Also known as frankincense or ‘olibanum boswellia’, boswellia serrata is a large tree whose resin is obtained by peeling away strips of tree bark and then harvesting the gum that oozes out to harden over the wound.
Boswellia has been used medicinally for thousands of years and, because it has a strong fragrance, is also used in perfumery, aromatherapy, and during some religious ceremonies.
,b>Dr Sarah Brewer says: “Boswellia can help all conditions caused by inflammation, from inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) to psoriasis, asthma and osteoarthritis. Research shows that boswellia is as effective in reducing pain as some non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Boswellia is particularly helpful for painful joints, and is often combined with other supplements such as turmeric and glucosamine.’
What does Boswellia do?
Boswellia resin contains several substances, such as boswellic acids, which inhibit the production of inflammatory immune chemicals (e.g. TNF-alpha). In Ayurvedic medicine, frankincense is used for treating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, and as an antiseptic for healing wounds.
Boswellia is an effective analgesic that can increase a person’s discomfort and tolerance thresholds. This was tested in 12 healthy males who volunteered to insert an index finger in a vice that applied pressure to the sensitive nail bed. The threshold for experiencing discomfort, and the amount they could tolerate, was significantly greater at one, two and three hours after taking boswellia compared with placebo (1).
In people with osteoarthritis of the knee, boswellia provides clinically significant improvements in discomfort, flexion and swelling, and increases walking distance compared with placebo. Improvements in discomfort scores and functional ability occurred within two months, but were recorded as early as seven days after starting treatment in some participants. In a study involving 70 people with knee osteoarthritis, examination of synovial fluid suggested that boswellia reduced the enzymatic degradation of cartilage (2).
Boswellia is thought to be as effective as the prescribed NSAID, valdecoxib. Interestingly, although boswellia showed a slower onset of action than valdecoxib, the benefits continued for one month after stopping boswellia.
In a study involving 30 people, the combination of boswellia with turmeric (Curcuma long) produces a synergistic effect that was more successful in treatment knee osteoarthritis than the prescription only NSAID, celecoxib (3).
When boswellia extracts were tested in cartilage cultures obtained during knee replacement surgery in people with osteoarthritis, the results strongly suggested that boswellia had protective effects that could help prevent cartilage loss (4).
Getting boswellia from your diet
Boswellia resin can be chewed but is not usually included in the diet. Look for supplements that combine boswellia with other beneficial substances such as turmeric and glucosamine, such as Healthspan’s Flexi6 Gold.
Side effects are uncommon. Mild nausea and gastric reflux have occasionally occurred.
90mg to 250mg daily – lower doses are needed when Boswellia is combined with other synergistic ingredients such as glucosamine and turmeric.
Select products standardized to contain at least 30% boswellic acids.