A pilot study of frankincense resin shows that it may be as effective as the standard drug treatment for ulcerative colitis, but with fewer side effects.
Commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine in India to reduce colon inflammation, the resin, called sallai guggal, appears to quell leukotriene overproduction. Leukotrienes are chemicals released by leukocytes, or white blood cells, during inflammation. Their infiltration into the bowel is associated with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease affecting about 135,000 people in the United States.
German and Indian researchers at the Government Medical College in Jammu, India, recently collaborated in a pilot study of the resin, which thickens into a gum that is powdered and taken orally. The resin is from Boswellia serrata, one species of tree that produces frankincense. The researchers found that boswellic acids in the gum directly and selectively inhibit the enzyme that sparks leukotriene formation.
Along with a group of control patients taking a daily dose of 1 g of sulfasalazine, thirty-four patients with grade II or III ulcerative colitis took 350 mg capsules three times daily for six weeks. Researchers found that the resin was as effective as sulfasalazine, the standard drug treatment for ulcerative colitis.
Sulfasalazine, which is expensive in India, requires taking a daily folic acid supplement, and commonly produces side effects such as headache, aching muscles, nausea, malaise, and in as many as 80 percent of men, reversible sperm abnormalities.
Gupta, I., et al. “Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with ulcerative colitis.” European Journal of Medical Research 1997, 2(1):37-43.
Bennett, J.C. and Plum, F. (eds.). Cecil Textbook of Medicine, 20th ed. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunder, 1996.