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Boswellia Protects the Brain

The Ayurvedic herb, Boswellia serrata, also commonly known as frankincense, is already well regarded for reducing inflammation along 5-Lipoxygenase (5-LOX) pathway. 5-LOX inflammation is associated with rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory conditions, and digestive diseases, just to name a few. This type of inflammation is difficult to control, even by other powerful nutrients and prescription drugs.

Laboratory research often finds surprising results – even with botanicals that have been used traditionally for centuries. So while working along the 5-LOX pathway is valuable, boswellia is far from being a one-note botanical. This particular study showed that boswellia may protect the brain in cases of stroke by working through a lesser-known pathway called nuclear factor erythroid 2 related factor 2 – or simply Nrf2. (You can pronounce it “nerf-two”).

The Nrf2 pathway appears to be intensely connected to our bodies’ own defense systems, and has been cited as a possible therapeutic target for everything from diabetes, aging, and various inflammatory conditions. Aside from boswellia and other botanicals, traditional diets, including the Mediterranean, Okinawan, and Paleolithic are rich sources of Nrf2 boosting nutrients.

The compound in boswellia that shows the most potential here is acetyl-11-keto-β-Boswellic acid (AKBA). But before you pick up a boswellia supplement to keep your brain functioning well or reduce the risk of cognitive damage, be aware that finding a consistent level of AKBA can be a challenge. Look for one that is specially standardized to provide at least ten percent of the compound. It doesn’t have to be artificially spiked – there are other valuable components of boswellia, too – but it should also have reduced levels of beta-boswellic acid, which are pro-inflammatory, and could be quite harmful.


Ding Y, Chen M, Wang M, et al. Neuroprotection by acetyl-11-keto-β-Boswellic acid, in ischemic brain injury involves the Nrf2/HO-1 defense pathway. Sci Rep. 2014 Nov 11;4:7002.

Stroke is a complex disease involved oxidative stress-related pathways in its pathogenesis. The nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 (Nrf2)/heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) pathway has been considered a potential target for neuroprotection in stroke. Acetyl-11-Keto-β-Boswellic Acid (AKBA) is an active triterpenoid compound from the extract of Boswellia serrata. The present study was to determine whether AKBA, a novel Nrf2 activator, can protect against cerebral ischemic injury. The stroke model was produced in Sprague-Dawley rats via middle cerebral artery occlusion. To model ischemia-like conditions in vitro, primary cultured cortical neurons were exposed to transient oxygen and glucose deprivation (OGD). Treatment of AKBA significantly reduced infarct volumes and apoptotic cells, and also increased neurologic scores by elevating the Nrf2 and HO-1 expression in brain tissues in middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) rats at 48 hours post reperfusion. In primary cultured neurons, AKBA increased the Nrf2 and HO-1 expression, which provided protection against OGD-induced oxidative insult. Additionally, AKBA treatment increased Nrf2 binding activity to antioxidant-response elements (ARE). The protective effect of AKBA was attenuated by knockdown of Nrf2 or HO-1. In conclusion, these findings provide evidence that AKBA protects neurons against ischemic injury, and this neuroprotective effect involves the Nrf2/HO-1 pathway.

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Terry is happy to provide his opinion on diet and nutrition, supplements and lifestyle choices. This information is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the advice of your physician and is not to be considered medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Should you have any concerns please contact your physician directly.
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