The Health Benefits of Boswellia

Can boswellia help to ease pain and inflammation?

Salendha or Indian Frankincense, Boswellia serrata.
Mr Elliott Neep/Photodisc/Getty Images

Also known as "Indian frankincense", boswellia is an extract sourced from the gum resin produced by the Boswellia serrata tree. Commonly used in ayurveda (a form of alternative medicine that originated in India), boswellia is rich in boswellic acids, substances that have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects. Of the various boswellic acids, 3-O-acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA) is considered one of the most active.

Why Do People Use Boswellia?

In herbal medicine, boswellia is used mainly for the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Collagenous colitis
  • Asthma
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Crohn's disease

Boswellia serrata and other species of boswellia are also used in essential oils or burned as incense. 

Does Boswellia Really Offer Benefits?

There are some studies that suggest that boswellia may have some anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects, but large-scale, industry-independent clinical trials are needed. Here's a look at some of the studies that have been done:

1) Osteoarthritis

A small clinical trial published in Arthritis Research and Therapy in 2008 determined that the herb may help improve symptoms in people with osteoarthritis of the knee (the most common form of arthritis). In an experiment involving 75 people with knee osteoarthritis, researchers observed that those treated with boswellia for 90 days experienced significant improvements in pain and physical function.

Related: Osteoarthritis Pain Relief Remedies

2) Asthma

Boswellia may help relieve asthma, according to a 1998 study published in the European Journal of Medical Research. Results revealed that 70 percent of patients who took 300 mg of boswellia three times daily for six weeks showed improvement in their symptoms (including number of attacks), compared with 27 percent of patients in the control group.

Related: Natural Remedies for Asthma

3) Collagenous Colitis

In a 2007 study of 31 people with collagenous colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic diarrhea), researchers found that those who took 400 mg of boswellia extract three times daily for six weeks were more likely to go into remission than those who took a placebo. In an earlier study, 14 out of 20 colitis went into remission after taking 900 mg of boswellia daily for six weeks (compared to four out of 10 patients who took the medication sulfasalazine for the same amount of time).

Related: Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis

Possible Side Effects

Boswellia has been known to cause allergic contact dermatitis, nausea, diarrhea, and acid reflux. It may stimulate blood flow in the uterus. Pregnant and nursing women shouldn't take boswellia. A case of gastric bezoar was reported after excessive intake of frankincense.

Boswellia may interact with medications, such as anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen), and drugs that are substrates of P-Glycoprotein (P-Gp), so be sure to consult your healthcare provider before using it.

If you have gastritis or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you may not be able to take boswellia.

The quality and purity of boswellia supplements is an issue. Due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. For example, boswellia products have been found not to contain any of the six boswellic acids (considered to be the active ingredients), suggesting the use of a different species instead of boswellia serrata.

You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of boswellia, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Where to Find Boswellia

Available in many health food stores, boswellia is sold in supplement form and in formulas containing curcumin (turmeric) and other herbs. 

Sources:

Dahmen U, Gu YL, Dirsch O, et al. Boswellic acid, a potent antiinflammatory drug, inhibits rejection to the same extent as high dose steroids. Transplant Proc. 2001 33(1-2):539-41.

Gupta I, Gupta V, Parihar A, et al. Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with bronchial asthma: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 6-week clinical study. Eur J Med Res. 1998 17;3(11):511-4.

Gupta I, Parihar A, Malhotra P, et al. Effects of gum resin of Boswellia serrata in patients with chronic colitis. Planta Med. 2001 67(5):391-5.

Madisch A, Miehlke S, Eichele O, et al. Boswellia serrata extract for the treatment of collagenous colitis. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Int J Colorectal Dis. 2007 22(12):1445-51.

Sengupta K, Alluri KV, Satish AR, 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.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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