Medicinal Benefits of Boswellia
By Renata Trister DO
Frankincense is the common name for the resin extracted from Boswellia trees. Boswellia serrata is a tree native to India. Compounds derived from this tree have been found to have strong anti-inflammatory effects. Boswellia trees have been used to treat inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and heart disease for hundreds of years. This resin is also used in many spiritual and religious practices (Churches etc).
Extracts of the Boswellia tree inhibit certain pro-inflammatory cytokines and mediators that can damage DNA, feed tumor growth and destroy healthy cells. Over the past several decades, research has given us a better understanding of how boswellia and frankincense oils may benefit our health and boost the immune system. Boswellia extracts seem to lower inflammation and support immune function on multiple levels, including:
Interfering with cytokine production that raises inflammation (interferon gamma, interleukin-4 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha)
Delaying reactions to sensitivities
Helping regulate lymphocytes (white blood cells) and T-cells interactions
Regulating production of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies, which protect the body from bacterial and viral infections
Regulating production of immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies, which are found mainly in the blood and lymph fluid
Boswellia helps lower inflammation and prevents autoimmune diseases. Inflammation is the response of bodily tissues to any form of irritation, injuries, infections or disorders of the immune system. Whenever you feel pain, redness, swelling and sometimes loss of function, this is inflammation attempting to heal you.
Leukotrienes are small chemicals that contribute to inflammation by promoting free radical damages, autoimmune responses, cell adhesion and migration of the cells to any injured areas.
Terpenes and boswellic acids are anti-inflammatory and protective to healthy cells. These components of Boswellia have been most researched. Terpenes are strong-smelling chemicals found in certain plants, (eucalyptus, basil, peppermint and citrus trees). These plants are also associated with antioxidant activity. Terpenes function to protect the plants from predators and environmental stressors.
Other chemical compounds have been identified in boswellia that naturally reduce the inflammatory response by controlling T-lymphocytes, especially one called AKBA (3-O-acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid). Although it works similarly to NSAID pain relievers, AKBA’s exact mechanisms of action are very different because they target different inflammatory enzymes. Because they’re better able to preserve the integrity of the stomach and gut lining, boswellia extracts cause less side effects and pose less risk for toxicity compared to NSAIDs.
AKBA helps fight pain thanks in part to its ability to inhibit an enzyme called 5-LOX (5-lipoxygenase) and therefore shuts down mechanisms of leukotrienes, which are inflammatory mediators produced by the process of oxidation (specifically of arachidonic acid). AKBA has shown to be effective in helping to fight against a large number of inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, bronchial asthma, chronic colitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and cancer.
Another active component of boswellia is called incensole acetate, which has similar powers over lowering inflammatory reactions, especially those that target the brain and speed up cognitive decline. Studies show that incensole acetate is protective over neurons, helps fight the formation of tumors and has mood-enhancing benefits, making it a potential natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety compound.
Boswellia serrata extract is so powerful that today it’s considered comparable to NSAID pain relievers.
Boswellia and turmeric have similar actions and some research shows that when used together, these two herbs potentiate each other’s effects.