Can you eat frankincense?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you eat frankincense?”, and what are the health benefits of frankincense?

Can you eat frankincense?

Yes, you can eat frankincense. Do not take frankincense tablets or supplements without consulting your doctor.

With a 2018 projected global market value of $7.47 billion USD and an increase in demand for natural products, the essential oil industry has become increasingly important with a 5.93% Compound Annual Growth Rate  since 2013 (1).

Frankincense (B. serrata) is a traditional medicine of the East, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory, expectorant, antiseptic, and even anxiolytic and anti-neurotic effects. The present study aims to verify the reported therapeutic properties of Boswellia resin and describe its chemical composition based on available scientific studies. The main component of frankincense is oil (60%) (2).

What is the Effective dosage of frankincense? 

The safe and effective dosage of frankincense varies from person to person. Therefore, it is important to get in touch with your doctor before taking frankincense supplements. The pharmacokinetics and optimal dose of frankincense extracts are largely unknown; usually 600-3000 mg gum resin per day or equivalents are recommended for oral intake (3).

Self-medication can sometimes have negative consequences. The safe dosage of frankincense for individuals suffering from several conditions is given below. These dosages comply with scientific studies.

Many traditional and folk methods have side effects and cause drug interactions. Healthcare providers must have the correct information about complementary and alternative therapies to diagnose their interactions and side effects so that they can provide low-risk methods to enhance client health. Healthcare providers also need to evaluate patients for different interactions and side effects and consider whether complementary and alternative therapies could help them by asking questions like, ‘how does the patient understand the treatment? or is this treatment safe? (4).

Asthma 200 or 500 mg per day 350 mg, 3 times a day (3).
IBS 250 mg per day of Casperome®, a new and innovative formulation of purified B. serrata oleo-gum resin extract, standardized to contain at least 25% of total triterpenoid acids (5). 
Osteoarthritis 170 mg, twice per day Cap-Wokvel®, which contains 333 mg of standardized B. serrata oleo-gum resin extract per capsule (5).
Ulcerative colitis 300 mg, 3 times daily (2).250 mg per day

The recommended dosage for using frankincense to improve oral health and in creams is unknown.

Health benefits of frankincense 

May reduce arthritis

The anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense can help prevent arthritis. This is attributed to the presence of two main compounds, known as terpenes and boswellic acid, in frankincense. It is assumed that boswellic acids in general, and 3-O-acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA) in particular, as the most important component of frankincense, contribute the most to the pharmacological activities of this herbal substance. AKBA is involved in the regulation of numerous cellular signaling pathways that initiate various inflammatory diseases and types of tumors; therefore, it is a natural product that is considered potentially useful for the treatment of a large number of diseases, such as arthritis (5).

These compounds work antagonistically to the inflammation-causing compound known as leukotrienes

Frankincense may also prevent the joint pain that occurs due to rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. More scientific research needs to be conducted to prove the positive impact of frankincense on rheumatoid arthritis.

May improve gut function

The anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense are also effective in preventing gut disorders. 

A 2017 study showed that frankincense, in combination with some herbal medicines, relieved abdominal pain, bloating, and even associated depression and anxiety in people suffering from IBS (5). 

Several other studies have shown that the intake of Boswellia supplements efficiently reduced the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

Improves asthma 

Frankincense has been used for ages to treat bronchitis and asthma. Certain anti-inflammatory compounds in frankincense prevent inflammation and the production of mucus by preventing the release of leukotrienes and Th2 cytokines.

The resinous part of B. serrata contains monoterpenes, diterpenes, triterpenes, tetracyclic triterpenic acids and four major pentacyclic triterpenic acids. Among these acids, acetyl-11-keto-fl-boswellic acid has been determined to be the most potent inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme that is key to the biosynthesis of leukotrienes from arachidonic acid in the cellular inflammatory cascade (2).

Maintains oral health 

The antibacterial properties of frankincense keep the mouth clean and prevent oral infections. Studies have shown that frankincense inhibits the growth of Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans; the bacteria responsible for most gum infections (6).

May have anti-cancer properties 

Several test-tube studies have proven the anti-cancer properties of frankincense. This is ascribed to the Boswellic acids present in the frankincense. It may help prevent breast, prostate, pancreatic, skin, and colon cancer cells. Boswellic acid and its structurally related derivatives (i.e., constituents of the methanol extract derived from B. serrata) have anticarcinogenic, antitumor and antihyperlipidemic activities . Many authos have reported that several trepertinoid acids isolated from B. serrata were characterized by an antiproliferative effect of cytotoxic and cytostatic agents (2).

Common myths 

Helps prevents diabetes 

The myth claims that frankincense can help prevent diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels. But there is not enough scientific evidence to support this claim.

However, diabetes mellitus has also been studied with frankincense. Oral administration of aqueous extracts from leaves and roots reduced the blood glucose level. Furthermore, over 28 days there was a reduction in levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, creatinine, and urea. Type I diabetes causes beta cell death and insulin problems. Boswellia serrata has been used to target mediators relating to this disease. The anti-diabetic effects of the extract can be a defense against diabetes organ complications (7).

Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression

Several lab tests on rats have shown that frankincense helped relieve the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. There is a lack of human-based experiments to support this claim. The psychoactivity of frankincense has not been a recent study. It was recognized in the first century C.E. by Dioscorides who said it causes insanity. Also, it was given to prisoners in Jewish Talmud to make their senses numb and in Ethiopia for its calming effect (7).

Prevents heart diseases

Inflammation is the leading cause of heart disease. The anti-inflammatory properties are well-known and backed by scientific evidence. However, the positive effect of frankincense in preventing heart disease needs more experimentation.

However, studies focusing on finding out if a cardio protective effect can be offered by gum resin extract interrupting complex interactions were performed. Based on information gathered, antithrombotic properties have never been in Boswellia serrata’s gum resin (7). 

Promotes smooth skin

Frankincense essential oil is effective against acne and anti-aging signs. However, the lack of scientific evidence makes this claim doubtful.

However, extract of Boswellia serrata has also been used to reduce skin diseases such as redness, irritation, and skin tone. In China, it has been used to treat bruises and sores. The pentacyclic triterpene structure provides a delicate effect on irritated skins. Boswellia serrata extract needs to be dissolved or dispersed in either fatty acids or alcohols. It is then added with other derivatives. These include those that enhance skin or hair protection and ensure the product is stabilized (7).

Improves memory 

Lab tests showed that frankincense supplements improve the memory of rats used as specimens. More experiments and evidence are needed to validate this theory in humans (7).

Balances hormones and reduces the symptoms of PMS

The positive effect of frankincense in alleviating menstrual cramping, nausea, headaches, and mood swings and delaying menopause needs more scientific evidence. However, B. serrata oleo-gum resin has been used in Ayurveda and Unani Medical Systems in India against irregular vaginal secretion and menstrual cycle (5).

Enhances fertility 

Few studies have shown that frankincense supplements improved fertility in rats. More experiments need to be conducted on humans to support this claim.

How to use frankincense?

It could be used topically or taken orally in the form of capsules or tablets. Consult with your health care provider before taking frankincense supplements. 

For topical use, it is better to combine frankincense with a carrier oil. This reduces the viscosity of frankincense essential oil. This essential oil is inhaled as a part of aromatherapy.

Mix a drop or two of frankincense essential oil with your favorite oil like almond oil or lotion to apply to the skin. 

Mix some frankincense essential oil with milk and mix it in your bath water to create an aromatic soap. Applying frankincense oil to pulse points during meditation or yoga or to a hot compress can help you relax.

A paste made of the gum resin with coconut oil or lemon juice is applied to ulcers, swellings, boils, and ringworm. The resin is used nowadays in manufacture of incense, and as an ingredient in plasters and fumigating pastilles. It is also important as a scent and a fixative in the perfumery industry (8).

Possible side effects 

Reported side effects of the overdose of frankincense include indigestion, constipation, and nausea (3). Research is underway on the effectiveness of frankincense in treating covid-19 (4).

Frankincense may hinders the working of certain medications, especially blood thinners (e.g warfarin) and possibly nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (5). 

Special precautions and warning 

Pregnant and breastfeeding women have low immunity and are going through many hormonal changes. Therefore, such women should not take any medication, be it frankincense, without consulting their doctor. 

Conclusion

In this article, we answered the question “Can you eat frankincense?”, and what are the health benefits of frankincense?

References

  1. Wells, Rebecca, et al. Lavandula essential oils: A current review of applications in medicinal, food, and cosmetic industries of lavender. Nat Prod Commun, 2018, 13, 1934578X1801301038.
  2. Al-Yasiry, Ali Ridha Mustafa, and Bożena Kiczorowska. Frankincense-therapeutic properties. Adv Hygiene Exper Med, 2016, 70.
  3. Ernst, E. Frankincense: systematic review. Bmj, 2008, 337.
  4. Nejat, Nazi, et al. Prevention and treatment of COVID-19 using traditional and folk medicine: A content analysis study. Ethiop J Health Sci, 2021, 31.
  5. Maksimović, Zoran. On Frankincense. Archives of Pharmacy, 2021, 71, 1-21.  
  6. Maraghehpour, Bita, et al. Traditionally used herbal medicines with antibacterial effect on Aggegatibacter actinomycetemcomitans: Boswellia serrata and Nigella sativa. J Ind Soc Periodontol, 2016, 20, 603.
  7. Nwachukwu, Emmanuel Chukwudi. Frankincense: Biological Activities And Therapeutic Properties. Diss. Near East University, 2020.  
  8. Badria, F. A. . Frankincense (Heaven’s Gift) — Chemistry, Biology, and Clinical Applications. In: Badria, F. A. , editor. Evidence-based Strategies in Herbal Medicine, Psychiatric Disorders and Emergency Medicine [Internet]. London: IntechOpen; 2015