Boswellia serrata, also known as Indian frankincense or Salai guggal, has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat arthritis. Although modern research is showing promising results for the use of Boswellia serrata in inflammation and asthma, the plant has potential side effects and hasn’t been studied for long-term safety. You should exhibit caution if you decide to use this herbal remedy, and choose as low a dose as possible.
In rare cases, Boswellia can lead to a life-threatening allergic response. If you experience chest pain, breathing problems, hives or swelling when using a Boswellia product, you should immediately contact a physician or get to an emergency room.
In 2004, researchers at Spain’s Hospital de Cruces Department of Dermatology reported the case of a patient given a naturopathic cream with a gum resin derived from Boswellia serrata who subsequently developed contact dermatitis from the cream. Dermatitis was also reported in clinical trials at India’s University of Poona in patients treated with Articulin-F, a combination product containing gum resin from Boswellia serrata as well other ingredients. The Botanical Dermatology Database also notes that Boswellia used in adhesive plasters and perfumes has caused dermatitis in sensitive people, and a gum extract from the plant applied to rabbit skin was found to be moderately irritating.
Laboratory and animal studies suggest that Boswellia may increase the effects or toxicity of some drugs, according to Aetna Intelihealth. Prime examples include medicines used to treat asthma such as Singulair; certain anticancer drugs; cholesterol-lowering supplements such as garlic or red yeast; antifungal agents such as tea tree oil; and supplements used to treat joint diseases, such as glucosamine or chondroitin. The lab studies also indicate that Boswellia may reduce the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen and may interact with immunomodulators, drugs broken down by the liver, antibiotics, fat soluble drugs and sedatives. When in doubt, check with your doctor about any medications you’re currently taking and their possible interactions with Boswellia.
Although generally well-tolerated, Boswellia may produce stomach discomfort, nausea, heartburn, a feeling of fullness or diarrhea. In a study of patients with ulcerative colitis, 18 percent developed gastrointestinal upset during six weeks of treatment with 350 milligrams of Boswellia three times a day. If you have a history of gastrointestinal or esophageal disorders, you should avoid taking Boswellia without first consulting your physician.
A review in 2004 in the “Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy” reported that Boswellia promotes menstruation and can lead to birth-related problems or birth effects and even induce abortion. Therefore it is not recommended you take any product containing Boswellia serrata if you’re a pregnant woman, breastfeeding or if you even plan on becoming pregnant.
Bonnie Singleton has been writing professionally since 1996. She has written for various newspapers and magazines including "The Washington Times" and "Woman's World." She also wrote for the BBC-TV news magazine "From Washington" and worked for Discovery Channel online for more than a decade. Singleton holds a master's degree in musicology from Florida State University and is a member of the American Independent Writers.