Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is a tree that grows abundantly in the dry mountainous regions of Africa, India, and the Middle East.
Since ancient times, the sap or resin extracted from Boswellia is one of the most valued herbs in Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine. The sap is also used to make Frankincense, an essential oil that is typically applied to the skin or for aromatherapy.
Chemicals in Boswellia sap have anti-inflammatory properties and can boost the body’s immune response. Boswellia is used widely in Ayurveda for treating arthritis, ulcerative colitis, coughs, sores, wound healing, and asthma. It is also available in supplemental forms to support joint health.1
Modern medicine and pharmacology strongly point out the use of Boswellia as an anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory, anti-hyperlipidemic (controls blood lipids), anti-atherosclerotic (anti-coronary plaque), analgesic (pain-reliever), and hepato-protective (protects the liver).3
In animal studies, Boswellia has been demonstrated to improve cognitive impairment, insulin resistance, and joint problems. It has been shown to preserve the structural integrity of joint cartilage. The essential oil of Boswellia also has antimicrobial property.1
Boswellia is also known as Salai, Salai guggul, Indian frankincense, shallaki, olibanum, ‘maghrayt d’ sheehaz’, ‘luban dhakar’, ‘loban majdi’ or ‘maydi’, ‘jagcaar’, ‘dhup’,and “Gajabhakshya”.
Composition of Boswellia
Boswellia oleo gum-resins contain 30-60% resin, 5-10% essential oils, which are soluble in the organic solvents, and the rest is made up of polysaccharides (~ 65% arabinose, galactose, xylose) which are soluble in water.3
Boswellia resins have several boswellic acids such as beta-boswellic acid, keto-beta-boswellic acid, and acetyl-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA).2 Boswellic acid, the major constituent of Boswellia, is thought to contribute to many of the herb’s pharmacological activities particularly its anti-inflammatory effects.1
How Boswellia works
Human clinical studies and animal models show that boswellic acids can inhibit the synthesis of specific pro-inflammatory enzymes that are essential in inflammatory processes.
Compared to quercetin, another anti-inflammatory plant constituent, boswellic acids appear to be a specific inhibitor of 5-LO. It’s a pro-inflammatory enzyme that generates inflammatory agents that cause inflammation by promoting free radical damage, calcium dislocation, cell-adhesion and migration of inflammation-producing cells to the inflamed body area.3 These pro-inflammatory substances contribute to the development and persistence of inflammation, which can cause discomfort and affect overall health.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often recommended as the first-line therapy for osteoarthritis in humans, dogs, and cats. However, NSAIDs can disrupt glycosaminoglycan synthesis, accelerating damage to the joint cartilage in arthritic conditions.
In contrast to NSAIDs, boswellic acids have been shown to reduce glycosaminoglycan degradation significantly . A study examining the effect of Boswellia extract and ketoprofen (a type of NSAID) on glycosaminoglycan metabolism showed that Boswellia considerably reduced the degradation of glycosaminoglycans compared to controls, whereas ketoprofen caused a reduction in total tissue glycosaminoglycan content.7
Medical benefits of Boswellia
The anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritis efficacy of Boswellia extract has been established in clinical and laboratory studies using both human and animal models.
Boswellia supports joint health
The powerful anti-inflammatory action of Boswellia has been shown to alleviate symptoms associated with joint problems, particularly osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common, chronic, progressive, skeletal, degenerative disorder commonly affecting the knee joint.4 It is the most common orthopaedic condition observed in dogs, with an estimated clinical prevalence of ~2.5% increasing to 20% when evaluated post-mortem. OA significantly impacts pet welfare due to its severity, long duration, and requirement for chronic pain management.5
In a 20034 study, patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee were given Boswellia serrata extract (BSE). Patients who were given BSE reported a decrease in knee pain, increased knee flexion, and increased walking distance. The frequency of swelling in the knee joint was also decreased.
Another study6 evaluated the efficacy of a Boswellia serrata gum resin-based drug, Aflapin®, in managing clinical symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee.
The observations suggest that Aflapin® conferred clinically and statistically significant improvements in pain scores and physical function scores in OA subjects. Aflapin® provided substantial improvements in pain score and functional ability as early as five days of treatment.
The anti-inflammatory activity of boswellic acids has also been observed to exert an inhibitory action on paw oedema in rats and mice.8
A veterinary clinical trial11 administered a herbal dietary supplement consisting of a natural resin extract of Boswellia serrata on 29 dogs with chronic joint and spinal diseases. The resin extract was mixed with regular food daily for six weeks. A significant reduction of severity and resolution of typical clinical signs in individual dogs, such as intermittent lameness, local pain, and stiff gait, were reported after six weeks.
Boswellia and cognitive dysfunction
Boswellia serrata is used traditionally to treat chronic inflammatory diseases such as type 2 diabetes (T2D), insulin resistance (IR), and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Accumulating evidence in preclinical and small human clinical studies has indicated that Boswellia extract has a potential therapeutic effect in T2D and AD. According to the authors of several studies, the possible therapeutic effects of Boswellia extract in T2D and AD can be attributed to immuno-modulatory, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activity and elimination of the senescent cells.9
Insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus, and cognitive dysfunction are mutually associated in complex ways.
A study investigated the effect of Boswellia gum on cognitive impairment associated with Type 2 diabetes-induced rats. Results showed that Boswellia extract reversed learning and memory deficits in the induced rats. This effect may be attributed to the inhibition of insulin resistance, pro-inflammatory cytokines, oxidative stress, and hyperlipidemia of boswellia. The elevated cholesterol levels in diabetic rats were also significantly reduced.10
The neuroprotective properties of Boswellia resin were also demonstrated in rats with traumatic brain injury. Results showed reduced scores in neurological severity and improved cognitive ability. Boswellia serrata is rich in specific compounds that have been demonstrated to reduce the inflammatory response associated with Alzheimer’s disease by targeting several important mechanisms. Also, Boswellia treatment produced a significant reduction in an oxidative damage marker in the hippocampus of diabetic rats and enhanced the antioxidant activities of specific enzymes.12
Boswellia helps soothe digestive orders
A 2015 study13showed that the anti-oxidant activity of Boswellia extract could help maintain the integrity and function of the intestinal wall, thereby providing a barrier from inflammatory damage.
Because of its potent anti-inflammatory activity, Boswellia can also help with other issues in the body where inflammation is present, such as skin issues (e.g. allergies).
Other benefits of Boswellia3
In addition to its beneficial use for arthritis and cognitive function, the gummy boswellia resin is also mentioned in traditional Ayurvedic and Unani texts as an effective remedy for:
- Digestive disorders, including mouth sores, diarrhoea, dysentery, hemorrhoids
- Skin problems, including ringworm, boils, hair loss
- Wound healing
- Fever (antipyretic)
- Blood and cardiovascular diseases
- Respiratory problems, including sore throat, bronchitis, asthma, cough
- Reproductive issues including, syphilis, irregular menses, vaginal discharges
- Stimulation of liver
Joint problems and cognitive dysfunction are common health issues in cats and dogs. Generally, these are age-related conditions that affect many senior pets.
One of the best ways to help ensure that your furry friend lives a full, healthy, and happy life is prevention. Start giving a supplement that supports joint health and mental function!
Bestie Senior is a health chew that supports cognitive function in dogs. It’s packed with powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients including Boswellia, gingko biloba, Davidson plum, vitamins C and E, and L-carnitine.
Dr. Merliza Cabriles is a Licensed Veterinarian and a University Professor with many years of experience in food animal and pet companion medicine. Her passion for writing and pet parent education and support are echoed in the articles she has written for various websites in the pet niche, including bestie’s! She enjoys cultivating positive relationships with her clients and dedicates her time to educating and supporting pet parents in providing the best care for their pets.In her spare time, she enjoys trekking and traveling.
List of References
- Boswellia: Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More. Date visited: 29 April 2023.
- Grover, A.K., Samson, S.E. Benefits of antioxidant supplements for knee osteoarthritis: rationale and reality. Nutr J15, 1 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-015-0115-z
- Siddiqui MZ. Boswellia serrata, a potential antiinflammatory agent: an overview. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2011 May;73(3):255-61. doi: 10.4103/0250-474X.93507. PMID: 22457547; PMCID: PMC3309643.
- Kimmatkar, V. Thawani, L. Hingorani, R. Khiyani.Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee – A randomized double blind placebo controlled trial.Phytomedicine,Volume 10, Issue 1,2003,Pages 3-7, ISSN 0944-7113. https://doi.org/10.1078/094471103321648593
- Jones, G. M., Pitsillides, A. A., & Meeson, R. L. (2022). Moving Beyond the Limits of Detection: The Past, the Present, and the Future of Diagnostic Imaging in Canine Osteoarthritis. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2022.789898
- Vishal AA, Mishra A, Raychaudhuri SP. A Double Blind, Randomized, Placebo Controlled Clinical Study Evaluates the Early Efficacy of Aflapin® in Subjects with Osteoarthritis of Knee. Int J Med Sci 2011; 8(7):615-622. doi:10.7150/ijms.8.615. https://www.medsci.org/v08p0615.htm
- Reddy GK, Chandraksan G, Dhar SC. Studies on the metabolism of glycosaminoglycans under the influence of new herbal ant-inflammatory agents. Biochem Pharm. 1989;38:3527–34.
- Singh GB, Atal CK. Pharmacology of an extract of salai guggal ex-Boswellia serrata, a new non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent.Agents Actions. 1986 Jun;18(3-4):407-12. doi: 10.1007/BF01965005.
- Gomaa, A.A., Farghaly, H.A., Abdel-Wadood, Y.A. et al. Potential therapeutic effects of boswellic acids/Boswellia serrata extract in the prevention and therapy of type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg's Arch Pharmacol 394, 2167–2185 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00210-021-02154-7
- Adel A. Gomaa, Rania M. Makboul, Mohamed A. Al-Mokhtar, Mariam A. Nicola. Polyphenol-rich Boswellia serrata gum prevents cognitive impairment and insulin resistance of diabetic rats through inhibition of GSK3β activity, oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory cytokines, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Volume 109. 2019. Pages 281-292. ISSN 0753-3322, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2018.10.056
- Reichling J, Schmökel H, Fitzi J, Bucher S, Saller R. Dietary support with Boswellia resin in canine inflammatory joint and spinal disease. Schweiz Arch Tierheilkd. 2004 Feb;146(2):71-9. doi: 10.1024/0036-72126.96.36.199. PMID: 14994484.
- Arieh Moussaieff, Na'ama A Shein, Jeanna Tsenter, and Savvas Grigoriadis. Incensole Acetate: A Novel Neuroprotective Agent Isolated from Boswellia Carterii. August 2008. Journal of cerebral blood flow and metabolism. Official journal of the International Society of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism 28(7):1341-52. DOI:10.1038/jcbfm.2008.28
- Catanzaro D, Rancan S, Orso G, Dall'Acqua S, Brun P, Giron MC, Carrara M, Castagliuolo I, Ragazzi E, Caparrotta L, Montopoli M. Boswellia serrata Preserves Intestinal Epithelial Barrier from Oxidative and Inflammatory Damage. PLoS One. 2015 May 8;10(5):e0125375. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125375. PMID: 25955295; PMCID: PMC4425476.