You might not have heard of boswellia, but you may know it by its other name: frankincense. It is said to be one of the gifts that was brought to Jesus when he was born, and it could prove to be an almost miraculous gift in the fight against cancer.
It comes from the resin of a tree called Boswellia serrata, which is native to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It has long been used in traditional medicine for gastrointestinal relief and to ease ulcers and arthritis. Now, however, researchers are learning more about the unique way that it helps fight inflammation. In fact, it works far differently than conventional medications – and that’s a good thing given the many undesirable side effects caused by the current anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals available.
What standard non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications do is block the production of pro-inflammatory enzymes. The way they work, however, happens to block the production of an enzyme that is needed to keep the stomach lining healthy. This is why people who take NSAIDs often experience problems like stomach bleeding and irritation, kidney issues and peptic ulcers. Alternatives like Vioxx that skirt around this particular issue proved to be deadly and were withdrawn from the market.
Boswellia sets itself apart from these drugs by blocking a different pro-inflammatory enzyme known as 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX). Not only does 5-LOX trigger the creation of pro-inflammatory leukotrienes, but it also contributes to diseases like cancer, asthma, atherosclerosis and arthritis. At the same time, boswellia stops the activity of HLE, or human leukocyte elastase, which has been linked to respiratory problems like chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis and emphysema. In fact, boswellia is currently the only substance known to man that can inhibit both 5-LOX and HLE.
Perhaps this is why a cell study that was published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology found that the extract of boswellia was more effective than standard chemotherapy drugs such as amsacrine, etoposide, and camptothecin when it came to stopping the enzymes that help cancer grow.
It has also been shown to fight the deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma. It does this by interfering with melanoma cells’ ability to metastasize. In addition, a 2006 study showed that it can alter the expression of the tumor necrosis factor-alpha that can promote tumor cell growth and the spread of cancer.
Boswellia extract has also been shown in studies to help kill cells seen in brain cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia. Meanwhile, a 2002 Cleveland Clinic study showed the extract is effective against the meningioma cells that form tumors in the brain’s covering.
The benefits of boswellia aren’t limited to fighting cancer. It’s also an excellent remedy for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. It can also boost digestive system health, alleviating everything from diarrhea to inflammatory bowel diseases and ulcerative colitis. It can ward off liver problems like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and it even improves gum health.
If you’d like to get the benefits of boswellia for yourself, you can find it in cream, pill and resin formats. The different products have different percentages of boswellic acid and the dosages can vary quite a bit, so this is one time when it may be helpful to call upon an integrative healthcare provider or herbalist for advice.
It’s important to note, however, that you shouldn’t take boswellia if you are pregnant because it stimulates uterine blood flow and can cause miscarriages.
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