Does Indian Frankincense Have Health Benefits?

For centuries, people have smelled the strong aroma of Indian frankincense at religious ceremonies and cultural events. Traditional healers also use it to treat health conditions like indigestion, coughing and other breathing problems, and even recovery from childbirth.

Also called olibanum, Indian frankincense comes from the dried sap of Boswellia trees that grow in Africa, India, and the Middle East. Today, you can find it in several forms, including essential oil, a capsule or pill, and incense. It's also a resin that you find in drinks, food, and gum.

Possible Health Benefits

Arthritis, colitis, and other inflammation. Some studies show that Indian frankincense extract might ease pain and stiffness. The boswellic acids in Indian frankincense may lower inflammation while preventing cartilage loss.

For centuries, people have turned to Indian frankincense for belly aches like nausea and indigestion. Some studies suggest that it may improve the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Once again, researchers credit the anti-inflammatory effects of boswellic acid.

These anti-inflammatory benefits might also improve psoriasis. For the same reason, there's some evidence that Indian frankincense could help prevent plaque buildup in heart disease.

Asthma. Indian frankincense might help improve asthma symptoms. A small study found that people with asthma who took 300 milligrams of Indian frankincense resin three times a day saw improvement in their symptoms. More research is needed.

Cancer. Studies in mice have shown that Indian frankincense may help kill some cancer cells and slow the growth of others. But there isn't clear evidence that the treatment would help people with cancer.

Mouth infections. The boswellic acid in Indian frankincense kills bacteria. That's why some research suggests that Indian frankincense might treat mouth, throat, and gum infections, including strep throat and gingivitis.

The FDA hasn't approved Indian frankincense as a drug for any disease. If you want to use it, be sure to talk to your doctor first. That's especially important if you take other medications. Even natural remedies can have dangerous interactions with prescription and over-the-counter medications.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 26, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Nature Sustainability: "Frankincense in peril."

Middle East Institute: "The Story of Frankincense."

European Journal of Medical Research: "Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with bronchial asthma: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 6-week clinical study," "Effects of Boswellia serratagum resin in patients with ulcerative colitis."

Phytotherapy Research: "Evidence of effectiveness of herbal anti-inflammatory drugs in the treatment of painful osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain." 

Postepy Higieny I Medycyny Doswiadczalnej (Advances in Hygiene and Experimental Medicine): "Frankincense – therapeutic properties."

Arthritis Foundation: "Indian Frankincense."

National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy: "Safety Information."

BMC Research Notes: "Acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA); targeting oral cavity pathogens."

DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences: "The effect of Frankincense in the treatment of moderate plaque-induced gingivitis: a double blinded randomized clinical trial."

Mediators in Inflammation: "Botanical Drugs as an Emerging Strategy in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Review."

Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: "Frankincense (Rǔ Xiāng; Boswellia Species): From the Selection of Traditional Applications to the Novel Phytotherapy for the Prevention and Treatment of Serious Diseases."

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