If you were looking for one of the world’s most effective natural medicines, you couldn’t do better than to select boswellia. Native to India, resin from the boswellia tree is considered the beneficial part of the plant, and gathering it is a very ‘hands-on’ form of harvesting. When the bark of the tree is scraped, it secretes a resin called “tears.” This resin is better known as frankincense.
While the use of boswellia resin dates back thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, it is only in recent decades that the full potential of extracted boswellic acids has been studied in earnest. Unlike conventional drugs which usually target one pathway, boswellia affects multiple pathways in the body. But its most important benefit is probably its ability to block a particular inflammation pathway called the 5-LOX (5-lipoxygenase) pathway. 5-LOX inflammation is associated with many conditions, including allergies, asthma, arthritis, cancer, and digestive diseases including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease. Boswellia is also being investigated in cutting edge cancer research and has been shown to have the power to inhibit cancer cell growth. It is the subject of this Terry Talks Nutrition®.
Why Stopping 5-LOX Matters
Although when we hear the word “inflammation” we typically think about sore muscles, or allergic responses—and we’d be right—inflammation at a cellular level can very easily be considered the cause of virtually every disease state in the body.
Boswellia is amazingly effective at fighting 5-LOX inflammation. That’s important, because 5-LOX enzyme activity leads to tumor formation and inflammatory digestive, respiratory, and cardiovascular conditions.
Boswellia Stops Tumors
Tumor formation is caused by many things, but research has shown that age and environment can cause certain protective 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.
In a recent study, a group of researchers from Baylor University showed the ability of high-AKBA (acetyl-11-keto-B-boswellic acid) boswellia extract to inhibit the growth of tumors in colorectal cells. It does this through a process called DNA methylation, which “wakes up” the sleeping genes that suppress tumor growth. Overall, the high-AKBA boswellic extract stopped the spread of cancer cells, lowered their chances of mutating and spreading, and reduced the survival of the mutated cells that create tumors. But beyond that, the boswellia extract actually reactivates those “sleeping” tumor-suppressing genes—essentially “waking them up”—which can put the body on a path toward healing itself.
Another Egyptian cell study found that boswellia was comparable to doxorubicin and 5-fluoroucil—two chemotherapy drugs for stopping colon and liver cancer cells. Other work has shown that AKBA from boswellia was a primary compound that inhibited the growth of leukemia cells and prostate cancer cells by suppressing the ability of cancer cells to form blood vessels.
Aside from this, boswellia has been shown to reduce fluid (edema) around brain tumors. After radiation treatment, 60% of patients receiving a boswellia extract saw a 75% reduction of fluid buildup.
Choosing Your Boswellia
Like many botanicals, boswellia contains specific compounds that are associated with the herb’s beneficial effects. I’ve already mentioned AKBA, one of boswellia’s most powerful components. Based on research, I believe a naturally-elevated level of AKBA is critical.
It’s not unusual to find extracts that have artificially increased (spiked) levels of AKBA, or are essentially all AKBA. I don’t think that’s necessary, because there are other compounds in the plant that are beneficial, too.
However, I don’t believe that an unstandardized boswellia is the answer either. First, it has very little AKBA per mg. Secondly, one of the naturally occurring compounds in boswellia—beta-boswellic acid—is actually pro-inflammatory. Leaving beta-boswellic acid at its natural levels as you’d find in unstandardized extracts can mean that up to 25% of the herb would have an inflammation-causing compound.
I think a balanced approach is best. I recommend looking for a boswellia extract that is standardized so that you’re getting at least 10% AKBA and virtually no beta-boswellic acids. This way, you get the best of both worlds—a true, complete boswellia with all of the good components you need (but not at artificially high levels) with none of the potentially dangerous amounts of beta-boswellic acid.
Boswellia is a Gift
Boswellia is an amazing natural gift. This one botanical takes care of us in so many ways: it prevents tumors, fights pain, protects the cardiovascular system, and stops digestive diseases. And it does all of this without side effects.
Do your health a favor. Give yourself the gift of boswellia.
If you are dealing with arthritis pain, asthma, IBS, or even cancer, I recommend taking 500-1,000 mg of standardized boswellia extract daily.