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New Straits Times; 6/1/2004; Yam Cher Seng

Frankincense, the pain reliever
Byline: Yam Cher Seng
Edition: The City Advertiser; 2*
Section: Health

BOSWELLIA serrata has been documented in early Ayurvedic texts as being able to treat conditions such as digestive disorders, respiratory ailments and joint diseases. Also commonly known as frankincense due to its aromatic resins, it has been linked throughout history with spiritual and religious qualities. The resin is widely burnt on altars and in places of worship and is thought to impart tranquillity, to dispel fears, paranoia and nightmares. The resin is harvested from the Boswellia family of resinous trees in a manner similar to rubber tapping.

Science has discovered that there is more to the herb than its aromatic oil. It was around the early `70s that boswellic acids, the active components of the resin, were identified to contain pain- relieving and anti-inflammatory compounds useful in the treatment of asthma, arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
It is estimated that 10 to 20 per cent of adult Malaysians suffer from osteoarthritis, a condition more common in middle-aged and older people. It is a joint inflammation disease that gradually develops over the years and primarily affects the weight-bearing joints such as knees, hands, hips, feet and spine. A study (Kimmatkar et al, 2003) was conducted to assess the efficacy, safety and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in 30 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Half received the herb and the other 15 a dummy pill for eight weeks. The experiment was repeated with the groups crossed over to receive the opposite of what they first received. Results show that all of them when receiving the herb reported a decrease in knee pain, better flexibility and reduced swelling. Except for some minor gastrointestinal upset, the herb was well-tolerated.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the colon with symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and loss of appetite. A study published in the European Journal of Medical Research (Gupta et al, 1997) showed that boswellia extract of 350mg three times a day for six weeks was effective in 82 per cent of patients.

Asthma causes tightness in the chest, coughing, wheezing and breathlessness due to the constriction of the airways. The symptoms can be triggered by pollutants in the air, cigarette smoke, cold air, stress, respiratory infections, allergens and exercise. If the attack is severe and does not receive immediate attention, it can prove fatal.

In a study by Gupta et al (1998) on 40 bronchial asthmatic patients, improvements in the number of asthmatic attacks and rhonchi were seen. Rhonchi are abnormal dry, leathery sounds heard in the lungs which indicate congestion and mucus in the larger airways (bronchi).

Boswellia serrata is generally safe and well-tolerated but because the herb is a complex mixture of ingredients, one should seek the advice of a pharmacist or medical practitioner before using it on its own or in combination with prescribed medications.

* The writer is a pharmacist who is actively involved in the dissemination of information on natural healthcare and holistic therapies.