms but oral treatment has not been assessed in formal clinical trials. A topical Boswellia cream was found effective however when tested against placebo. In those with psoriasis, scales improved in 70% of cases, and redness in 50% of case. In those with eczema, using Boswellic acid cream improved both itch and redness improved in 60% of cases.
Boswellia and asthma
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lungs in which the airways are red, swollen and inflamed and overly-sensitive to a variety of triggers. During an attack, the airways go into spasm, producing symptoms of cough, wheeze, tightness and shortness of breath. As the attack progresses, the lining of the airways swell and produce excess mucus which often causes a second bout of tightness and wheezing six to eight hours later.
Boswellia serrata contains boswellic acids, which have been shown to inhibit leukotriene biosynthesis in the same way as some anti-asthma drugs. In a study involving 40 people with asthma, the effects of Boswellia resin (300mg three times a day) was compared against placebo. Within 6 weeks, those taking Boswellia, 70% showed improvement of symptoms with less shortness of breath, fewer asthma attacks and improved lung function compared with 27% of those taking placebo. The researchers concluded that there was a definite role for using Boswellia serrata in the treatment of bronchial asthma.
Boswellia serrata dose
30mg to 300mg, one to three times per day, or 400mg twice a day, or 800mg once a day. Select products standardized to contain at least 37.5% boswellic acids.
Absorption of Boswellia is increased by more than two-fold when taken together with a fat-containing meal.
Boswellia serrata side effects
No serious side effects were reported in clinical trials using Boswellia serrata. Occasional mild nausea, acid reflux or gastrointestinal upset can occur.
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