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Soothe Aching Joints with Frankincense

Frankincense can help soothe arthritis pain.

| January/February 1998

The Indian frankincense tree may hold a key to relieving pain from arthritis and other conditions, and without undesirable side effects.

Inside the Boswellia serrata tree, which grows on dry hills throughout most of India, are phytochemicals called boswellic acids. Researchers believe that these acids control the production of leukotrienes, biochemicals in the body that maintain inflammation.

Boswellic acids differ from cortico­steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which affect different parts of the arachidonic acid cascade, a chain reaction that is largely responsible for pain and inflammation in our bodies. The cascade is like a tree trunk with several large branches, which in turn split into smaller branches. The trunk represents chemicals the body uses for a wide range of reactions, and the smaller branches represent more specific, localized bodily functions. A reaction can travel one of many pathways to the top of the tree.

Corticosteroid drugs, which often are prescribed for arthritic pain, treat severe inflammation. However, they aren’t designed for long-term use, because they interfere with the “tree” at the trunk level. Treating pain in this way is like chopping down a tree to get rid of a hornet’s nest high up in the branches—the pain is gone, but the side effects are costly. Also, corticosteroids are associated with suppression of the immune system.



NSAIDs (for example, aspirin, ibuprofen, indomethacin, and phenylbutazone) are used more often than steroids to treat chronic pain and inflammation. NSAIDs block action at one or more of the larger branches, which is preferable to steroids’ action, but NSAIDs may lose their effectiveness with long-term use and cause side effects such as intestinal bleeding and ulcers.

On the other hand, boswellic acids take more specific action higher up in the tree’s smaller branches, where they prevent or reduce leukotriene formation. This, in turn, slows the progression of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, and repetitive motion injuries. And boswellic acids haven’t produced any toxic or severe side effects.

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