Boswellia (Indian Frankincense) for Migraines
Boswellia is best known for producing frankincense oil, one of the gifts given to baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men in the bible.
Boswellia is a plant with powerful anti-inflammatory properties that rival traditional medications.
A popular use of boswellia is for migraine relief.
Nine Reason Why Boswellia May Relieve Migraines
1. Cluster Headaches
A 2012 study of four chronic cluster headache patients found that boswellia extract reduced the intensity and frequency of cluster headaches (study). Migraines and cluster headaches share many of the same treatments.
Subjects in the study used 350 to 700 mg of boswellia extract three times per day.
Cluster headaches are considered more severe than migraines and hold the nickname “suicide headaches.”
2. Oxidative Stress
A 2016 study found that boswellia can protect against glutamate toxicity and oxidative stress (study).
Glutamate can build up in the brain and cause glutamate toxicity, which is a potent migraine trigger (full article).
Oxidative stress is associated with nearly all migraine triggers and migraines may be a defense mechanism against oxidative stress (full article).
A recent study on athletes found that boswellia combined with turmeric offers the best protection against oxidative stress (study).
3. Indomethacin Responsive Headache Syndromes (IRHS)
Research by the Scottsdale Headache Center in Arizona found that boswellia extract resulted in a 94 percent reduction in average headache days per month (28 to 1.8 days) and a 72 percent reduction in average headache pain for IRHS patients (research). Impressive results.
The headache center administered 250 mg of boswellia extract three times per day or more (depending on need).
IRHS is similar to cluster headaches with intense stabbing pain. Immediate relief is typically found in IRHS patients from a powerful anti-inflammatory called indomethacin (research).
Unfortunately, indomethacin comes with serious gastrointestinal side effects and many patients can’t use it. The study reported no serious side effects with boswellia.
Boswellia has been proven to reduce inflammation markers in dozens of studies (study). Animal studies show that boswellia can improve the immune system by regulating white blood cells and immune system antibodies (study).
Inflammation is a migraine trigger (full article).
Researchers conducting a study in 1998 administered boswellia (300 mg, 3 times per day) to bronchial asthma patients for six weeks. Seventy percent of patients had the physical symptoms of asthma disappear (study).
A study completed in 2010 concluded that both boswellia and turmeric have a “pronounced effect in the management of bronchial asthma” (study).
Asthma increases the risk of migraines and chronic migraines (full article, see #18).
6. Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)
Eighteen out of 20 IBD patients improved after six weeks of boswellia (300 mg, three times per day). Fourteen of the patients went into complete remission (study). Boswellia was also much more effective than a standard medication given to the control group.
A similar study found that 82 percent of IBD patients taking boswellia went into complete remission after six weeks (350 mg, three times per day) (study).
New research shows that boswellia protects the gut lining from oxidative and inflammatory damage (study).
Conditions that damage the gut such as IBD increase migraine risk and it’s likely that most migraine sufferers need to heal their gut (full article).
Osteoarthritis is associated with oxidative stress and treatments for osteoarthritis may target oxidative stress (study).
There are over 40 conditions associated with migraines and oxidative stress (full article).
Protecting the joints of migraine sufferers should reduce the overall oxidative stress in the body that contributes to migraines.
Pancreatic cancer patients have an estimated survival rate of less than 5 percent.
Boswellia (AKBA) reduced the size of tumors in mice with pancreatic cancer by 50 percent in a 2011 study. It also significantly suppressed metastasis (secondary tumor growths) (study).
A woman with brain tumors metastasized from breast cancer was given a life expectancy of three to five months after failing all standard treatments. She was given boswellia extract (800 mg) three times per day for ten weeks. The boswellia treatment resulted in the complete disappearance of her brain tumors (case study).
This research on tumors gives an idea of just how powerful boswellia can be at stopping inflammatory pathways.
9. Memory Improvement
Boswellia can also improve memory.
Studies on rats show that injections of boswellia may improve the memory of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (study).
Boswellia also improves the memory loss of rats that have hypothyroidism (study).
Boswellia can offset the harmful effects of seizures on cognitive function and improve learning ability in rats (study).
Alzheimer’s disease, hypothyroidism, and epilepsy are all associated with migraines (full article, #1, #16, and #21).
Most migraineurs experience slower memory recall following migraine attacks. Many migraineurs believe that migraines have affected their memory. Brain lesions are associated with migraines and could possibly affect memory (study).
Boswellia Side Effects
The number of side effects and the severity of the side effects are extremely low for boswellia. A few people report minor gastrointestinal symptoms. Allergic reactions are also rare (study).
Most studies show that boswellia has comparable side effects to ingesting a placebo (sugar pill). People that try the essential oils should test it on a small area of skin in case they are allergic.
Always speak with a doctor before taking any new supplements.
How to Use Boswellia
Boswellia supplements are popular. Most studies use over 300 mg of boswellia several times per day (900 mg total). The maximum amount of boswellia used in the research above was up to 2100 mg per day. However, the right amount specifically for you and migraine relief is unknown.
Make sure you buy from a trustworthy brand as many fake supplements are on the market (NYT article).
Nature’s Way is a reputable brand that is third-party tested for authenticity.
Now Foods is another safe option.
People often purchase Boswellia with ginger and turmeric for migraine prevention.
Frankincense oil is one of the most popular essential oils for diffusing into the air.
You can also add a few drops to coconut oil and use it around the neck and face. This may reduce inflammation around the nerves that contribute to the triggering of migraine attacks. As a bonus, boswellia is proven to increase skin elasticity and improve wrinkles or damaged skin (study).
Plant Therapy offers frankincense oil that is USDA organic and third-party tested for purity.