Frankincense has been used medicinally for a very long time.
We have discussed its historical value in a previous post. https://thatcrazypharmacist.com/?p=489
We have also discussed reports of the use of Frankincense extracts for the treatment of brain tumors. https://thatcrazypharmacist.com/?p=481
Since those postings I have made a concerted effort to study the possibility that Frankincense can be used to treat cancers in general, and brain tumors in particular.
Although I am still not an expert, I think I have learned enough to talk intelligently about the possible mechanisms by which extracts of Boswellia serrata (aka ‘Indian Frankincense’) and Boswellia carterii (aka Boswellia sacra and Boswellia carterii Birdw) might impact cancers and tumors.
To begin with, there are many species other than Boswellia serrata and Boswellia carterii, and each species and subspecies has its own unique set of chemical constituents within its resin. Boswellia serrata and Boswellia carterii seem to have been the most intensely studied, and are the species for which the anti-cancer claims have been made. Their resins’ chemical compositions seem to be similar in nature, although I get the impression that Boswellia carterii’s resin contains higher concentrations of the chemicals of interest relative to cancer treatments than Boswellia serrata’s resin. This observation probably isn’t important if you’re using one of the standardized extracts. But, it probably is important if you’re using unprocessed resin powder.
For those who of you who are interested in studying the differences between the composition of different Boswellia species’ resins, the report found at this link is an extremely comprehensive report of the results of a study of this topic. ( https://ediss.sub.uni-hamburg.de/handle/ediss/984 ) It is a copy of a Dissertation written by Simla Basar. It is extremely well done, and quite comprehensive. It is also a very, very large pdf file – and, yes… I have read it from cover to cover.
There are a very large number of compounds found in extracts from these two species of Boswellia.
In Europe the Boswellia carterii species seems to be emphasized – but an extract that I think comes from Boswellia serrata and which is referred to as H15 is reported to be approved as a prescription drug for treating brain tumor edema. Elsewhere, Boswellia serrata seems to be the species that most extract products come from.
The chemical compounds that are proposed most often as the agents behind the Boswellia species’ anticancer effects are the Boswellic Acids. More specifically, the Beta Boswellic Acids. Even more specifically, the one that is most talked about is AKBBA or AKBA (acetyl keto beta boswellic acid).
There are several other significant boswellic acids that exhibit anti-cancer effects, but AKBBA appears to be the most potent boswellic acid in this regard. It also appears to be the least affected by liver metabolism, although it is reported to have lower than expected absorbtion from the gastro-intestinal tract.
The predominant theories relative to the effects of the Boswellic Acids on cancer cells fall into five general categories.
– First, there is no doubt that these substances exert a very powerful effect on the 5-lipoxygenase pathways – causing profound reductions in inflammation and edema formation around brain tumors.
– Second, there seems to be an effect upon cancer cells that approximates that of chemotherapy agents that are known as topoisomerase inhibitors (http://www.freepatentsonline.com/5064823.pdf – US Patent 5,064,823).
– Third, it is also quite evident that these compounds are capable of inhibiting the levels of leukocytic elastase – thus possibly reducing metastasis (http://www.freepatentsonline.com/20100166670.pdf – US Patent 2010/0166670 A1).
– Fourth, it has been reported that AKBBA is capable of inhibiting tumor growth via suppression of angiogenesis (http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/69/14/5893.long).
– Finally, it has been reported that Boswellic Acids can trigger cancer cell apoptosis via a caspase-8 activation pathway (http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/12/2087.full.pdf+html).
There are other extract constituents that have been reported to have anti-cancer effects. (tirucallic acids – OTA, alphaTA, and betaTA) You can read more about these compounds in the dissertation by Aidee Constanza Estrada found at this web address. ( http://vts.uni-ulm.de/docs/2009/6770/vts_6770_9340.pdf ) Again, it’s extremely well done… and a very large pdf file – and, yes… I’ve read this one front to back also.
All of these effects appear to have been demonstrated at doses that are achievable with oral dosing in humans.
It is my belief that there are other compounds that will be discovered as research continues, and that the mechanisms for the current effects will undoubtedly be found to be much more complex than what is currently proposed.
For a good survey of current thinking and new thoughts about the mechanisms you can take a look at this article.
Boswellic Acids: Biological Actions and Molecular Targets. Daniel Poeckel and Oliver Werz. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2006, 13, 3359-3369. I can’t provide a link to a free copy, as it is one of those articles you must pay for. However, any major university’s research librarians will surely be able to get you a free copy – or perhaps the librarian at a large hospital’s medical library can get one for you.
The bottom line of this analysis is that there does appear to be a significant body of knowledge that supports the reports of positive results when Boswellia serrata or Boswellia carterii extracts are used to treat cancers.
Additionally, I would like to put forth this thought for those who are thinking of using Boswellia Extracts to treat cancerous conditions. Although there is a push to emphasize AKBBA content, it is possible that powerful anti-cancer compounds are being inadvertantly removed from the extracts as the extract manufacturers pursue enrichment of AKBBA content.
More disturbingly, it is also reported that some manufacturers may actually be stripping out the more useful Beta Boswellic Acids, thus marketing a product that would have reduced anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.
I consider this criminal and believe that the companies that do this should be prosecuted and put out of business.
In the meantime, it is buyer beware.
I have only studied two manufacturers’ products. I strongly believe one of them provides high quality product, and I believe it is probable that the other company’s product is of a high quality… with the constituents cancer patients would be looking for retained within it.
If you’re looking for a good product I’d take a look at the products produced by Sabinsa (http://www.sabinsa.com/) –
(Boswellin http://www.swansonvitamins.com/SWH010/ItemDetail?n=0 and Dr Pai’s Bosmeric SR http://www.bosmeric-sr.com/)
or Avesta’s product –
You will find the Sabinsa site full of useful data. Dr Pai’s site is also a wealth of information, and may be better organized.
I particularly admire Dr Pai’s product. It’s obviously manufactured by Sabinsa (you can find clinical trial data on his site that lists the Sabinsa product along with his product). It combines enriched AKBBA content in half of the tablet with enhanced bioavailability tumeric extracts and ginger extracts in the other half of the tablet. The curcumin extract absorption data that Sabinsa reports for their formulation is quite impressive. I do not believe that the ginger extracts are as important, as previous research has shown that gingerols do not survive the journey through the liver very well. I am also a bit concerned about the absorbtion of all the boswellic acids… and wonder if the other anti-cancer compounds may have been stripped out in pursuit of concentration of the AKBBA levels. It must be understood that this product is actually targeted at patients with inflammatory disease conditions… and it’s very pricy. I’ve recommended its use in tandem with one of the more conventional products that I’ve listed above when asked for a recommendation. (For example, I am aware of patients who take either two Avesta tablets or four Swanson’s Boswellin 200mg boswellic acid capsules three times a day along with one of Dr Pai’s tablets twice a day – note: the Boswellin capsules seem to upset stomachs at this dose, I’ve suggested taking two capsules every couple of hours up to a total of 12 when asked for a solution to this problem.)
Having said this, I want to emphasize that I have NO affiliations – financial or otherwise – with either of these two companies. I’m just sharing what I have come to believe so far relative to their products.
I have NO way of knowing that my beliefs about these two companies and their products are correct. I have performed NO testing to prove or disprove the content of these products. I do believe that the data at Sabinsa’s website indicates a strong dedication to understanding their product and producing high quality. I have also had communications with people in the Avesta organization whose truthful answers to a couple of tough questions that I’ve asked indicate to me that they’re trying to make a good product. They could have easily lied to me.. I don’t think they did.
Again, talk to your physician before you change your medication regimen or try new medications. These are powerful substances. I’m a pharmacist…. and we all know I’m nuts anyway. I’m providing this information to help you and your physician save your or your loved ones’ lives. Remember, Pharmacists Pharmacist…. Physicians Physician… and Cancer Patients and their loved ones search for a cure every day. It’s important. Good luck.