Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is a branching tree that is native to India. It grows in dry, hilly regions of the country and produces a resin that can be extracted and purified for medicinal purposes. This resin, known as “Indian Frankincense” or “salai guggal,” is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a diverse range of conditions.
Boswellia extract is best known as an alternative treatment for arthritis. The active ingredients (collectively known as boswellic acids), have been shown to reduce inflammation in in-vitro and animal studies. Research on human subjects also suggests that Boswellia extract may be beneficial for inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and arthritis, although its superiority to conventional drug treatments has not been fully assessed.
Boswellia preparations can be used topically or taken internally as anti-inflammatory agents, much like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Unlike these agents, however, Boswellia extract can be used for significant periods of time without causing stomach upset.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, Boswellia extract has been given “orphan drug” status in Europe for the treatment of peritumoral brain edema. Here in the US, clinical trials are underway to evaluate its use for this purpose.
A recent animal experiment also raised the possibility it could help reduce anxiety/depression.
There is even some preliminary evidence that Boswellia compounds have anti-tumor effects, although much more research needs to be done. Media headlines such as “Frankincense: Could it be a Cure for Cancer?” exaggerate the significance of these studies—which have been conducted on cultured cells/tissues, not living beings.
Boswellia extract is available in over-the-counter creams, tablets and capsules. An effective product is standardized for boswellic acids.
Side effects from using Boswellia extract are rare, but heartburn, diarrhea, skin rash and nausea have been occasionally reported. There are no known drug interactions or contraindications with the use of the herb. Though Boswellia extract is an effective treatment for pain and inflammation, people who use it for arthritis, colitis or other conditions should continue to be monitored by a physician.
If you’re interested in experimenting, Boswellia is affordable, and available in isolation at iHerb.com. If you’d like to try a quality anti-inflammatory/arthritis supplement that features Boswellia in its formulation, have a look at Xtend-Life’s Not Just Joints.