Ancient Herb Suppresses InflammationMarch 2007
Boswellia Improves Symptoms of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause disabling pain and immobility in aging adults. Boswellia may offer relief for arthritis suffers because of its well-known analgesic, anti-arthritic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Osteoarthritis, the “wear and tear” arthritis, is caused by deterioration of the cartilage that cushions joints. Research suggests that boswellia helps prevent the deterioration of cartilage and joint tissue. Scientists now theorize that boswellia may work by inhibiting the breakdown of connective tissues that is caused by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a)-induced expression of matrix metalloproteinase enzymes.13
A pre-clinical animal study demonstrated boswellia’s benefits in managing osteoarthritis. Dogs suffering from osteoarthritis received boswellia extract once daily for six weeks. After only two weeks of therapy, 71% of the animals showed significant improvements in clinical symptoms of arthritis, including reduced pain, stiffness, and lameness.14
In a human study, boswellia was similarly shown to be effective in adults with osteoarthritis. Thirty subjects with osteoarthritis of the knee took part in a 16-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. All of those who took a boswellia supplement reported less pain and swelling, increased knee flexion, and the ability to walk a greater distance.15
Rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune disorder, in which the body attacks its own tissues as though they were foreign invaders. Boswellia may also offer relief of autoimmune-related rheumatoid arthritis. Boswellia can help reduce immune cells that encourage inflammation while increasing the number of immune cells that inhibit inflammation.16 Studies indicate that boswellia’s ability to modulate the immune system and inhibit inflammatory activity may help improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions.17
Critical Support Against Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are known as inflammatory bowel diseases. Ulcerative colitis primarily affects the colon, while Crohn’s disease may affect the entire gastrointestinal tract. These autoimmune conditions are marked by symptoms such as severe gastrointestinal pain and cramping, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. Boswellia may offer much-needed support for people facing these challenging conditions.
A recent survey of German patients with inflammatory bowel disease showed that over one third used complementary and alternative medicines—such as herbal therapies, homeopathy, probiotics, or acupuncture—to help manage their condition. Those who used boswellia extract, however, reported better results than those using other approaches.18
Researchers recently tested boswellia extract in animals with experimentally induced inflammatory bowel disease. The animals demonstrated tissue injury and adherence of white blood cells to the gastrointestinal lining. When the animals received boswellia extract, however, they exhibited less inflammation and destruction of gastrointestinal tissue. These benefits contributed to a reduction in the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.19
Other researchers tested boswellia extract in an animal model of ulcerative colitis to assess its mechanism of action and compare its efficacy with a steroid commonly used to treat the disease in humans.20 They found that the boswellia extract protected the colon by significantly reducing disease activity, as measured by decreased recruitment and adherence of white blood cells as well as platelets in the inflamed colon. They also discovered that boswellia decreased the presence of a biochemical known as P-selectin that plays a role in active colitis. Boswellia’s impressive protective effects were similar to those seen in patients receiving steroids to reduce their symptoms of colitis.
Boswellia shows important treatment activity against ulcerative colitis. In a clinical trial of 30 ulcerative colitis patients, 20 patients took a conventional boswellia extract three times daily for six weeks, while 10 patients in the control group took sulfasalazine (a NSAID used to treat inflammatory bowel disease) three times daily for six weeks. A remarkable 90% of those treated with boswellia showed improvement in one or more disease indicators, compared to only 60% in the sulfasalazine group who showed similar improvement. Even more impressive was that 70% of the boswellia-treated patients went into disease remission, compared to 40% of those taking sulfasalazine.21
Blocking Leukotrienes Improves Asthma Symptoms
Cases of asthma are dramatically increasing. An inflammatory disorder of the airways, asthma causes shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. By blocking 5-LOX-induced leukotriene production, boswellia may offer relief from the breathing difficulties that characterize asthma.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 80 asthma patients, 40 patients took an extract of boswellia three times daily for six weeks, and 40 patients took a placebo.22 Of patients taking boswellia, 70% showed an improvement in their symptoms, including the ability to inhale and exhale normally. Additionally, the boswellia-treated subjects demonstrated a decrease in eosinophils, which are white blood cells associated with allergy and asthma. By contrast, only 27% of the placebo-treated group demonstrated improved symptoms.
Every year, scientists are learning more about how inflammation promotes various disease processes. Recent studies have shed light on the interplay between pro-inflammatory lipoxygenase (LOX) enzymes and conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and asthma.
Long used as a traditional herbal medicine, boswellia blocks 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), one of the most damaging of the LOX enzymes. Laboratory and clinical studies alike demonstrate that boswellia holds promise in averting the numerous diseases associated with excessive levels of inflammation in the body. Boswellia may benefit adults seeking to manage or prevent conditions caused by the debilitating effects of chronic inflammation.
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