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Frankincense and Its Health Benefits

frankincense health benefits

The holiday season stirs up thoughts of frankincense, a substance derived from the Boswellia tree and a natural remedy with a long history of healing powers. However, not all of the benefits attributed to the herbal supplement have met the rigors of scientific scrutiny, so it seems like an appropriate time to review some of those findings.


Some basics about frankincense

Frankincense is a sap (resin) that comes from trees in the Boswellia genus, which grow mainly in Oman, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Although the sap can be burned as incense, it is also typically steam-distilled to obtain the essential oil that is now often used for medicinal purposes.

Frankincense oil is composed of ketonic alcohol, resinous substances, and terpenes (e.g., camphene, dipentene, phellandrene). The terpenes (e.g., triterpenes, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes) are considered to be the most beneficial compounds in frankincense oil.

For example, monoterpenes have antibacterial and antiseptic properties as well as some pain-killing and expectorant abilities. Sesquiterpenes can pass through the blood-brain barrier and may have a positive impact on the brain, including the pineal and pituitary glands as well as the hypothalamus.

New review of frankincense

In a new review of frankincense published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, the researcher noted that research indicates that various chronic inflammatory diseases respond well to treatment with frankincense. Although the number of clinical studies is not great, “results are convincing and supported by the preclinical data.”

For example, conditions that have been studied include arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and bronchial asthma. Even though use of frankincense is certainly not a cure, he noted “at least improvement of symptoms in about 60-70% of the cases.”

Frankincense and arthritis

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Scientists at Cardiff University found that treatment with a rare frankincense species (Boswellia frereana) inhibited the production of inflammatory substances and thus helped stop the breakdown of cartilage, a key factor in arthritis. A more recent report noted the findings of eight studies showing that frankincense use resulted in improvements in function, stiffness, pain, and swelling, although some of the studies had few participants.

Frankincense and cancer

Numerous studies have been performed to evaluate the ability of frankincense to fight cancer. A recent review from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology evaluated studies that involved Boswellia serrato and various other substances from the tree and their impact on cancer types.

The researchers reported that several of the factors were found to possess cytotoxic (can kill certain cells) and antitumor properties. According to the authors, “boswellic acids appear to be promising candidates for anticancer drug development.”

If you have an inflammatory conditions, such as those mentioned here, use of frankincense may provide some relief. Naturally, you should talk to a trusted healthcare provider before beginning any supplement program. Use of frankincense for cancer is still in the research stages.

Frankincense is available as an essential oil and in capsules. Use as directed on the label after consulting with your physician.

Ammon HP. Boswellic acids and their role in chronic inflammatory diseases. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 2016; 928:291-327
Blain EJ. Boswellia frereana (frankincense) suppresses cytokine-induced matrix metalloproteinase expression and production of pro-inflammatory molecules in articular cartilage. Phytotherapy Research 2010 Jun; 24(6): 905-12
Grover AK, Samson SE. Benefits of antioxidant supplements for knee osteoarthritis: rationale and reality. Nutrition Journal 2016 Jan 5
Mercola.com. Frankincense oil: the king of oils.

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