What Is It?
Boswellia, also known as boswellin or “Indian frankincense,” comes from the Boswellia serrata tree that grows in the dry hills of India. For centuries, traditional Indian healers have taken advantage of the anti-inflammatory properties of the tree bark’s gummy resin, called salai guggal. Modern preparations made from a purified extract of this resin and packaged in pill or cream form are used to reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Unlike conventional NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen–the accepted treatments for joint inflammation–boswellia doesn’t seem to cause stomach irritation. It also may be effective for back pain and certain chronic intestinal disorders.
Research has identified specific active anti-inflammatory ingredients in this herb, which are commonly referred to as boswellic acids. In animal studies, these acids have been shown to significantly reduce inflammation in several ways. They deter inflammatory white cells from infiltrating damaged tissue. They improve blood flow to the joints. And they also block chemical reactions that set the stage for inflammation to occur in chronic intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Specifically, boswellia may help to:
Ease osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Boswellia can be taken internally as well as applied topically to affected joints to relieve inflammation associated with these joint disorders. This may lessen morning stiffness and increase joint mobility. In a study of 175 patients with rheumatic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, a crippling joint disease, 122 participants experienced reduced stiffness and inflammation two to four weeks after starting on a boswellia regimen.
Decrease back pain. Boswellia’s anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce aching and stiffness, especially when associated with low back pain. Although research indicates that boswellia is best taken orally for this purpose, creams appear to be soothing as well.
Control certain inflammatory bowel diseases. Boswellia appears to reduce the inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, both painful intestinal disorders. And it seems to accomplish this without the risk of further gut irritation associated with many conventional pain relievers. In a 1997 study of ulcerative colitis sufferers, 82% of those who took boswellia extract (350 mg three times daily) experienced a complete remission of their disease. Note: Boswellia has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Boswellia.
For arthritis and most other ailments: Take 210 to 240 mg of boswellic acids three times a day.
For back pain and other areas of aching or stiffness: Take 150 mg boswellic acids three times a day. Or rub a pea-sized amount of cream into the area where the pain is concentrated every four to six hours. Continue as long as needed.
Look for products standardized to 60% boswellic acids. Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Boswellia, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
Guidelines for Use
Traditionally, boswellia is taken internally for eight to 12 weeks and the cream is used as long as needed.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions for this herb.
Possible Side Effects
Boswellia doesn’t typically cause side effects when taken at recommended dosages.
Rare side effects include diarrhea, nausea and skin rash.
All inflammatory joint conditions should be closely monitored by a doctor.
Avoid taking boswellia for much longer than the suggested eight to 12 weeks, as much still remains to be learned about this herb and its effects despite its extensive use in India.
Don’t take more than the recommended daily dosage unless a doctor advises you to do so.
Consult your doctor before taking boswellia if you’re pregnant or your immune system is compromised in any way.
Arthritis 400 mg (standardized to contain 60% boswellic acids) 3 times a day
Back Pain 250-400 mg (standardized to contain 40-65% boswellic acids) 3 times a day. Or rub a pea-sized amount of boswellia cream into the affected area every 4 to 6 hours for as long as needed.
Chronic Pain 250-400 mg standardized extract 3 times a day
Crohn’s Disease 400 mg (standardized to contain 60% boswellic acids) 3 times a day
David Edelberg, M.D.
Doctors from India who practice traditional Ayurvedic medicine have long used extracts made from a resin that oozes from the tapped bark of the native boswellia tree (also called the Indian frankincense tree). Historically these extracts been taken for a variety of conditions.
HOW IT HELPS BACK PAIN
Your doctor might well recommend an NSAID (aspirin or ibuprofen) or one of the new COX-2 inhibitors to control your back pain. On the other hand, boswellia, whose natural anti-inflammatory effect seems to mimic the same very pricey COX-2s, is a safe and natural alternative. Just don’t expect boswellia to cure your back problem, or even start rebuilding the cartilage. No pain medicine can do that. But you might experience some pleasant relief without any upset stomach.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Boswellia comes in various ways: as a single supplement and in a number of different combination products that include other natural anti-inflammatory substances, such as the herbs ginger and turmeric.
Boswellia is available in a number of forms, namely: Tablets and capsules to be taken internally. Cream that can be rubbed directly into the joint; some patients report that this produces a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect.
My favorite complex contains a stew of herbal anti-inflammatories, starting with boswellia and also including ginger, bromelain, turmeric, yucca, and devil’s claw. There are probably a half a dozen good brands that make a natural anti-inflammatory mixture.
This herb has been used for many centuries; it is considered very safe and has few, if any, side effects. Look for products standardized to contain 60% boswellic acids.
Most people discover on their own how frequently they need to take boswellia. Like any other painkiller, how fast boswellia wears off for you depends on how fast you metabolize it. You may be comfortable with only one capsule a day. Or, you may feel its effects wearing off in a few hours, and then it’s okay to take another. The normal dose is one tablet or capsule three times a day, but really, you may need a little more, or even a little less.
For product recommendations and orders from the Natural Apothecary click here or call 773-296-6700, ext. 2001.
David Edelberg, MD