Boswellia, also known as frankincense, is the gummy resin of the medium sized deciduous Boswellia serrata tree. It’s becoming a more popular ingredient for human, dog and horse joint supplements, and has recently been mentioned as having benefits in a Cochrane review of oral herbal therapies for treating osteoarthritis.
Boswellia has been used since ancient times in Ayurvedic medicine, for healing a wide variety of ailments from fever, skin diseases, liver disorders and wounds, to inflammation. It has been described as a general restorative. The gum is gathered from beneath the bark of the tree, and solidifies over time, to form a reddish brown, dull yellow or orange material.
The biologically active ingredients are boswellic acids, and research studies have found that in particular, a compound called 3-O-acetyl-11-ketobetaboswellic acid (AKBA) seems to be active in inhibiting the action of 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme involved in inflammation. Researchers have investigated boswellia for asthma and inflammatory gut conditions such as colitis as well as joint inflammation such as osteoarthritis. Results are promising, and trials have confirmed its safety, with no side effects. The extra benefit of using boswellia as a joint-supporting supplement is that it doesn’t have the cartilage-degradative and stomach-irritating properties of commonly-used anti-inflammatory drugs.
Authors of the Cochrane review of oral therapies for treating osteoarthritis found that ‘There is high-quality evidence that in people with osteoarthritis, Boswellia serrata slightly improved pain and function’. They reported that further research is unlikely to change the estimates, reflecting the high quality of the studies assessed. People with osteoarthritis, taking boswellia, found that it eased their pain and improved their physical function.
The Cochrane Collaboration is an international network of health professionals (including practitioners and researchers) who provide health information from research evidence in an unbiased way, free from commercial sponsorship or other conflicts of interest. It is a not-for-profit organisation. The Cochrane Library is a useful resource of rigorously-produced reviews of health research.
Research in horses is yet to be undertaken, but anecdotal evidence is strong. Boswellia seems to provide an effective, safe way to combat joint problems including stiffness, pain and dysfunction.
Reference: Cameron, M. & Chrubasik, S. Oral herbal therapies for treating osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 5. Art. No. CD002947. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002947.pub2. The website can be found here.