In the ancient Ayurvedic medical texts of India, the gummy exudate from boswellia is grouped with other gum resins and referred to collectively as guggals. Historically, the guggals were recommended by Ayurvedic physicians for a variety of conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diarrhea, dysentery, pulmonary disease, and ringworm.
The gum oleoresin consists of essential oils, gum, and terpenoids. The terpenoid portion contains the boswellic acids that have been shown to be the active constituents in boswellia. [Phytomed 1996;3: pp.71-2] Today, extracts are typically standardized to contain 37.5-65% boswellic acids.
Boswellia inhibits pro-inflammatory mediators in the body, such as leukotrienes. [Agents Actions 1986;18: pp.407-12] As opposed to NSAIDs, long-term use of boswellia does not appear to cause irritation or ulceration of the stomach.
The standardized extract of the gum oleoresin of boswellia is recommended by many doctors. For rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, 150mg of boswellic acids are taken three times per day. As an example, if an extract contains 37.5% boswellic acids, 400mg of the extract would be taken three times daily. Treatment with boswellia generally lasts eight to twelve weeks. In the one clinical trial to date, people with ulcerative colitis used 550mg of boswellia extract three times per day.
Boswellia is generally safe when used as directed. Rare side-effects can include diarrhea, skin rash, and nausea. Any inflammatory joint condition should be closely monitored by a physician. At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with boswellia.
One small, controlled, double-blind trial has shown that boswellia extract may be helpful for ulcerative colitis. [Eur J Med Res 1997;2: pp.37-43]