Healing Herbs: Boswellia

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Healing Herbs: BoswelliaBoswellia is a natural inflammation-fighting gum resin extract derived from the Boswellia serrata tree, common to India. It is also known as “Indian Frankincense.” For centuries, the tree’s fragrant, gummy sap, called “oleoresin”, has been tapped for its medicinal properties. It has proven especially valuable for arthritis and back pain sufferers.

The harvested oleoresin contains a mixture of naturally occurring organic acids. These acids inhibit pain and inflammation causing enzymes. They also limit the synthesis of fatty immune system molecules called leukotrienes which contribute to inflammation.

Effective arthritis pain relief

One six-month study compared the efficacy, safety and tolerability of Boswellia extract with the prescription drug valdecoxib (no longer available in the U.S. market due to health risks). The patients enrolled in the study suffered from osteoarthritis of the knee and received either 10mg of valdecoxib taken once daily or 333mg of Boswellia extract (containing 40% boswellic acids) taken three times daily.

The study found patients who took valdecoxib presented statistically significant improvement after one month, but the relief quickly subsided when the drug was stopped. The Boswellia test subjects did not show statistically significant improvement until the second month. However, the on-going relief of Boswellia extract clearly bested the drug by its longer lasting effects. When the valdecoxib was stopped, the pain returned within a day or two. But those who had been taking boswellia reported continued effects a full month after the test had ended.

The researchers reported in their conclusion that “in terms of safety, efficacy and duration of action, the present study shows that [Boswellia serrata extract] was superior to valdecoxib, except for the slower onset of action.”

Hundreds of other studies on boswellia extract have proven it both safe and effective at treating not only osteoarthritis, but also rheumatoid arthritis.

Safer than NSAIDs

Inflammation is a killer, but so are many of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used to treat it. Boswellia extract fights inflammation as well as most NSAIDs, but without the stomach irritation or ulceration. In fact, at least one study found boswellia more effective at treating ulcerative colitis than the commonly prescribed sulfasalazine. Boswellia also doesn’t carry the severe risk of heart attack and stroke found with some of the newer NSAIDs.

Even though it has been safely used for centuries, a comprehensive safety study was conducted on boswellia just a few years ago. The study found no significant adverse effects other than minor eye irritation. Other studies noted only rare but minor side effects, such as nausea, skin rash or diarrhea.

Of course it’s always a good idea to speak with your health care provider or pharmacist before taking herbs or dietary supplements, particularly if you are taking any prescriptions.

Related references

Ammon HP. Boswellic acids (components of frankincense) as the active principle in treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases [article in German]. Wien Med Wochenschr 2002;152(15-16):373-378.Safayhi H, Sailer ER, Amnon HPT. 5-lipoxygenase inhibition by acetyl-11-keto-b-boswellic acid. Phytomed 1996;3:71-2.Safayhi H, Mack T, Saieraj J, et al. Boswellic acids: Novel, specific, nonredox inhibitors of 5-lipoxygenase. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 1992;261:1143-6.

Singh GB, Atal CK. Pharmacology of an extract of salai guggal ex-Boswellia serrata, a new non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent. Agents Actions 1986;18:407-12.

Etzel R. Special extract of Boswellia serrata (H15) in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Phytomed 1996;3:91-4.

Gupta I, Parihar A, Malhotra P, et al. Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with ulcerative colitis. Eur J Med Res 1997;2:37-43.

Kimmatkar N, Thawani V, Hingorani L, Khiyani R. Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of Osteoarthritis of knee- a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine 2003;10:3-7.

Sontakke S, Thawani V, Pimpalkhute S, Kabra P, Babhulkar S, Hingorani L. Open, randomized, controlled clinical trial of Boswellia serrata extract as compared to valdecoxib in osteoarthritis of knee. Indian J Pharmacol 2007;39:27-29.

Ammon HPT, Safayhi H, Mack T, Sabieraj J 1993 Mechanism of anti-inflammatory actions of curcumin and boswellic acids. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 1993 Mar;38(2-3):113-9.

Singh GB, Bani S, Singh S. Toxicity and safety evaluation of boswellic acids. Phytomed 1996;3(1):87-90.

Singh S, et al. The gastric ulcer protective effect of boswellic acids, a leukotriene inhibitor from Boswellia serrata, in rats. Phytomedicine. 2008 Jun;15(6-7):408-15.

Valdecoxib (Oral Route). MayoClinic.com. Retrieved 19 Jun 2010.

Tramèr MR, et al. Quantitative estimation of rare adverse events which follow a biological progression: a new model applied to chronic NSAID use. Pain. 2000 Mar;85(1-2):169-82.

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Comments

  1. Trevor says

    I am old guy nearly 80. I have had a bad back: S1 and fragments of disk and gas and severe sciatic nerve pain for 57 years it disappeared after taking H & S for 5 days thank you

  2. Helen Antoniou says

    Hi Jesse,
    What type of homemade receipes can i take besides the turmeric,and ginger for the relieve of lower back pain.
    PS Are these all drank like a tea.?

    Helen

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