Today is Epiphany — or “Little Christmas” — which traditionally marks the end of the “12 Days of Christmas.” This year, this past week also marked the end of the eight nights of Hanukkah.
We traditionally associate gift-giving with the season because the Three Wise Men, or Magi, followed the star and arrived in Bethlehem bearing frankincense, myrrh and gold for the newborn Jesus.
One wise man was probably a Zoroastrian seer from Persia; one came from Northeast Africa; and one from South Asia. And they were certainly learned about the real treasures of the Earth.
Today, I focus on frankincense, a plant resin used for thousands of years as a traditional remedy for a variety of ailments. You can take it as an oral supplement as well as apply it topically on the skin, and inhale its oils during aromatherapy.
Here are five important benefits of this ancient, healing plant extract:
No. 1: Frankincense for bone health
You may know of frankincense by its other name — boswellia.
It is the “B” in my ABCs for joint health. (The other two are ashwaganda and curcumin, also from South Asia.)
Ancient Ayurvedic medicine of South Asia, dating back 5,000 years, described boswellia’s anti-arthritic effects. Modern research shows boswellia helps reduce inflammation, relieve joint pain, and improve mobility.
It works by inhibiting chronic inflammation that causes arthritis and prevents the breakdown of cartilage lining your joints. When inflammation is controlled, your body can rebuild new, healthy cartilage.
Studies that compare boswellia to standard NSAID drugs show it’s just as effective at controlling inflammation — but without the drug’s side effects, such as accelerated joint damage, GI bleeding, and heart toxicity.
Plus, as I often write, when an herbal remedy has one well-known benefit, it typically has other health benefits as well — once you go looking for them. And the list of boswellia’s benefits continues to grow.
No. 2: Digestion
Frankincense can help with digestive problems such as constipation, gas, stomachache, and irritable bowels. All of which are especially common this time of year, after the holiday season’s rich delicacies. (For more on the dangers of constipation and how to avoid them see the upcoming February 2017 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter.)
A study in the European Journal of Medical Research also found frankincense to be effective in treating symptoms of ulcerative colitis when used three times per day over six weeks. Effects are similar to sulfa drugs commonly used to treat bowel disease.
No. 3: Respiratory health
Frankincense helps treat conditions such asthma, bronchitis and cough when used in steam inhalation.
In a study in European Journal of Medical Research, patients with asthma treated with 300 mg of frankincense three times daily for six weeks noticed improvements in symptoms.
No. 4: Dental health
Adding frankincense to dental pastes or rubs helps prevent cavities, tooth decay, oral infections, and halitosis (bad breath). Studies show it effectively combats gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) caused by dental plaque. It also eases irritation, redness and swelling in gums.
No. 5: Cancer prevention
Lab studies show frankincense helps fight cancer cells in the bladder, breast, brain, cervix, colon, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate, skin, and stomach. It works by activating genes that regulate cell cycle arrest, cell growth suppression, and cell turnover.
Frankincense also appears to distinguish cancer from normal cells, which could eventually help target treatments and avoid toxic chemotherapy.
One lab study showed that frankincense could reduce the effective dose needed for cancer chemotherapy drugs. Its well-established, clinical, anti-inflammatory effects may also help combat cancer by reducing chronic inflammation, which appears to be a feature of increased aggressiveness in some cancers.
It seems to also help balance the immune system and boost proliferation of immune cells for enhanced surveillance against some cancers. In a recent clinical trial, frankincense significantly reduced brain swelling in patients with glioblastoma brain cancer.
I recommend 400 to 500 mg per day of frankincense. Your joints will be more comfortable for it, and you’ll get a host of other benefits as well.
- “Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with ulcerative colitis,” Eur J Med Res. 1997 Jan;2(1):37-43
2. “Frankincense: From the Selection of Traditional Applications to the Novel Phytotherapy for the Prevention and Treatment of Serious Diseases,” J Tradit Complement Med. 2013 Oct-Dec; 3(4): 221–226
- “Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity,” Complement Altern Med. 2009; 9: 6