If you want to know what Boswellia serrata is, why people take it, and whether or not it can benefit you, then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. Boswellia serrata is a traditional Indian medicine used to reduce pain that’s become a popular supplement for reducing joint pain.
  2. It appears to be highly effective for reducing joint pain, and it may also improve gut health and reduce the risk of several types of cancer.
  3. Boswellia serrata currently is only well proven to fight joint inflammation, but the evidence for it’s anticancer and other health properties is growing.

If there is one major difference between the pharmaceutical and herbal approach to things, it would be dirtiness.

No, I’m not referring to the fact that one is synthesized in a sterilized laboratory whereas the other is plucked from the ground after you flick a few bugs off of it—although that also makes sense. I’m talking pharmaceutical dirtiness.

Clean drugs have one action and one action only.

Dirty drugs have many different actions and a ton of unforeseen side effects.

Clean and dirty compounds exist in both pharmacy and nutritional supplements but ultimately, pharmacy gives you one compound. Herbs, by nature of being powdered plants that once lived, have numerous compounds in them.

These numerous compounds could have unforeseen dangerous side-effects which would preclude their usage. This is a major reason why most medical doctors wait until there’s a LOT of evidence before recommending something.

However, if the dirtiness of a drug is somewhat limited (in the realm of being able to predict its effects rather than getting blindsided by something) then we enter the realm of “happy little side effects.”

Fiber should increase flatulence, not decrease it, but that’s a nice surprise with the mixed soluble/insoluble fiber.

Nobody predicted fish oil could protect neurons from intense exercise, but it does, so that’s cool.

Nobody predicted that Boswellia serrata could eliminate the presence of a brain tumor so …

Wait, hold up …

Beg your bloody pardon?

Yup, that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.

Boswellia serrata, a joint health supplement that we use in Fortify because it’s bloody swell for the joints, may have some unforeseen happy little side effects for preventing cancer.

Now, when that section comes I will be cautious in my wording, but I will state one thing outright. We live in a world where damn near any herb is claimed to be “anti-cancer” due to either nonsense or the fact that it managed to kill a single cancer cell in a petri dish.

Boswellia serrata is in the grey territory of not being a proven cancer fighter but, damn, it is indeed putting up a fight with some of these studies.

What Is Boswellia Serrata?

Boswellia serrata, also known as Indian frankincense, is an herb.

It’s used as both a traditional Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine and aromatic burnt at ceremonies.

Boswellia serrata has traditionally been used to “benumb the senses.” It’s been used as a tranquilizer in Ethiopia and has been given with wine to ease prisoners before they are executed (according to the Jewish talmud.)

Happily enough, we don’t use it these days for executions. We use it for joint health!

Cause whether you want to walk to the grocery store or whether your head is on the chopping block and an overly hairy and chesty man with an eye-less hooded mask is spitting into his hands, it’s nice to feel less pain.

Recommended Reading:

→ The 3 Best and Worst Nootropics for Boosting Brain Function

Why Do People Supplement with Boswellia Serrata?


boswellia serrata

Boswellia serrata is, by far, most commonly used to support joint health.

It’s commonly paired with curcumin since, as we will get into in the next section, there are mechanistic reasons as to why the two can be argued to be synergistic (or at the very least, additive, in their benefits to joint health.)

However, Boswellia serrata has also been subject to the “hur dur anti-inflammatory” treatment and, since it’s also an antioxidant, has been recommended for a wide range of conditions from joint and intestinal health to merely improving skin and hair quality while destroying cancer.

Such is the fate of traditional medicines. They have to go through the shame circuit of alternative medicine pining for them being a cure-all before they settle into their niches.

Once the hype dies down, will the herb still be renowned for the reasons people take it?

What Are the Benefits of Boswellia Serrata?

The claimed benefits of Boswellia serrata that are notable all tie back into its anti-inflammatory properties. These include:

  • Reducing joint inflammation
  • Reducing intestinal inflammation
  • Improving overall health

Whereas other claims that surround this herb include:

  • Reducing brain edema
  • Reducing headaches and migraines
  • Improving mood
  • Supporting immunity

However, as for claims that are actually based on some degree of evidence …

Boswellia Serrata and Joint Inflammation

The primary function of Boswellia serrata is secondary to “boswellic acids,” a group of LOX inhibitors.

Lipoxygenase (LOX) is an enzyme similar to cyclooxygenase (COX) in concept, an enzyme that turns otherwise inert or anti-inflammatory mediators into inflammatory ones. It’s a vital enzyme when you need to surmount an inflammatory defense of the body.

However, excess activation of this enzyme has similar side-effects as excess activation of COX. You simply have too much inflammation floating around.

The boswellic acids, specifically the major one known as AKBA, potently inhibit this enzyme.

However, it should be noted that while similar in concept they are indeed two different enzymes. While over the counter NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Naproxen, as well as supplements like curcumin all target COX, Boswellia serrata is the only potent herb known to target LOX.

In other words, Boswellia serrata is the “two” punch of the one-two anti-inflammatory punch. The “one” is pretty interchangeable.

This anti-inflammatory effect has been most well studied in the context of osteoarthritis, both when Boswellia serrata is studied alone and when it is studied alongside curcumin (to test the one-two punch theory.)

The combination is better than either one alone, more effective than the pharmaceutical reference celecoxib, and Boswellia serrata alone has been tested multiple times with reliable benefits over placebo. Notably, herbal supplements with Boswellia serrata do not work for rheumatoid arthritis so the benefits don’t extend to auto-immunity.

The above is why we use curcumin and Boswellia serrata in Fortify, but then throw in UC-II collagen due to it having unique benefits to rheumatism.

Finally, Boswellia serrata has been noted to oddly help reduce pain caused by osteoarthritis within a week, normally far too short a time for anti-inflammatories to work. This may be due to how Boswellia serrata simply has pain-reducing properties in the brain outright.

So collectively, it benefits inflammation of the joints in a way that works alongside COX inhibitors like curcumin or Ibuprofen while also conferring fast-acting pain reducing effects that can benefit otherwise healthy young people.

Boswellia serrata is a proven joint health supplement, but it’s best claim to fame is how it has a relatively unique function that works well with other joint health supplements.

Recommended Reading:

→ The 3 Best (and Worst) Supplements for Joint Pain

Boswellia Serrata and Whole-Body Inflammation

boswellia serrata uses

Boswellia serrata is mostly a one-trick pony but it’s a fine trick, inhibiting LOX.

It’s good enough that Boswellia serrata, normally an Ayurvedic medicine, is stolen by the Chinese for Traditional Chinese Medicine for intestinal inflammation.

While colitis in rodents is significantly improved with boswellic acids with potency similar to corticosteroids the human trial results were more moderate—increasing remission rates from 26.7% in placebo up to 43.8% with 1,200 mg Boswellia serrata daily.

Other studies note potent effects in ulcerative colitis, causing 82% of subjects to go into remission, and less potent effects in Crohn’s disease where 59.9% of subjects in remission stayed in remission with Boswellia serrata (but 55.3% of placebo did, so small gap.)

Beyond the intestines, the combination of curcumin and Boswellia serrata has also been investigated for kidney health with two studies finding reduced levels of inflammation in the blood thought to be reflective of improved kidney health. That data, however, is more preliminary.

The anti-inflammatory effects of Boswellia serrata seem to extend beyond the joints, but when this happens the potency of it is a bit unpredictable. Seems to be a decent enough choice for intestinal inflammation, but more research is needed overall.

Recommended Reading:

→ The 3 Best and Worst Anti-Inflammatory Supplements (According to Science)

Boswellia Serrata and Cancer

I want to be careful with my words here. Boswellia serrata is promising for cancer.

I say this for it’s particular interactions with pancreatic cancer (the most lethal form of cancer), brain cancer (the scariest, in my opinion), and breast cancer (one of the five most common.)

Firstly, when it comes to pancreatic cancer. 100 mg/kg AKBA in mice (16 mg/kg estimated human dose) has been shown to half pancreatic tumor size, and  this was later confirmed in another study. While mice and humans do differ, human cancer cells (not in human bodies) have been suppressed from Boswellia serrata.

This is due to Boswellia serrata, related to being an anti-inflammatory, suppressing growth and invasion of tissue (the ability of tissue to grow and spread uncontrolled) via what is known as the Cysteine X Cysteine chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4) that is highly involved in metastasis.

Specifically, the “big boss” of inflammation known as nF-kB would normally tell CXCR4 to start being produced more and do more work but Boswellia serrata interferes with them communicating with each other. This is also seen in leukemia, myeloma, and breast cancer cells.

Metastasis refers to the process of a tumor being in one area and deciding to just go somewhere else, like a node of lung cancer just breaking off and floating down to the bone—when this happens it usually signals the cancer is getting MUCH worse.

No human studies appear to exist at this point in time on Boswellia serrata and pancreatic cancer.

However, despite the lack of human data, it remains interesting because some people are going to take boswellia anyways for joint issues—pancreatic cancers deadliness comes from an inability to detect it until it’s too late so every little bit helps.

There’s also a case study of Boswellia serratacuring brain cancer.”

To clarify, by “curing” I mean there was breast cancer that metastasized to a woman’s brain yet the introduction of 800 mg Boswellia serrata eliminated the presence of the tumor as evidenced by CT scans.

This case study is supported by general anti-cancer effects of Boswellia serrata in glioma cancer cells (rodent data) showing up to a 65.7% reduction in tumor size after two weeks.

Supplementation also seemed to prevent tumors from becoming big—they were limited to only being small tumor clusters.

However, further human studies on this topic are merely in brain edema from irradiation (side-effect of chemotherapy) but Boswellia serrata did indeed show protective effects, with 60% of patients reporting benefits compared to 26% of placebo.

Finally, in keeping the trend, Boswellia serrata has been studied (alongside betaine and myo-inositol) in two human studies on breast cancer. Both found positive effects—the tumors were actually reduced in size, a feat dietary supplements rarely achieve and, when they do, is notable.

Recommended Reading:

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So where does this leave us?

First, it’s preliminary data. It’s imprudent to extrapolate rodent data onto humans but we have just enough human data to pique our interest that this isn’t going to be a mouse-only issue.

Secondly, the fact that it has no side-effects reported in the human trials so far paired with the fact that there is another reason to take it (for joint health, mostly) shows that this could be the most happy of side-effects.

And just to state outright. Usually when you hear of “anti-cancer” herbs you have in vitro studies where an overdose killed a cancer cell (damn near anything can do that.) Boswellia serrata, causing 50% or more reductions in tumor size in mice and some human data, is in another ballpark.

Boswellia serrata is not, currently, a “proven” cancer fighter but it definitely has convincing preliminary evidence that may apply to humans. Furthermore, this protective effect applies to two of the scariest cancer types; pancreatic and brain.

Recommended Reading:

→ Does Eating Red Meat Really Cause Cancer?

What Does Boswellia Serrata Not Do?

The section title is a bit of a misnomer here since Boswellia serrata is not yet proven to not do anything. That said, people claim it does many things without any evidence, so it’s worth looking at those claims, too.

Boswellia Serrata and Migraines

boswellia serrata side effects

Boswellia serrata seems to be one of a few herbs that’s used for headaches but, unlike something like feverfew or caffeine, it does not have any evidence for this use yet.

However, it does have evidence for it affecting the brain (and reducing edema to boot) and has general pain-reducing properties even beyond inflammation—it seems reasonable to assume that it may play a role in at least reducing the pain of migraines.

Boswellia Serrata and Mood

Boswellia serrata is claimed to help with mood and, I guess for people with a lot of pain it’s true?

The previous studies showing benefits of this plant on joint health took various measures to assess how well Boswellia serrata “worked” and among them was a simple question—how do you feel?

Turns out that having your joint pain reduced puts you in a better mood.

However, to outright claim that Boswellia serrata improves mood is a bit misguided. It does not yet have any evidence to suggest an improvement in mood outright, just when pain is reduced.

Boswellia Serrata and Immunity

As a general rule of thumb, anti-inflammatories are anti-immunity while pro-inflammatories are pro-immunity. It’s not an absolute rule, with notable exceptions, but it’s reliable enough.

It’s important to remember this since most herbs, in their hype days, are labelled with both of these claims simultaneously and rarely do both claims end up being true.

In the case of Boswellia serrata, the only evidence we have right now is the fact that there’s a part of the plant called BOS 2000 that affects the immune system. While an incredible name for cybernetic management it’s imprudent to extrapolate this data to humans right now.

What Is the Clinically Effective Dose of Boswellia serrata?

The clinically effective dose of boswellia depends on what form you are taking.

Studies using the gum resin (the most crude form of supplementation) tend to use between 1,200 to 2,000 mg of the gum resin each day, split into three doses taken with meals. The crude form tends to have about 3% AKBA.

Most supplementation these days use some form of Boswellia serrata that has an increased AKBA content, due to studies using the patented forms of Aflapin and 5-Loxin which increase the levels of the most potent boswellic acid (20% and 30% respectively.)

Studies that use high concentration AKBA tend to use the 100 to 250 mg range of these AKBA enhanced forms of Boswellia serrata, but are designed to be once daily supplements taken at breakfast.

Fortify contains 25 mg of AKBA, which correlates to 120 mg Aflapin or 83 mg 5-Loxin. One serving puts you on the lower end of the active range and two servings, if needed, solidly in the middle of the active range.

What Type of Results Can I Expect with Boswellia serrata?

On the assumption you are taking Boswellia serrata for joint health, you should expect a reduction in pain within a week.

The reduction of pain, and perhaps slight improvements of joint mobility and functionality, that occur within one week won’t be the maximal potency. It takes up to a month or two for the benefits of Boswellia serrata (or any joint health supplement, really) to reach maximal potency.

While traditional usage of Boswellia serrata states that it is a calming and relaxing plant, these side-effects have yet to be reported in human trials.

The Bottom Line on Boswellia serrata

Ultimately, Boswellia serrata is a good joint health supplement that due to it working by a unique pathway (LOX), holds a niche in reducing inflammation.

It’s a good molecule deserving of much more research, in part because it’s anti-inflammatory properties could be wide-reaching but also due to having this nice cancer-fighting side-effect.

Plus the fact that it’s an anti-inflammatory and anti-metastatic compound, preventing things from growing and moving but not outright murdering them reminds me of the approach the immune booster pelargonium sidoides takes to bacteria—preventing them from growing and latching onto cells without outright killing them.

As a general rule of thumb, those tend to be safer and less abusable—great for when you can’t have a doctor oversee your vitals during usage.

Until those studies come, rejoice in the fact that your favorite joint health supplement may be reducing your risk of the worlds deadliest cancer. Praise the pancreas!

All of this is why we included 25 mg of AKBA from Boswellia serrata in Fortify, along with clinically effective dosages of …

  • Curcumin
  • UC-ll undenatured collagen
  • Grape seed extract

The bottom line is if you want healthy, functional, and pain-free joints that can withstand the demands of your active lifestyle, then you want to try FORTIFY today.

fortify supplement

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What’s your take on Boswellia serrata? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!