Study: frankincense resin can inhibit inflammation

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Naturopathy remedy incense: The University of Jena examined anti-inflammatory effects

Researchers from the University of Jena are currently studying the healing effects of frankincense. The natural resource has always been used primarily for religious ceremonies in the Catholic Church. According to the scientists, the effective ingredients of the frankincense tree for neurodermatitis, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis could soon also be used in conventional medicine.

The three wise men from the East presented my child with myrrh, gold and incense. The resin of the frankincense tree has always been used for religious celebrations. A scientific team from the University of Jena has now investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of the boswellic acids contained in the frankincense tree. So explained Prof. Dr. Oliver Werz from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, that "the resin obtained from the trunk of the frankincense tree contains anti-inflammatory substances." Chemistry is convinced according to the latest study results.

Frankincense: Medicines and religion that were over three thousand years old were closely intertwined in ancient times. Linguistic connections can still be found today. "If something heals, it is sacred". Around three to four thousand years ago, the ancient Egyptians used frankincense to improve the scent of the room, for healing ointments against inflammation and to treat wounds. Hippocrates and other Greek and Roman doctors used frankincense primarily to clean wounds, for respiratory diseases and abdominal pain. Although the scholars did not know exactly how the effects work, the therapeutic success allowed the expensive naturopathic remedy to survive into the late Middle Ages and was also used by the naturopath and nun Hildegard von Bingen.

Current in naturopathy, forgotten in conventional medicine Due to modern medicine and the development of antibiotic medicines, frankincense has become increasingly forgotten. In modern naturopathy, however, incense is one of the most valuable herbal remedies for relieving pain and blockages. In traditional medicine (TCM), frankincense is usually prescribed in combination with other medicinal herbs.

To date, the waving mechanisms are largely unexplored, which is why patients look in vain for medicines with incense in pharmacies. "Even though frankincense resin has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, the clinical studies carried out to date are not sufficient for approval in Germany and Europe," explains Prof. Werz. To change this in perspective, the researchers have examined the mechanisms of action of frankincense in more detail.

As part of a research project, Professor Werz and colleagues deciphered the effectiveness. In the course of a study, they were able to demonstrate how the responsible ingredients, boswellic acids, intervene in the inflammatory process. “Boswellic acids interact with various proteins that are involved in inflammatory reactions. But especially with an enzyme that is responsible for the synthesis of prostaglandin E2, ”says Werz. Prostaglandin E2 is a mediator of the immune response and is partly responsible for the development of pain and fever in inflammation. Boswellic acids inhibit this enzyme and can therefore reduce the inflammatory reactions, as the researcher explained.

Therapeutic approach to inflammation Based on this knowledge, a therapeutic approach to inflammatory diseases could develop in the future. It can be assumed that boswellic acids provoke far fewer side effects than is the case with the conventional medicinal products currently on the pharmaceutical market, such as diclofenac or indomethacin. In addition, the drugs can act less specifically. With longer therapy times, the risk of developing stomach ulcers and kidney dysfunction increases considerably.

Over ten different types of incense
More than ten different types of incense are known to biologists worldwide. The "Boswellia serrata" frankincense tree grown in northern and central India is widely used. During the course of the study, the scientists also compared different types of frankincense resin to investigate the inhibitory effects of inflammation.

The "Boswellia papyrifera" type of incense achieved good results during the study. The species was ten times more potent than others. "As we have now seen, the Boswellia papyrifera resin is ten times more effective," explained Werz. This incense is predominantly native to North and East Africa such as Ethiopia or Somalia and the Arabian Peninsula such as Yemen or Oman.

Clinical studies need to confirm results
It is unclear whether the naturopathic remedy can also quickly establish itself as a medicine. This requires clinical studies that confirm the healing effects. However, such reviews are planned. A synthetic production seems almost impossible at the moment. After all, boswellic acids “only occur in the resin of the frankincense tree”. Thus, the frankincense trees are a unique resource for the active ingredient.

The pharmacologist pointed out that the existence of trees around the world is seriously threatened. In many parts of the world, frankincense trees are "simply used as firewood". If sustainable protection is unsuccessful, the plants are threatened with extinction. This would "lose promising active ingredients in medicine," warned Werz. (sb)

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