Anti-inflammatory, expectorant, antiseptic, anxiolytic, anti-neurotic… according to Google, there’s nothing Frankincense can’t do. So what does the research say?
Most of us probably first heard of Frankincense as one of the gifts brought to baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men. Lately, however, Frankincense has been hitting social media as a potential ‘miracle treatment’ for a number of ailments.
What IS Frankincense?
Frankincense essential oil is derived from the milky white sap of the Boswellia sacra and Boswellia carteri trees. These trees grow throughout Africa and Arabia, particularly in Yemen, Oman, Somalia, and Ethiopia. Frankincense is rather a trademark scent of Oman, where it is used for everything from perfumes and incense to medicine.
Obtaining Frankincense oil involves extracting the sap from the tree bark. The sap is allowed to harden into a gum resin over several days before being scraped off. This resin is then steam-distilled to extract the essential oil.
What does the research say?
Recent studies on Frankincense extract have elicited a number of therapeutic benefits – both real and potential. Here’s a quick glance at what’s out there…
- Cardiff scientists showed the potential for an extract of Boswellia frereana (a rare frankincense species) to treat arthritis. This particular extract may inhibit the production of key inflammatory molecules that break down cartilage tissue, thus helping to prevent arthritis developing.
- A 2016 study found extracts from Boswellia serrata and Boswellia carterii had anti-inflammatory effects in conditions such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, bronchitis and sinusitis. It also found the potential for boswellic acids to inhibit proliferation of tumour cells in some cancers. These boswellic acids were thought to have an anti-tumour effect and may even stimulate programmed cell death (apoptosis).
- This study agreed that while Boswellic acids may indeed be promising candidates for anticancer drug development in future, there is a need for further in vivo studies.
- Research is underway to develop a nanoparticle formulation that may improve the bioavailability of Frankincense. This study emphasised that efficacy of Boswellic acid is actually hindered by the fact that we can’t absorb it very well. Boswellic acid has a high lipid solubility, rapid phase-1 metabolism and poor intestinal permeability – which basically means the anti-inflammatory properties are not easily taken up.
- Another body of research involving rats showed that Boswellia serrata (Bs) gum resin may improve memory and spatial learning performance.
It’s impossible to say yet whether or not Frankincense is indeed a miracle healer. However – its worth keeping an eye on. The research certainly looks promising.
What IS Frankincense essential oil good for?
The woody scent of Frankincense essential oil helps to comfort and soothe. Frankincense essential oil is frequently used in spiritual practice for improving mind-body connection, as well as for overcoming stress and despair. Topically, it’s believed to promote healthy cell regeneration and maintenance. Skin care formulations use Frankincnse to treat dry skin, reduce the signs of ageing and to fade stretch marks and scars. As an astringent, Frankincense may also help strengthen gums and hair roots, stop wounds from bleeding and promote the healing of cuts, acne, insect bites, and boils.