Like turmeric, Boswellia Serrata (also known as Indian frankincense) has been used for thousands of years as a folk remedy. Egyptians used Boswellia for embalming and makeup, practitioners of Chinese medicine recommended it (they still do) for cancer and leprosy, while Ayurvedic physicians treat a variety of inflammatory conditions (including arthritis) with Boswellia.
The supplement is prepared in a unique way. Boswellia serrata is a tree found on the dry mountains of India, Africa and Middle East. Oleo-gum resin is tapped from an incision made on the trunk of the tree and stored in bamboo baskets. Thereafter, some oil content is removed and the resin solidifies.
Boswellia is a great remedy for arthritis (especially osteoarthritis), inflammatory bowel diseases and asthma. Let’s review a few studies:
Boswellia Serrata for osteoarthritis
In a 2003 study, the benefits of Boswellia were compared with placebo in osteoarthritis sufferers. After only 8 weeks, the subjects who received Boswellia noted moderate improvement in pain, knee flexion and walking distance, compared to those in the placebo group.
A 2010 study also compared Boswellia with placebo. Again, the subjects receiving Boswellia experienced a significant reduction in pain, inflammation and increased joint function as compared to the placebo group. Analysis of the knee fluid in those who consumed Boswellia showed a reduction in cartilage degeneration.
Boswellia seratta for rheumatoid arthritis
A 2010 study suggests that Boswellia can be used for immune mediated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. The key ingredients - boswellic acids (particularly AKBA : 3-O-acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid) have the ability to modulate the function of the immune system in a few different ways, from influencing the antibody titres to inhibiting inflammatory responses.
Boswellia - other health benefits
Boswellia can also improve many other conditions. Inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) respond well to this supplement. According to research studies, Boswellia works as well as Sulfasalazine, an anti-inflammatory drug, and can induce remission in 70% to 82% of people with ulcerative colitis.
Other studies have shown that Boswellia can also improve asthma and even brain diseases affecting the memory (such as Alzheimer’s disease).
The health benefits of this herb include strong anti-inflammatory qualities and the immune system modulation. Boswellic acids also help prevent the production of leukotrienes (substances that trigger inflammation and asthma symptoms).
Boswellia may also have anti-cancer qualities by preventing certain enzymes from affecting the DNA. It has been studied for the treatment of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, leukaemia and brain tumour cells.
Boswellia supplements are generally reviewed and rated based on their concentration of boswellic acids.
Overall, Boswellia is considered safe when taken in the recommended dosage. However, there have been some reports of mild digestive complaints (like minor stomach upsets) and accelerated menstrual blood flow while on Boswellia. It should be avoided by pregnant women or those who wish to become pregnant. It is advised that you consult your healthcare practitioner before taking any supplements.
Dr Brenda, MD, HD (Nutrition),
Medical author, Assistant Microbiology Professor