The Benefits of Boswellia Serrata (Indian Frankincense)

It has been said that for every disease known to man, the plant kingdom holds a remedy.

As more and more people are becoming aware of the potential negative consequences of taking traditional medications to control pain and inflammation, the demand for medicinal herbs and supplements has steadily risen too.

One such plant that has seen a recent shift in popularity is Boswellia Serrata, and more specifically the extract Indian frankincense (also referred to as Salai). The compound is increasing the focus of scientific studies, aimed at determining its effectiveness in treating a wide range of inflammatory conditions.

In this article we’ll take you through the history of Boswellia Serrata, how it can benefit you, and how you can perhaps begin to use it in your everyday life.

The History of Boswellia Serrata

Boswellia Serrata is a fairly large sized tree that belongs to the Burseraceae family. It originates from the Middle East, India, and Northern Africa, and is primarily found in dry, mountainous regions.

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Gum-resin is typically extracted from the bark of the Boswellia tree, before being stored and processed into an Indian Frankincense extract.

The extract has been used for thousands of years in traditional Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine systems to treat a wide range of ailments, most of which are related to pain and inflammation.

It also has a significant religious connotation. In Christianity, it is thought that Frankincense was one of the gifts offered by the three wise men to baby Jesus.

These day, the extracts and oils from Boswellia are typically used in incense sticks, cosmetics, foods, beverages and nutritional supplements all across the world.

The Big Benefits of Boswellia Serrata

Because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties, Boswellia Serrata is the subject of an increasing number of scientific studies. Although more research is needed to confirm the plant’s effectiveness (and will inevitably be carried out), the results so far have been promising.

The extract has displayed a number of health benefits, the main ones including:

1. Soothing Joint Pain and Arthritis

The most common historical use for Boswellia Serrata in Ayurvedic medicine was to help bring down inflammation and pain associated with joint issues and arthritis. Modern science has shown that it can indeed act as an effective remedy.

Back in 1993, a study looked at the value of a Boswellia Serrata extract in managing rheumatoid arthritis. They evaluated its efficacy in treating more than 260 patients, and found that it was successful in bringing down joint swelling and pain.

In a 2003 randomized double blind placebo controlled study, 30 patients with knee pain and osteoarthritis were split into two groups, one of which was given a Boswellia Serrata extract (BSE), whilst the other took a placebo. The patients were observed over an eight-week period before being switched over to receive the opposite treatment.

The researchers concluded that:

“All patients receiving drug treatment reported decrease in knee pain, increased knee flexion and increased walking distance. The frequency of swelling in the knee joint was decreased. Radiologically there was no change. The observed differences between drug treated and placebo being statistically significant are clinically relevant. BSE was well tolerated by the subjects except for minor gastrointestinal ADRs. BSE is recommended in the patients of osteoarthritis of the knee with possible therapeutic use in other arthritis.”

2. A Natural Alternative to NSAIDS

The traditional treatment for many different inflammatory conditions and diseases includes regular doses of Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen and celebrex. Although both drugs have been shown to help bring down pain and inflammation, they don’t come without the risk of harmful side effects (including gastrointestinal and cardiovascular complications).

Interestingly, researchers believe that Boswellia Serrata extract may be able to produce similar or even better anti-inflammatory results compared to NSAIDS, but without any of the harmful side effects.

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As the guys at the Life Extension site point out:

“…Boswellia extracts appear to have several entirely different mechanisms of action than NSAIDs. NSAIDs prevent inflammation by inhibiting an enzyme called COX-2 (cyclooxygenase-2). The problem is that in the process, they also block COX-1, which is needed to maintain a healthy stomach lining. This is one of the primary causes of NSAID toxicity.”

It is evident that Boswellia extracts inhibit different pro-inflammatory enzymes to NSAIDs, meaning the harmful side effects can be avoided, whilst still reducing inflammation levels.

3. Solving Gastro-Intestinal Issues

The anti-inflammatory potential of Boswellia Serrata means that it could play an important role in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Both conditions are linked with inflammation of the digestive tract, which can lead to a range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and chronic fatigue. Thankfully there is an increasing amount of research suggesting that Boswellia may provide some relief.

In a 1997 study of patients with ulcerative colitis, supplementation with Boswellia gum resin extract over a six-week period led to marked improvements in inflammatory blood markers, stool properties, and bowel wall health.

The control group took a standard ulcerative colitis medication and 75% of them went into remission, whereas 85% of those taking the Boswellia Serrata extract went into remission.

Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia may also promote general gut health too. As Dr. Mercola explains:

“Frankincense oil speeds up the secretion of gastric juices, bile, and acids, and stimulates peristaltic motion to allow food to move properly through your intestines.”

It therefore may be a potential remedy for those suffering with gastrointestinal upset such as IBS and bloating.

4. Treating Asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory respiratory condition of the lungs that leads to difficulty in breathing. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, Boswellia Serrata is thought by many to be a potential treatment option for asthma sufferers. Scientific data is increasingly available to support these claims.

A 2004 study concluded that Boswellia could be a potential new alternative to treating bronchial asthma, as opposed to traditional pharmaceutical medications.

Another study in 2006 took forty patients who suffered form bronchial asthma and treated them with 300mg Boswellia Serrata extracts thrice daily for six weeks. At the end of the study, 70% of patients showed improvement of disease as evident by disappearance of physical symptoms and signs such as dyspnoea, rhonchi, and number of attacks.

Related: 10 Natural Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Spices 

5. A Cancer Fighting Compound

Inflammation plays a key role in the initial development and spread of many different types of cancer in the body. It is therefore no wonder that more and more research has been conducted on the potential role of Boswellia Serrata in controlling the disease. So far, results have been promising.

Results from a 2006 study suggest that a Boswellai extract may potentially have cancer chemo-preventive effects and cytotoxic activities. The majority of cancer deaths occur when cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body, but it seems that Boswellia may potentially play a role in preventing that spread.

The extract may also stop the development of cancer in the first place. A study conducted on mice in 2013 showed that Boswellia extract can effectively decrease the number of precancerous polyps in the body. The results showed that the extract reduced the polyp formation by 49% in the small intestine and by more than 60% in the colon.

Although further research is indeed needed into the realm of Boswellia Serrata and cancer, the future does seem bright.

6. Cardiovascular Benefits

Along with cancer, heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the West. It is primarily caused when plaque builds up in the arteries, causing them to harden. This increases the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, and even developing cognitive conditions such as dementia.

Like many other degenerative conditions, cardiovascular disease has strong links with inflammation. Preliminary studies suggest that Boswellia may help to prevent the condition.

In a 2005 study, a group of rats were fed diet that promoted atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Those that received a Boswellia extract supplement had 48% lower total cholesterol and 30% higher beneficial HDL-cholesterol compared to the control.

Although the mechanism is not entirely understood, it is thought that the Boswellia inhibits 5-LOX enzymes that normally promote inflammation and lead to the development of arteriosclerosis.

Conclusion

If like many others, you are concerned with the long-term implications of chronic inflammation and you are wary of the potential side effects of using NSAIDs, Boswellia Serrata supplementation may be a viable solution.

It provides very similar benefits to traditional medications, but without any known deleterious side effects. When used in conjunction with other natural compounds such as curcumin and clove extract, and of course a healthy balanced lifestyle, Boswellia could play a key role in keeping your inflammation levels under control.

Read Next: The Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Drinks