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Boswellia serrata is a branching tree that grows in dry mountainous regions of India, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. It produces a resin that contains many bioactive and health promoting compounds, with the most well-known of them being boswellic acids, incensole acetate, and incensole.1 2 3 Due to the health benefits these compounds provide, the resin is often used to create supplements, which can be found on the shelf under the name Boswellia, Boswellia extract, and Indian Frankincense. Boswellia resin and supplements made with the resin have shown promise for a myriad of modern health issues, which are explored below.
Boswellia is probably most well-known for its ability to act as an anti-inflammatory. Research confirms this, alluding to significant benefits of Boswellia in the treatment of inflammation-related diseases and conditions ranging from rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease).4 1 5 6 7 The anti-inflammatory effects of Boswellia are largely attributed to boswellic acids, which can inhibit enzymes known to promote inflammation and support liver function in the body.8 9 Alongside boswellic acids, incensole acetate also demonstrates anti-inflammatory activity and, because of this, has even been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in some studies.10 11
Boswellia was used historically for many things, including arthritis. Animal and human studies have supported the use of boswellia supplements for osteoarthritis. Interestingly, the compounds in boswellia seem to accumulate in joint fluids, and have been shown to reduce swelling, improve walking distance, and reduce loss of joint cartilage due to arthritis. The benefits are seen in both topical applications and internal supplements.12 13
Many of the studies involving compounds found in boswellia for use in treating cancer have been done in vitro or in animal models, but the functionality of these compounds seems very promising. Studies have been done on a large variety of cancer types.13 One human study took advantage of the anti-inflammatory benefits of boswellia, helping to decrease brain swelling in patients undergoing irradiation for brain tumors.12 The compounds in boswellia seem to inhibit certain enzymes that play a role in cell growth and replication, as well as to induce apoptosis (natural cell death, which is blocked in some cancer cells).9
Beneficial compounds in boswellia reduce the synthesis of inflammatory mediators known as leukotrienes, which helps reduce and prevent inflammation in inflammatory diseases such as asthma. Animal studies have shown that boswellia reduces damage to the lungs, collagen accumulation, and the number of infiltrating immune cells that can occur in asthma, while also inhibiting mechanisms of allergic reaction.9
Studies indicate that boswellia remains in the system for about six hours, so dosages should be spread throughout the day.12 Animal studies have found boswellia to be safe and well tolerated, even at high doses.14 Human trials found the resin of Bowellia serrata to be well tolerated in the majority of individuals; however, minor gastrointestinal effects may occur in some individuals.1
A suggested dose of 400 mg three times a day is recommended for reducing inflammation or for bronchoconstriction.
Sap oozes out of cuts in the bark of Boswellia trees and hardens when exposed to air. For many Boswellia species, it takes 25 years before the tree should be used for harvesting the resins. Sadly, overharvesting is very common. Therefore, it is ideal to purchase from companies that use sustainable harvest practices. Work with your favorite brand to ensure and/or advocate that they are using sustainable practices.