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Boswellia: A New, Old Medicine
Boswellia: A New, Old Medicine
If boswellia can help prevent and treat so many illnesses, why haven’t you ever heard of it?
Actually, you have. Boswellia is the Latin name for frankincense, an herb so valuable it made an appearance in the Christian nativity. Historically, it’s been used as incense and as natural medicine. Its true value, though, is just now being brought to light by research on its unique botanical properties.
Boswellia has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, meaning it kills germs on contact. In many cultures, boswellia is burned to purify the air and used topically for minor skin infections.
Perhaps the most well-researched activity of boswellia is its ability to reduce inflammation. Many of the leading causes of death in the United States, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, are linked to chronic inflammation. Some experts theorize that eliminating chronic inflammation would add an average of 10 years to the human life span.
Inflammation occurs as a cascade of events in which several activators of inflammation (called cytokines) are set in motion. Boswellia modulates several cytokine pathways. This is in contrast to over-the-counter and prescription drugs that generally seek to completely disable one or two pathways. Boswellia does not disable pathways; instead, it encourages more moderate expression and assists the inflammatory system in returning to its non-activated state.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of boswellia’s inflammation modulation is that it is helps to reduce the formation of molecules called leukotrienes that trigger inflammation. This means that people with diseases involving excess leukotriene formation, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and inflammatory bowel disease, may benefit greatly from boswellia. These effects were outlined in an October 2006 article in Planta Medica.
Boswellia has been studied alone and in combination with another potent anti-inflammatory herb, curcumin, for osteoarthritis. In a September 2011 study published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, boswellia and curcumin were compared to the prescription arthritis drug celecoxib (one brand name is Celebrex) in individuals with osteoarthritis. The herb combination provided better pain relief and distance walked without pain, and equaled the drug for improving joint flexibility.
Boswellia has also been shown in preliminary research to be effective at reducing swelling around brain tumors, most recently in an August 2011 study published in Cancer.
Activates genetic expression
Research has shown that age and environment can cause certain genes in the body to go to “sleep.” Some of these genes direct the body to suppress tumors (cancer). That is why cancer risk increases with age—some of the body’s defense mechanisms are inactive. One group of researchers from Baylor University presented a study at the International Meeting of the American Gastroenterological Association in May of 2011 demonstrating that boswellia “wakes up” these sleeping genes.
Supplementing with boswellia
Boswellia has a long history of safe use. However, it turns out there are pro-inflammatory compounds in boswellia that actually decrease its overall potency. These compounds are called beta boswellic acids, or BBA. In fact, there is early research, including a 2005 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, suggesting excessive BBAs may be unhealthy for the heart and lungs.
High-quality boswellia is purified, with BBA reduced to less than 5 percent for optimal effectiveness. Also, the product should be standardized to at least 10 percent AKBA; unstandardized Boswellia can have as little as 1 percent of this very important compound. Choose a manufacturer with a good reputation for quality and effectiveness.
Take note, though: If you are undergoing treatment for a serious disease, you should discuss the use of boswellia with your healthcare practitioner before using it. Even though it’s a very safe herb, you should seek guidance if you’re currently ill, taking medications or undergoing medical treatments.
By: Cheryl Myers, RN
Cheryl Myers, RN, is recognized as an expert in the health and dietary supplement field. She writes, gives public appearances, and acts as a research and media consultant. She graduated from Purdue University, and also has clinical certifications in oncology and gerontology, and has a second degree in psychology. Cheryl's nationally published articles have addressed a variety of health applications for natural products, and Cheryl has been a featured guest on radio shows, and is frequently interviewed by a variety of periodicals, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Prevention Magazine, and Healthy Living. Myers is head of Scientific Affairs and Education for EuroPharma, Inc.
March 22nd, 2012