Boswellia is the genus name for several trees native to India and Northern Africa. These trees are well-known for their fragrance and medicinal resins. Boswellia serrate is one of the 16 species of trees from Boswellia genus.
Boswellia serrata has been extensively studied for its medicinal benefits. It is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, in fact, Boswellia serrata is so effective at decreasing inflammation that experts think it could be a promising alternative to prescription painkillers such as NSAIDs.
Other species of Boswellia genus including boswellia sacra and boswellia carteri, have similar healing properties to boswellia serrata, like helping to combat arthritis or tumor growth.
The resinous extracts produced by boswellia serrata is commonly known as frankincense oil. This oil is made by purifying the resin extracted from the trunk. It has been used for medicinal use, as well in cultural and religious ceremonies for thousands of years. In studies, these extracts have been shown to possess strong anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer, effects. Years ago, when inflammation-lowering drugs weren’t available, people used extracts obtained from boswellia trees to treat all forms of inflammatory conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and heart disease.
How do these extracts fight musculoskeletal diseases?
Chronic musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and tendinopathy share a common biologic pathway that involves chronic inflammation and immune system dysfunction.
In the past several decades, scientists have started to better understand how boswellia and frankincense oils may help our physical wellbeing and boost the immune system. According to studies, boswellia extracts lower inflammation and support immune function in different ways, including:
- Delaying response to sensitivities
- Boswellia extracts interfere with the production of cytokines such as interlukin-4, interferon gamma and tumor necrosis factor-alpha increases inflammation.
- Helping to regulate interactions of white blood cells and T-cells
- Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies shield our body from infections. Boswellia extracts regulate their production.
- Regulating production of immunoglobulin M antibodies (igM). These are found mostly in the blood and lymph fluid
Additionally, around 5 to 10% of pure essential oils can be found in different species of boswellia trees. These oils possess numerous preventive compounds such as:
- Tetracyclic triterpenic acids
- Four crucial pentacyclic and boswellic triterpenic acids. One of these acids is acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid, which is considered the most powerful inhibitor of an enzyme called 5-lipoxygenase. 5-lipoxygenase is responsible for inflammation.
In simple term, this means that boswellia helps reduce inflammation and may help reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases.
What are the health benefits of boswellia serrata?
Terpenes and boswellic acids are among some of the most beneficial boswellia tree extracts identified by scientists. They are very protective over healthy cells, and possess very strong anti-inflammatory properties. Terpenes are chemicals with strong smells, and are found in certain plants, such as basil, eucalyptus, citrus and peppermint trees. All these plants have antioxidant properties.
Terpenes protect the plants that contain them with their strong odor that fights off insect predators, shield plants from environmental stresses and takes part in the important chemical processes by acting as building blocks. Similar actions by terpenes can be seen in human bodies where they lower free radical damage and prolong health.
Scientists identified other chemical compounds in boswellia that naturally reduce inflammatory response. AKBA (3-O-acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid) – a compound decreases inflammatory response by controlling T-lymphocytes.
Incensole acetate – another active component of boswellia – has similar powers over reducing inflammation, specifically those that target the brain and accelerates cognitive decline. As seen in studies, incensole acetate protects the neurons and helps combat tumor formation. And, its mood-enhancing properties make it a potential anti-anxiety and antidepressant compound.
Helps relieve arthritis pain
Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic, progressive, degenerative disorder of the joints (mainly the knee joint), affecting approximately 27 million Americans. According to a study, boswellia serrata extract can help people with arthritis or osteoarthritis by reducing their swelling and pain and easing movement. Some participants showed a significant decrease in joint pain by up to 32-65%. The results are comparable to prescription drugs and it shows boswellia’s ability to act as a natural arthritis medication.
Another study showed that boswellia serrate helped treat osteoarthritis symptoms such as pain while walking, knee pain, and knee jerking remarkably better than a placebo treatment. This study, which was published in the Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, showed that anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-arthritic properties of boswellia make it an ideal medication to treat knee pain, increase knee flexion and extend walking distances in people who are vulnerable to repeated swelling in the knee joints.
Are there any side effects?
Boswellia and frankincense have been shown to be well-tolerated by adults. However, pregnant women are advised not to take it without consulting a qualified health care professional first. If you’re currently taking NSAIDs, refrain from taking boswellia extract without your doctor’s advice.
Remember, it might take many months for boswellia to display the most effects, so give it time for best results and lower pain or swelling before stopping.
1Abdel-Tawab, M et al. Boswellia serrata: an overall assessment of in vitro, preclinical, pharmacokinetic and clinical data. Clin Pharmacokinet. 2011 Jun 1;50(6):349-69.
2Vishal, AA et al. A double blind, randomized, placebo controlled clinical study evaluates the early efficacy of aflapin in subjects with osteoarthritis of the knee. Int J Med Sci. 2011;8(7):615-22.
3Kimmatkar, N et al. Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee – a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2003 Jan;10(1):3-7.
4Sengupta, K et al. A double blind, randomized, placebo controlled study of the efficacy and safety of 5-Loxin for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Arthritis Res Ther. 2008;10(4):R85.
5Kirste, S et al. Boswellia serrata acts on cerebral edema in patients irradiated for brain tumors: a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind pilot trial. Cancer. 2011 Aug 15;117(16):3788-95.
6Holtmeier, W et al. Randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of Boswellia serrata in maintaining remission of Crohn’s disease: a good safety profile but lack of efficacy. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2011 Feb;17(2):573-82.
7Shehata, AM et al. Prevention of multiple low-dose streptozotocin (MLD-STZ) diabetes in mice by an extract from gum resin of Boswellia serrata (BE). Phytomedicine. 2011 Sep 15;18(12):1037-44.
8Yadav, VR et al. Boswellic acid inhibits growth and metastasis of human colorectal cancer in orthotopic mouse model by downregulating inflammatory, proliferative, invasive and angiogenic biomarkers. Int J Cancer. 2011 Jun 23.