New Study Dives Into The Anti-Inflammatory Properties Of Frankincense

mbg Editorial Assistant By Eliza Sullivan
mbg Editorial Assistant
Eliza Sullivan is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She received a B.S. journalism and a B.A. in english literature from Boston University.
Woman Smelling an Aromatic Essential Oil

Frankincense, a resin derived from the Boswellia tree that's also commonly turned into an essential oil, has roots in ancient ayurvedic practice. Today, researchers are working to isolate exactly how and why taking frankincense can benefit our health. And a new study, conducted by researchers in the United States and Germany, has successfully isolated the chemical process that gives frankincense its anti-inflammatory effects.

After years of researching the anti-inflammatory mechanisms of frankincense, the team discovered that they are pretty multifaceted: Most anti-inflammatory compounds work by blocking enzyme receptors that trigger inflammation in the body. But the active agents in frankincense, namely boswellic acid, were found to go a step further. They seemed to catalyze a change in the enzyme's overall structure, as well as block its receptors.

"This binding leads to structural changes in the active site," explained Oliver Werz, Ph.D., who heads up the lab conducting the research, "and this also inhibits the enzyme activity."

"[It] creates a domino effect," elaborated Jana Gerstmeier, Ph.D., a lead author on the study and pharmacist in Werz's lab. "In simple terms, that the frankincense component reprograms the inflammatory enzyme into an anti-inflammatory enzyme."

This discovery could potentially help inform new treatments for chronic inflammation. While previous research, like this small study on patients with Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disease, found that frankincense could help ease pain and inflammation, this is really the first time we're getting a glimpse into exactly how it works.

While more research is still needed, this new knowledge will hopefully open up more avenues to look into how frankincense—a natural resin with very few reported side effects—can help those who suffer from inflammatory diseases.

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