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.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.