What is Boswellia?
These small shrubs and trees, from the family Burseraceae, are related to the trees that produce Myrrh. The fragrant resins are known as frankincense or oleo-gum and have been used for many centuries as incense and embalming liquids. Boswellia serrata resin is closely related to the biblical frankincense (Boswellia carterii), although the following studies are of B. serrata, not B.carterii. The many species of Boswellia are native to the dry tropics of north-east Africa and Asia. Boswellia serrata has a long history of therapeutic use, especially in Ayurvedic medicine. In Ayurveda, Boswellia has mainly been used as an astringent and anti-inflammatory agent when applied externally, but used as a stimulant and expectorant if taken orally. It is also used for: chronic pulmonary diseases, rheumatic disorders, diarrhea, dysentery, piles, dysmenorrhea, gonorrhea, syphilis, liver disorders, general weakness and to stimulate appetite. Its success as an anti-inflammatory has no doubt led to the increasing number of clinical studies for an exceptionally large range of inflammatory conditions.
Clinical Studies of this Super Herb:
Boswellia is considered by many to be “disease modifying” in the case of osteoarthritis. It not only suppresses proliferating tissue (anti-inflammatory action) but appears to prevent the degradation of connective tissue; much more than a “band aid” treatment. Boswellia has proven to be helpful in treating the more painful Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). In a study of 60 RA patients, a significant improvement was noted after 6-8 weeks of treatment with boswellic acids. In 1996 Etzel reviewed 12 controlled clinical trials conducted in Germany and India. He summarized the following:
• There was a benefit from Boswellia treatment over placebo in patients suffering from RA for several years and in patients who responded poorly to conventional treatment.
• Boswellia was apparently as effective as the gold standard for treatment of RA
• Some children suffering from chronic juvenile arthritis particularly benefited from Boswellia treatment
• Tolerance was good and side effects were mild, such as diarrhea and urticaria (skin rash).
Clinical evidence suggests Boswellia may reduce oedema (watery swelling) around brain tumours. Twelve patients with brain tumours (malignant glioma) were given 3600 mg/day of Boswellia for 7 days prior to surgery. 10 patients showed a decrease in fluid around the tumour. Signs of brain damage decreased during the treatment.
Asthma: In a clinical study of 80 asthmatics, 70 % of those treated with 900mg/day of Boswellia showed remarkable improvement. Positive changes were observed for shortness of breath, number of attacks and respiratory capacity as well as indicators of inflammation.
Boswellia’s unusual ability to cross the blood-brain barrier suggests potential usefulness in preventing Alzheimer’s. In one study, after only 15 days, boswellic acids reversed the age-induced deterioration of memory, cognitive performance and meta-function in mice.
The herb’s boswellic acids have proven effective in inhibiting cancer cell growth in animal studies. In vitro studies show Boswellic acids cause the self-destruction of cancer cells including Leukemia (inhibits HL-60 cells in culture), Myeloid Leukemia, metastatic melanoma, fibro sarcoma cell lines as well as haematological and brain tumour lines.
A study of patients suffering from ulcerative colitis showed an 82% remission rate in those who took the Boswellia serrata. An 8 week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 102 people with Crohn’s Disease compared Boswellia extract with the drug Mesalizine. People taking the Boswellia did either better or the same, but without the side effects of the drug.
• Use in Pregnancy and Lactation: No increase in frequency of malformation or other harmful effects on the fetus from limited use in women. No evidence of increased fetal damage in animal studies. Boswellia is likely compatible with breastfeeding.
• Toxicology: Toxicity studies have shown no adverse effects after chronic use. Although the standard dosage is 200-400mg 3 times a day, some studies have used dosages of as high as 1200 mg 3 times a day.
• Contraindications: None known
• Special Warnings or Precautions: Caution in patients with allergic tendency. Mild allergic reactions have been reported, including diarrhea and urticarial (skin rash).
• Safety in Children: No information available, but adverse effects are not expected.
• Overdosage: No incidents found in published literature.
• Adulteration: A white powder or tablet like Boswellia extract could potentially be adulterated with flour or some other product. Know your supplier. At Sams Teas and Spices, all herbs are subject to vigorous testing to ensure quality and purity.
References: Bone, K., Mills, S. (2013) Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy (2nd ed.), Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier
Tilgner, Dr. S. (2009) Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth (2nd ed.), Pleasant Hill, OR, Wise Acres LLC