Overactive inflammation that goes unchecked in the body is linked to many health problems of our time. Boswellia serrata extract is showing a lot of promise in many of these inflammatory conditions, such as:

Here’s why taking a boswellia supplement is a great idea to calm the inflammatory response.

What is Boswellia serrata?

The herb Boswellia serrata, also called Indian frankincense or Salai guggul, has been used in India for centuries to address inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis and asthma. Boswellia extract contains beneficial compounds known as boswellic acids that fight inflammation and reduce oxidative stress. (15)(10) Boswellia blocks 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), an enzyme involved in inflammation, (18), and the activity of inflammatory proteins known as cytokines. (1) People often take a boswellia supplement in the form of capsules or tablets, but it’s also available as Boswellia serrata oil or boswellia tea.

Boswellia serrata oil in a small glass bottle

Boswellia serrata oil is known for its anti-inflammatory abilities.

What is boswellia good for?

Researchers have conducted several human studies on boswellia extract benefits.

Boswellia for pain and arthritis

One of the primary uses of boswellia is for joint pain and stiffness, symptoms often experienced by individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee, hip, and hand. (15)(10)(18)(12) Osteoarthritis is an age‐related, disabling degenerative joint disorder, characterized by unresolved inflammation accompanied by joint pain, decreased mobility, and poor quality of life. It often interferes with an individual’s ability to perform daily activities as they age.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, human trial of 48 people with knee osteoarthritis, researchers gave subjects Boswellia serrata extract or a placebo for 120 days. Compared with the group given the placebo, participants taking boswellia experienced a significant improvement in physical function. Their pain and stiffness was reduced. Medical imaging of the patients’ knees revealed improvements in the knee joints of individuals taking the boswellia supplement. Boswellia was also associated with reduced serum levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. (15)

In another study, this one of 12 healthy patients, researchers re-created the weight-bearing pain that occurs in people with osteoarthritis. The subjects were given either two capsules (125 mg each) of Boswellia serrata in a single oral dose or two placebo capsules. They were then put through a series of painful stimuli one, two, and three hours after taking the botanical or the placebo. Two weeks after the primary intervention was discontinued, the subjects who had taken the placebo were then given boswellia and the participants who had taken the boswellia in the initial portion of the study were then given a placebo. The participants then underwent the same painful stimuli. When the participants were taking boswellia, it took longer for them to feel pain after their joints were exposed to mechanical force. In addition, their ability to tolerate pain improved. (18)

Boswellia for inflammation

Boswellia and curcumin are often studied together for their ability to support a healthy inflammatory response. Curcumin is a component of the herb turmeric and is thought to play an important role in the spice’s healthful properties. In one randomized, double-blind study, 201 patients with osteoarthritis were given either boswellia and curcumin or a placebo three times daily for 12 weeks. The subjects given the boswellia and curcumin combination experienced significantly improved physical performance and reduced joint pain. (10)

man sitting on couch holding his knee

Studies have shown boswellia can reduce knee pain due to osteoarthritis.

Another study compared the use of boswellia and curcumin with the anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib. In this study, 28 patients with knee osteoarthritis were given the boswellia and curcumin combination or the medication. The combination of these two botanicals was found to be more effective than the medication in improving symptoms. (12)

One human study and a few animal studies suggest that boswellia, either alone or in combination with other botanicals may also be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis. (5)(4)(22)(14) In a human study of 260 patients, a boswellia supplement reduced joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, and patients were able to reduce their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). (5) In a rodent model of rheumatoid arthritis, boswellia together with curcumin, ginger, and Withania somnifera reduced markers of inflammation. (4)

In addition, you might consider adding bromelain to the mix. Bromelain is a protein-digesting enzyme derived from pineapple. It has anti-inflammatory actions beneficial for joint health. Human research shows that bromelain, when taken in combination with boswellia, may improve the quality of life of people with knee, hip, and other forms of osteoarthritis. (11)

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease

Boswellia may also support the health of people with inflammatory bowel disease. (6)(9) A randomized, double-blind study of people with Crohn’s disease compared the use of a Boswellia serrata extract with the medication mesalazine. (6) The results showed that the boswellia supplement was as effective as mesalazine for the treatment of active Crohn’s disease. In addition, boswellia was safer with fewer risks.

In another study, researchers compared patients with ulcerative colitis grade II and III taking 350 mg three times per day for six weeks of Boswellia serrata to patients using 1 gram three times per day of sulfasalazine, a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) used in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. (9) Boswellia improved stool properties and serum iron levels and reduced levels of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. Higher concentrations of eosinophils are linked to more severe disease. Even more impressive, of the participants given boswellia, 82% went into remission compared to 75% in the sulfasalazine group.

A similar study investigated the effects of Boswellia serrata in 30 people with colitis. (8) These patients suffered from lower abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, and a tender descending and sigmoid colon. Twenty participants were given 900 mg per day of Boswellia serrata in three divided doses for six weeks. Over the same time period, ten additional patients were given 3 grams per day in three divided doses of the drug sulfasalazine. Fourteen patients in the boswellia group went into remission compared to only four in the sulfasalazine group.

Boswellia for SIBO

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when there is an excess amount of bacteria growing in the small intestine. This can cause abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. Although there are no studies investigating the use of boswellia in this disorder, many integrative health practitioners use boswellia in their SIBO regimens, as SIBO is commonly seen in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease. (13)(19)

Boswellia supplements for asthma

In bronchial asthma, inflammatory compounds called leukotrienes are increased. Boswellia blocks these leukotrienes, leading to improvements in lung health. (7) In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 40 patients with bronchial asthma were given 300 mg of boswellia three times per day for six weeks or a placebo. (7) In the boswellia group, 70% of patients improved and their symptoms disappeared. In the placebo group, only 27% of the participants improved.

little girl using a puffer for asthma

Boswellia’s anti-inflammatory abilities may be beneficial in asthma.

Other Boswellia serrata health benefits

Boswellia serrata skin benefits are another use for this botanical when it’s applied topically. Human trials have shown that it may reduce fine lines and roughness after a lifetime of sun exposure. (17)(2) Some evidence suggests that boswellia may also be beneficial for acne. A study of an oral supplement that contained boswellia in combination with biotin, a probiotic, vitamin E, zinc, and nicotinamide improved mild to moderate acne in men. (21) However, since the results of this study were based on a combination of substances, the results can’t be generalized to boswellia alone.

Early research also suggests boswellia may play a role in improving cognitive function after brain injury. In a pilot study of 38 patients with brain injury, subjects were randomly assigned to receive Boswellia serrata or placebo for six weeks. (16) Patients taking boswellia were then switched to the placebo and people taking the placebo switched to boswellia for another six weeks. When the participants were taking boswellia, there was a close-to-significant improvement on the cognitive function portion of the Disability Rating Scale, and they were significantly better able to take care of themselves. (16)

Other uses for boswellia may include supporting the health of kidney disease patients, and together with curcumin, reducing oxidative stress in athletes. (20)(3)

The bottom line

Possible applications of Boswellia serrata include joint pain, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney health, asthma, skin health, and brain injury. The combination of boswellia with curcumin or bromelain may also improve its effectiveness in certain conditions.

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Disclosure: This article was written in partnership with Vital Nutrients. All supplier partnerships have been approved by doctors on our Integrative Medical Advisory team, and this content adheres to all guidelines outlined in our content philosophy. Fullscript has not been compensated financially for the publication of this article.

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