Frankincense: A Potent Anti-Inflammatory and Possible Cancer Fighter
By Joe Leech
Boswellia is an herbal extract and essential oil, also known as frankincense.
It's has been used for centuries in incense, perfumes and traditional Asian, African and Middle Eastern medicine.
It's now touted for its anti-inflammatory properties and potential ability to even fight cancer.
This article digs into the science behind boswellia to see if it lives up to the hype.
What is Boswellia and Frankincense?
Frankincense is an extract from the gum resin of the Boswellia tree, native to tropical regions of Africa and Asia.
The name "frankincense" come from the Old French term "fran encens," meaning pure incense.
Frankincense can come from any of the 25 species of boswellia. However, each produces a resin containing slightly different components, so the end product will vary greatly.
Differences in Boswellia Species
There are three main species of boswellia extract that are most often used as supplements or essential oils.
- Boswellia serrata: A key herb in Ayurveda, this is also referred to as Indian frankincense. It's often found in capsule form and is the most common nutrition supplement.
- Boswellia carteri: This species originates from East Africa and China. Its resin is typically used to make frankincense oil, a popular essential oil.
- Boswellia sacra : Native to Arabia and northeastern Africa, this type is also used for frankincense oil. In fact, most believe that B. Carteri and B. sacra are the same plant (1).
What is Boswellia Complex?
Boswellia is sometimes combined with other herbs for added benefits.
Boswellia Complex is an extract supplement containing boswellia, celery seed, ginger and turmeric.
It was designed by MediHerb to support kidney function, healthy joints and circulation. However, no scientific studies have yet been performed to support this claim.
Summary: Frankincense is an herbal extract from the Boswellia tree, native to tropical regions of Asia and Africa. Most supplements oils are made from boswellia serrata (Indian frankincense) and boswellia carteri (most often used to make frankincense oil).
Health Benefits of Boswellia Extract
Research on boswellia (mostly on boswellia serrata) has largely focused on its impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
AKBA is one of the main acids studied. It's displayed powerful effects against pain and inflammation, especially in those with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
But boswellia may also have the power to combat everything from asthma to depression to cancer.
Here are some of its top potential health benefits.
1. Boswellia Helps Alleviate Pain and Inflammation from Arthritis
As a potent anti-inflammatory, boswellia is an effective treatment for those with osteoarthritis.
Boswellia serrata extract may even work as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), but without the joint damage that can be caused from these drugs.
One study found that a combination of Boswellia and curcumin proved more effective than the NSAID diclofenac for treating active osteoarthritis (2).
Others focusing on Boswellia alone have also reported significant improvements in pain, stiffness and function in those suffering with osteoarthritis in the knees (3).
2. Boswellia Improves Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
The herb's anti-inflammatory abilities could also extend to helping those with IBD, including ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn's disease and microscopic colitis.
A small study performed on patients with chronic UC showed boswellia serrata to be an effective treatment with few side effects.
In fact, an impressive 70% of patients who took boswellia (thrice daily at 300mg per dose for 6 weeks) went into remission compared to 40% on the IBD medication sulfasalazine (4).
A similar trial on those with Crohn's found similar benefits. Compared to anti-inflammatory drug mesalazine, the boswellia serrata extract H15 appeared to be just as effective and without the side effects (5).
3. Boswellia Reduces Symptoms of Asthma
The anti-inflammatory effects of boswellia may also help those with asthma.
The inflammatory leukotrienes are what cause bronchial muscles to constrict and work harder. Boswellia works to inhibit this action.
One study found that 70% of patients with chronic bronchial asthma experienced improved breathing and significantly fewer asthma attacks after a 6-week treatment of 300mg boswellia serrata taken 3 times daily (6).
A newer report showed similar benefits in mice for the treatment of asthma caused by environmental allergens (7).
4. Boswellia May Help Fight Cancer
There are a growing number of studies showing boswellia's potent effects against cancer.
One of the more exciting results came in a trial on mice with pancreatic cancer who saw a 50% reduction in tumor size with boswellia treatment (9).
Another group of researchers noticed that frankincense oil had the power to distinguish normal bladder cells from cancerous ones, suppressing the latter (10).
While the majority of these studies have been done on animals, researchers suspect boswellia could have similar effects in humans.
In fact, one case study actually saw the complete elimination of a metastatic breast cancer tumor located in the female patient's brain (11).
Remember that this research is still in its infant stages, and has been done on very few humans. It's important to speak with your doctor first before trying boswellia as a supplement to other treatment.
5. Boswellia Boosts the Immune System
Boswellia may improve immunity and blood circulation and speed up healing from viral and bacterial infections.
This may be attributed to its ability to reduce inflammation and work as an antioxidant against free radicals (13).
In particular, one study has shown its effectiveness alongside curcumin in inhibiting a specific mosquito-transmitted virus (14).
Some also recommend steaming or diffusing frankincense essential oil to help relieve a cough or cold.
6. Boswellia Could Be an Effective Antidepressant
Though little has been studied on boswellia's potential impact on mood and behavior, one study has found it may offer some antidepressant-like effects.
This particular study used a component of boswellia known as acetate and found that it offered smaller but similar effects to the antidepressant drug Paroxetine (15).
Boswellia is just one of several foods and natural remedies that may help with depression, along with conventional treatment and lifestyle changes.
Summary: Boswellia has displayed potent effects against pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD and asthma. It's also shown promising roles in inhibiting cancer growth and reducing tumors in various forms of cancer. Smaller studies have focused on its antiviral and antibacterial effects, as well as its potential as an antidepressant.
Does Boswellia Extract Have Side Effects?
All forms of boswellia and frankincense typically have zero side effects, though women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it.
Using boswellia in large doses for medicinal effects can stimulate blood flow in the uterus and pelvis and may induce miscarriage.
Most other populations can use boswellia freely, though some people may experience minor side effects including:
Boswellia may also interact with and decrease effects of anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin.
Some believe that boswellia may cause liver damage or dysfunction. While this may be the case with very high doses, there is yet to be any proof behind this. In fact, boswellia may actually help protect the liver (16).
To play it safe, be sure to check with your doctor before trying boswellia if you're taking other medications or have liver problems.
Summary: Boswellia is generally safe with few side effects, though women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it.
How Do You Use Boswellia Serrata?
Boswellia or frankincense is often available as boswellia serrata in a resin, pill, powder, oil or cream.
Products will typically display their concentration of boswellic acids, including AKBA, the main medicinal component of boswellia.
Brand name products of boswellia serrata include 5-Loxin, Aflapin, and ApresFLEX. These often have higher concentrations of AKBA with lower daily doses (at about 100-250mg).
The Arthritis Foundation suggests products containing 60% boswellic acids at a dosage of 300-400 mg three times per day.
Interestingly, you may want to add some fatty food to your diet when supplementing with boswellia serrata. The fats may actually enhance the absorption of its acids (17).
When using frankincense oil look for supercritical fluid-CO2 extracts, which offer pure versions unaffected by heat or oxidation.
What Are People Saying About Popular Boswellia Products?
There are several boswellia extract and essential oil products available online, many with generally positive reviews.
Here's a look at what customers are saying about some of the most popular brands:
- Superior Labs Boswellia Extract: With nearly 1,500 reviews, this product boasts 4.7 out of 5 stars. Customers claim it's offered significant relief in joint pain (more so than Tylenol or Advil) and even migraines, with no side effects. The few negative reviews saw no change in pain or inflammation, while a few customers experienced flushing, nausea, and allergic reactions.
- Boswellia Complex by MediHerb: Of over 60 reviews, this product has an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars. The majority of customers found it to be helpful as a pain reliever, though most complaints had to do with the expensive price and awful taste.
- Frankincense Essential Oil by Essential Oil Labs: With over 2000 reviews, customers have found it valuable for several applications. One customer was able to eliminate a cyst, another found it to be an effective addition to her anti-aging cream, and another used it to reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Negative reviews found the oil to be of poor quality.
Summary: Boswellia is often available as a resin, pill, powder, oil or cream. Check for products containing at least 60% boswellic acids, the main medicinal component.
Is Boswellia (AKA Frankincense) Worth Trying?
Boswellia, aka frankincense, has several promising health benefits with an increasing amount of evidence to back them up.
Most research has focused on the boswellia serrata extract, better known as Indian frankincense.
This form of boswellia (as well as others like boswellia carteri) has displayed potent effects against pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD and asthma.
It's also been shown to inhibit cancer growth and reduce tumors in various forms of cancer—at least in mice.
Smaller studies have focused on boswellia's antiviral and antibacterial effects, as well as its potential as an antidepressant.
Unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding—in which case you should avoid it—boswellia is worth trying, especially if you're experiencing persistent joint pain and inflammation that has not improved with lifestyle changes.
Overall, it has few side effects and a lot of happy customers who have found it to be far more effective than many over-the-counter drugs.
It's also one of the few essential oils that actually work.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Jessica Corbett
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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