Guide to Boswellia

Boswellia is a resin that is also known as frankincense and olibanum. The resin is derived from a tree, Boswellia serrata, which is native to India, North Africa and the Middle East. The 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

Boswellia can help any inflammatory condition, from inflammatory bowel disease to psoriasis, asthma and osteoarthritis. Research shows that Boswellia is as effective in reducing pain as some non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but without their gastric and cardiovascular side effects. Boswellia is particularly helpful for painful joints, and is often combined with other joint supplements such as turmeric and glucosamine.

Dr Sarah Brewer

What does Boswellia do?

Boswellia resin contains several anti-inflammatory substances, such as boswellic acids, which inhibit the production of inflammatory immune chemicals (eg TNF-alpha). In Ayurvedic medicine, frankincense is used for treating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, and as an antiseptic for healing wounds.

Acute pain

Boswellia is an effective analgesic that increases pain thresholds and pain tolerance. 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 pain, and the amount of pain they could tolerate, was significantly greater at one, two and three hours after taking Boswellia compared with placebo.i

Chronic pain - Osteoarthritis

In people with osteoarthritis of the knee, Boswellia provides clinically significant improvements in pain, flexion and swelling, and increases walking distance compared with placebo., improvements in pain scores and functional ability occurred within 2 months, but were recorded as early as 7 days after starting treatment in some participants. In a study involving 70 people with knee osteoarthritis, examination of synovial fluid suggested that Boswellia reduces inflammation and the enzymatic degradation of cartilage.2

Boswellia is at least 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 those taking valdecoxib, however, benefits only lasted for as long as the drug was taken.

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.iii

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, anti-inflammatory effects that could reduce cartilage loss.iv

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 joint substances such as turmeric and glucosamine.


Side effects are uncommon. Mild nausea and gastric reflux have occasionally occurred.

Correct dosage

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.


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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.



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