Boswellia, a commonly used herb in some parts of the world has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Use of Boswellia supplement may benefit brain cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy by reducing cerebral edema. Boswellia cream may also reduce the skin reddening side-effect caused by radiation in breast cancer patients. However, excessive use of Boswellia has its own side-effects and has to be considered with caution, if planning to include as part of cancer patients’ diet, post consultation with health care professional.
Boswellia, or Indian Frankincense, has been used for centuries in India, the Middle East, and North Africa. Extracted from the Boswellia serrata tree, it is still commonly burned around the globe for a multitude of reasons, whether it be for religious purposes or simply to mask the strong odours of Indian cooking. Like many other herbs, Boswellia has played a significant role in traditional Ayurvedic medicine and has been prescribed for a multitude of health problems ranging from common coughs and colds to diarrhea and snakebites. While scientifically, all of these problems cannot be attested to, Boswellia has gained recent scientific traction on its possible anti-inflammatory properties which can prove to benefit cancer treatment.
Use of Boswellia in Cancer
In a recent review of Boswellia published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), researchers from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center from New York compiled the findings of various different clinical trials and studies involving this exotic herb. Just to clarify, Boswellia supplements are not inhaled by burning the sticks, but through extracts, capsules, ointments and creams. These supplements have already been proven to aid in decreasing pain and improving physical function in patients with osteoarthritis, an extremely common form of arthritis which occurs when the ‘protective cushions’ surrounding the joints wear down, which can lead to excessive pain (Deng G et al, ASCO, 2019). Based on this knowledge, newer studies have been conducted in patients to assess safety and use of Boswellia in different cancers and cancer treatments.
In one study done by German researchers on the effect of Boswellia supplements on patients with primary or secondary malignant cerebral tumors undergoing radiation therapy, the researchers found that out of the 44 patients, “those assigned to a Boswellia preparation (4,200 mg/d) had greater reduction in cerebral edema than did patients on placebo (P=.023) after radiotherapy” (Kriste S et al, American Cancer Society, 2011). A reduction of cerebral edema of >75% was found in 60% of patients who received boswellia and in 26% of patients who received placebo. Cerebral edema is caused by an increased buildup of fluids in the brain and the body’s combat system for this is inflammation. Because of this, steroids are immediately prescribed to get the inflammation under control but this leads to a range of other issues such as immunosuppression and mental changes. Thus, Boswellia’s improvement/benefit on the cancer patients is significant because Boswellia supplements come with a lot less side-effects than steroids.
In another randomized study done in 2015, 144 breast cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy were randomly divided into two groups. One group was told to apply a Boswellia cream while the other was given a placebo cream which they both had to apply daily. The researchers found that a lot “more patients in the placebo group had intense erythema (intense skin redness) than did those who used the Boswellia cream” (Togni S et al, Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 2015). Essentially, Boswellia’s natural properties were beneficial for cancer patients with skin side-effects caused by radiation.
Of course, excessive Boswellia use is not devoid of any side-effects. Excessive Boswellia use, like many other products, can cause dermatitis and some gastric issues, but in the right amounts and in the appropriate context and indications, Boswellia supplement can greatly help reduce the side-effects of your cancer therapy.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.