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Boswella serrata is a deciduous tree found in subtropical India, Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Arabic Pennisula (5). The fragrant gum extract of this tree, known commonly as frankincense, is used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammatory disorders and tumors (2, 5, 9). The active ingredients of boswellia serrata tree gum are boswellic acids. This component accounts for up to 30% of the weight of the gum (5), while up to 16% of the gum is pure essential oil (4). Boswellic acids are specific chemicals with either α or β chemical confirmations. The most common and well-studied boswellic acid is β-boswellic acid (7). The main effects of boswellic acids are anti-inflammatory. Boswellic acids help reduce many sources of inflammation in the body.
The accepted mechanism for the anti-inflammatory effect of boswellic acids is through inhibiting the formation of leukotrienes (1, 6, 7). Leukotrienes are immune mediators produced by immune cells and play an important role in inflammation. Boswellic acids are unique in that they specifically target an enzyme that forms leukotrienes, 5-LO (6). Research shows boswellic acids also inhibit the actions of inflammatory mediators that cause loss of collagen and elastic fibers in the skin (1). Boswellic acids also increase the activity of fibroblasts, cells that make collagen (1).
Many studies, both in vitro (outside the body) and in vivo (inside the body), point to this extract’s usefulness in topical treatment of many dermatological conditions. One of these is photoaging, chronic skin damage due to excessive sun exposure. In a clinical study, a cream containing 0.5% boswellic acid improved the appearance of fine lines and skin roughness associated with photoaging and increased skin thickness (1, 5). In another clinical study, a 0.5% boswella serrata extract cream improved 70% of psoriasis cases and 50% of eczema cases (8). 60% of participants had decreased redness and itching. Psoriasis and eczema are inflammatory skin conditions and are two of the most common dermatological disorders (8). Application of 15% boswella serrata resin extract on wounded rats resulted in decreased wound surface area and increased tensile strength of the wound (4). The extract promotes faster wound healing. Boswellic acids also inhibited edemas (fluid trapped underneath skin) in mice and rats (7).
Boswella serrata extract also has antimicrobial properties useful for dermatological applications (10). Treatment with the extract inhibited the growth of anaerobic (oxygen-independent) and aerobic (oxygen-needing) bacteria, including streptococcae, corynebacteria, C. perfringens, and P. acnes. This suggests a role for boswella serrata in treatment of conditions such as acne and eczema, two conditions that can result in painful and visible symptoms (10). As bacterial resistance becomes an increasing problem, this extract has the potential to bring relief.
In addition to improving dermatological conditions, topical application of boswella serrata shows promise for a variety of non-dermatological diseases. One of these is osteoarthritis. Topical application of a boswellic acid (275mg) cream to osteoarthritic joints of mice showed decreased cartilage loss and synovitis (inflammation of a membrane lining the joint) (9). The amount of boswellic acid in the joint was 2-6 times the amount in the blood, showing that boswellic acid can reach the joint with topical application. In vitro experiments with the explanted mouse joints show boswellic acid treatment inhibits inflammatory mediators (9). Another study shows topical application of 2.5%-7.5% boswellic acid in rats can improve arthritis (7). Additionally, topical application of boswella serrata gum extract to the backs of mice inhibited tumor promotion (3).
BulkActive's extract of Boswellia serrata is standarized at 65% for the active triterpenoids, named boswellic acids.