Native to India, the Boswellia serrata tree thrives in very dry environments. Traditionally, resin from the tree is considered the beneficial part of the plant, and gathering it was a very hands-on form of harvesting, which bears some resemblance to collecting sap to make syrup from sugar maples. When the bark of the tree is scraped, it secretes a resin called “tears.” The dried, powdered form of that material is what makes up the boswellia in supplements.
While the use of boswellia resin dates back thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, it is only in recent decades that the full potential of extracted boswellic acids has been studied in earnest. Unlike conventional drugs, which usually target only one single pathway, boswellia affects multiple pathways in the body. But its most important benefit is probably its ability to modulate a particular inflammation pathway called the 5-LOX (5-lipoxygenase) pathway. 5-LOX inflammation is associated with many conditions, including arthritis.
Inflammation doesn’t only cause feelings of pain; it actually destroys joints. Unlike conventional drugs which can only mask the perception of pain, boswellia stops the actual inflammatory actions that both cause pain and destroy joint structures.
This review found that boswellia was effective at addressing key symptoms of osteoarthritis, including pain, joint stiffness, and overall mobility. The general time frame for individuals noticing these effects was about four weeks, although that can vary with the individual.
However, like all supplemental ingredients, its important to choose carefully in order to get the most effective form.
Boswellia contains specific compounds that are associated with the herb’s beneficial effects, and one of them is acetyl-11-keto-B-boswellic acid (AKBA). An extract that is standardized to contain at least 10 percent AKBA can deliver benefits while still keeping much of the botanical’s original profile.
Yu G, Xiang W, Zhang T, Zeng L, Yang K, Li J. Effectiveness of Boswellia and Boswellia extract for osteoarthritis patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2020 Jul 17;20(1):225.
Background: Osteoarthritis (OA) is the commonest form of inflammatory joint disease. Unfortunately, to date, there is no appropriate treatment for OA. Boswellia serrata was considered as a potent anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic and analgesic agent that may be a drug for OA.
Methods: In this meta-analysis, data from randomized controlled trials were obtained to assess the effects of Boswellia or its extract versus placebo or western medicine in patients with OA. The primary outcomes included visual analogue score (VAS), WOMAC pain, WOMAC stiffness, WOMAC function and lequesne index.
Result: Seven trials involving 545 patients were included. Compared with the control group, Boswellia and its extract may relieve the pain [VAS: (WMD -8.33; 95% CI -11.19, – 5.46; P<0.00001); WOMAC pain: (WMD -14.22; 95% CI -22.34, – 6.09; P = 0. 0006)] and stiffness [WOMAC stiffness: (WMD -10.04; 95% CI -15.86, – 4.22; P = 0. 0007)], and improve the joint’s function [WOMAC function: (WMD -10.75; 95% CI -15.06, – 6.43; P<0. 00001); lequesne index: (WMD -2.27; 95% CI -3.08, – 1.45; P<0. 00001)].
Conclusion: Based on current evidence, Boswellia and its extract may be an effective and safe treatment option for patient with OA, and the recommended duration of treatment with Boswellia and its extract is at least 4 weeks.