Frankincense is one of more than 90 types of essential oils that are gaining steam in the realm of aromatherapy. Essential oils are made from parts of flowers, herbs, and trees like petals, roots, peels, and bark. They get their name because they give the plant its “essence,” or fragrance. They can be inhaled or diluted (watered down) and applied to your skin.
Each essential oil has its own smell and health benefits. Some popular ones include rose, lavender, sandalwood, chamomile, jasmine, and peppermint.
Frankincense is not one of the most widely used oils, but it does have potential health benefits. Also known as olibanum, frankincense comes from trees in the Boswellia family. Boswellia trees are native to Oman and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and in Somalia in northeastern Africa.
Frankincense oil is prepared by the steam distillation of gum resin from the Boswellia tree.
Much is still being learned about the health benefits of frankincense, but doctors like the signs they see early in their research and believe it could have some good uses. Those uses could grow over time.
Frankincense, along with myrrh, has been prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine and administered for treatment of blood stagnation and inflammation diseases in addition to pain relief and swelling.
Other possible benefits include:
May Fight Cancer
A study done by nine doctors in China revealed frankincense and myrrh may help in the treatment of cancer. Specifically, boswellic acid might prevent cancer cells from spreading.
Specific cancers frankincense may help fight are:
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Skin cancer
- Colon cancer
In another study discussed in a Cancer journal article in 2011, patients with brain tumors took 4.2 grams of frankincense or a placebo each day. Sixty percent of the group taking frankincense had reduced fluid in their brain, compared to 26% of the people given the placebo.
Research by eight doctors revealed that the compounds found in frankincense prevent the production of leukotrienes, which cause bronchial (throat) muscles to constrict in people who have asthma.
Seventy percent of participants in one study of people with asthma said they experienced improvements with their symptoms, including wheezing and shortness of breath, after receiving 300 milligrams of frankincense daily for a month and a half.
May Reduce Arthritis
The prevention of those leukotrienes that helps ease symptoms of asthma also plays a role in helping people with arthritis.
Arthritis is a disease that causes inflammation and pain in joints such as the fingers, knees, and feet. Leukotriene compounds cause this inflammation.
Participants in one study were given 1 gram of frankincense extract per day for eight weeks. Those participants said they felt less joint swelling and pain than those who were given a placebo. In addition to that, they reported a better range of motion, and they walked farther than patients who received the placebo.
Helps Maintain Oral Health
The boswellic acids that come from frankincense have good antibacterial properties, which help prevent and treat oral (mouth-related) infections. These include bad breath, toothaches, and cavities.
In one study, high school students with gingivitis were given gum that contained 100 milligrams of frankincense extract or 200 milligrams of frankincense powder. They chewed the gum for two weeks, and both gums were reported to be more effective at reducing signs of gingivitis than a placebo.
May Improve Stomach Function
The previously mentioned anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense also help to reduce symptoms of diseases based in the stomach, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
One study involving people who had chronic diarrhea gave those people either 1,200 milligrams of Boswellia or a placebo each day. Six weeks into the study, the people who had used Boswellia had cured their problem at a better rate than those who had used the placebo.
As with any product or food you use, it’s important to consider their health risks, if any. Frankincense essential oils are used in aromatherapy. Many essential oils used in that way are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and therefore might be harmful if used on the skin. Problems with essential oils could include:
The body reacts to different chemicals in different ways. As an essential oil, frankincense contains many chemicals that could make your body react negatively. One possible side effect is an allergic reaction.
Signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, hives, and itchy skin. If you experience one or more of these symptoms soon after coming into contact with frankincense essential oil, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
Similar to allergies, people who use frankincense essential oil may experience skin discomfort or sensitivity. This is also a way your body lets you know that it’s coming into contact with something that doesn’t agree with it.
If you experience discomfort, pain, dry skin, red patches, or itchy skin after taking frankincense essential oil, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice.
Reaction with Medication
Frankincense essential oil may negatively interact with other medications you’re taking. Talk to your doctor before using frankincense essential oil.
Amount and Dosage
Because doctors are still in the early stages of researching frankincense and only small studies have been conducted, it is recommended to not go overboard when using the oil on your own.
Although there have been encouraging signs so far, doctors are not ready to make wide-ranging declarations about how effective it can be on an ongoing basis. Talk to your doctor for a recommendation on how much you should use.