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Frankincense improves asthma, and fights breast, prostate cancer cells

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By Prof Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

Just as myrrh, frankincense is also popular due to the birth of Jesus-Matthew 2:11. Frankincense is a hardened gum-like material (resin) that comes from the trunk of the Boswellia tree. People use its oil on the skin and in aromatherapy. Frankincense oil seems to kill some types of bacteria and fungi (yeasts). It is commonly used as a fragrance in soaps, lotions, and perfumes.

In the bible, Frankincense was a perfume and spiritual incense, burned in temples throughout the East. Myrrh was a sacred anointing oil. Frankincense and Myrrh are both mentioned in the biblical book of Exodus as sacred articles in the early Jewish and Christian faiths.

Frankincense was used for worship in the Temple; it is symbolic of Christ the High Priest. Gold is symbolic of Christ the King. Myrrh a perfume, was used to anoint dead bodies, it is symbolic of His death for the sake of truth, and therefore of Christ the Prophet.

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Apart from the spiritual benefits, frankincense has been research extensively in health. However, some aspects of health have limited evidence. For instance, (Mahdian et al. 2020; Mehrzadi et al. 2018) study found that frankincense could lower or control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Also in the area of stress, anxiety, and depression. Shahidpour et al. 2021; Okano et al. 2019) studies report that frankincense could improve depression, stress, and anxiety in mice.

In the aspect of heart disease, Hamidpour et al. 2013; Zaki et al. 2014) found that frankincense has anti-inflammatory ability and could decrease inflammation found in heart disease.

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Beheshti S and Aghaie R(2016) also found that when frankincense given in large doses helps boost memory in rats. Frankincense also affects balancing hormones. For instance, one study by Shinohara et al.(2017) reported that frankincense could help delay menopause and reduce menstrual cramping, nausea, headaches, and mood swings.  The study found that some essential oils enhanced the amount of estrogen in women’s saliva, which could be linked to reduced menopause symptoms.  But this is not the case of frankincense.

Finally, Hamidpour et a.(2013) also found that frankincense supplements could enhance fertility in rats.

This notwithstanding, there are some areas in which frankincense has demonstrated extensive benefits. Hence, in this article, I examine the key scientific aspect of it.

Frankincense, science


One study by Al-Yasiry et al.(2016) found frankincense to have anti-inflammatory properties that help to deal with arthritis pain.

The major anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense are terpenes, and boswellic acid(Hamidpour et al. 2013). Thus, wang et al.(2014) study found that boswellic acid taken orally or topically decreased cartilage loss and joint lining inflammation in osteoarthritis in mice.

In humans, Grover and Samson(2015) frankincense extract decreases symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Bannuru et al.(2018) review found frankincense to be useful as compared to placebo in decreasing osteoarthritis pain and enhancing movement.  Though the standard of the studies was low.

Another study by Majeed et al.(2019) where respondents were given 169.33 mg of boswellia extract twice daily for 120 days found that the supplement decreased inflammation, joint pain, and stiffness in mild to adequate knee osteoarthritis, and posed no adverse reactions. 

A previous human study by Haroyan et al.(2018) also reported that when 350 mg curcuminoid and 150 mg boswellic acid supplement were taken 3 times per day for 12 weeks, osteoarthritis pain was decreased.  Taking them together was more useful than as a standalone or a placebo.

Another old human study by  Poolsup et al.(2005) also combined 5 g of methylsulfonylmethane and 7.2 mg of boswellic acids and was given daily for 60 days. The combination proved more useful in reducing pain and function than taking glucosamine sulfate, a standard supplement for osteoarthritis.

A subsequent animal study by Kumar et al.(2019) found rats given  180 mg/kg of Boswellia extract. They found that frankincense decreased inflammation but cannot be compared to drugs.

Support gut health

Kazemian et al.(2017)study found that frankincense, taken together with other herbal medicines, decreased abdominal pain, bloating, depression, and anxiety in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Another study by Antonella Riva(2019) found that Boswellia 250 mg tablets taken daily for 6 months enhanced symptoms in people with IBS.

A recent study by Pellegrini et al.(2020) found that Boswellia extract taken daily for 4 weeks enhanced symptoms in people with mild ulcerative colitis in remission. A previous study by Minuzzo et al.(2014) found Boswellia extract to possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in rats with colitis.

Support asthma

Ferrara et al.(2015) study reasoned that frankincense compounds avert the release of leukotrienes, which trigger the bronchial muscles to constrict in asthma. In this study, those who took a daily supplement of 500 mg Boswellia extract and their standard asthma treatment experienced a positive response and had to take fewer inhalations of their standard inhaler in the 4-week study.

A similar study by Liu et al.(2015) also found that frankincense alters the Th2 cytokines, which triggers inflammation and mucus overflow in those with asthma.

In Yugandhar et al.(2018)  study, the respondents were given 200 mg of a supplement made from frankincense and the South Asian fruit bael (Aegle marmelos), and they found that the supplement was more effective than a placebo at reducing asthma symptoms.

In a previous study, Zhou et al.(2015) found that asthma symptoms in mice improved with boswellic acid, a constituent of frankincense resin.

Oral health

Maraghehpour et al.(2016) study found that the Boswellia acids constituent have strong antibacterial properties,  and support oral health.

In this test-tube study, frankincense extract was effective against Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, a bacteria that causes aggressive gum disease.

In a previous study, Mostafa et al.(2014)  those who chewed gum that had frankincense for 5 hours, decreased microbes each hour.

Anticancer properties

Test-tube studies(Parr and Ali, 2018; Chen et al. 2013) found that the Boswellia acids in frankincense avert cancer cells from growing.

Al-Yasiry et al.(2016) note that Boswellic acids avert the formation of DNA in cancerous cells.

More test-tube studies(Chen et al. 2013; Liu et al. 2018; Yoo et al. 2019; Hakkim et al. 2020; Ranjbarnejad et al. 2017) found that frankincense could wade off breast, prostate, pancreatic, skin, and colon cancer cells. It also deals with the side effects of cancer treatment.

For instance, one study by Pierro et al.(2019) found that respondents with brain tumors given 4,500 mg of boswellic acid daily prevent brain edema — an accumulation of fluid in the brain — and cut down respondents’ standard drug dose.

Take home

Frankincense can be used in many ways to improve health. It can be used in aromatherapy but should be diluted with other essential oils.  The following dosages have been used in human research:

o          Asthma: 200 or 500 mg per day(Yugandhar et al. 2018)

o          IBS: 250 mg per day (Antonella Riva, 2019)

o          Osteoarthritis: 170 mg, twice per day (Majeed et al. 2019)

o          Ulcerative colitis: 250 mg per day (Pellegrini et al. 2016)

However, higher doses of up to 1,000 mg/kg were not toxic in rats. This is equal to about five times the typical maximum dose for humans of 1,500 mg per day(AbdulRahman et al. 2020).

Sanghamitra M. Misra(2014;  Jivad et al. 2015; Eshaghian et al. 2019) found indigestion, constipation, and nausea as some side effects.

Sanghamitra M. Misra(2014) also believes it can cause miscarriage.  It can also interact with conventional medications(Mili? et al. 2014; Roe et al. 2019) such as blood thinners like warfarin and nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen.

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) warned in a 2020 report that frankincense, could interfere with the body’s inflammatory response during a COVID-19 infection.

However, some studies believe it can rather fight COVID-19(Ali et al. 2020;  Firenzuoli et al. 2020; Brendler et al. 2021).

The writer is a professor of naturopathic healthcare, a medical journalist, an author, and a science writer. E. mail: [email protected]. For more about me, Visit:  profnyarkotey.com

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