An age old substance could offer new hope for sufferers of inflammatory arthritis and the more common osteoarthritis. That substance is frankincense, a resin derived from the hardy Boswellia tree. Frankincense has been traded for over 5000 years, and is best known for its aroma. It is commonly used in incense and perfumes.
Frankincense is also widely used in various religious rites, and was said to be among the gifts presented to baby Jesus by the biblical Magi, or wise men, along with gold and myrrh (a similar reddish resin). Frankincense is still burned in the Roman Catholic Church.
Frankincense has also long been valued for its medicinal properties. The resin is edible, and is used in Asian traditional medicine to aid digestion and promote healthy skin. Frankincense has also been used in Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine for hundreds of years, and is called dhoop. Dhoop is used for treating arthritis, healing wounds, strengthening the female hormonal system and combating germs and mosquitoes.
Scientists have been investigating frankincense as a treatment for chronic inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, asthma, cancer, and rheumatoid and osteoarthritis In 2008, researchers from John Hopkins University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported that frankincense smoke was a psychoactive drug that relieved depression and anxiety in mice.
In another 2008 study at the University of California, 70 osteoarthritis patients taking a frankincense extract showed a significant improvement in their condition in less than seven days, with no major adverse effects. The extract was a proprietary product developed by Laila Nutraceuticals.
Recently, scientists from Cardiff University in Wales, noting that frankincense was a traditional herbal remedy for arthritis in the local Somali community, began to research it in the lab. Their research focused on whether and how extracts of frankincense could help reduce arthritic inflammation and reduce pain.
They were able to demonstrate that an extract of a rare frankincense species, Boswellia frereana, inhibited the production of key inflammatory molecules, helping to prevent the painful breakdown of cartilage that is characteristic of arthritis and gouty arthritis.
"What our research has managed to achieve is to use innovative chemical extraction techniques to determine the active ingredient in frankincense," explained Dr. Ahmed Ali, "Having done this, we are now able to further characterize the chemical entity and compare its success against other anti-inflammatory drugs used for treating the condition."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis is the most common form of disability in the US, impacting nearly 21 million adults. Arthritis can be classified as either inflammatory or non-inflammatory. Inflammatory arthritis is characterized by the presence of inflammatory white blood cells in the joint fluid.
Gout is an inflammatory form of arthritis, as is rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a non-inflammatory form of the disease. Both forms are incurable, but can be managed with lifestyle changes and arthritis or gout medications.