Used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years for its health benefits ranging from arthritis and asthma to painful bowel disorders like IBS, can this ancient oil soothe stress, ease anxiety, and calm the mind?
Frankincense is made from the resin of the Boswellia tree. It typically grows in the dry, mountainous regions of India, Africa and the Middle East. Frankincense has a woody, spicy smell and can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, steeped into a tea or taken as a supplement.
While preliminary research suggests that frankincense essential oil may offer certain health benefits, there is currently a lack of research testing the full health effects of frankincense oil. A component in frankincense, boswellic acid, has been studied for its anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour properties. Here's a look at the research on the health benefits of Frankincense essential oil.
1 - Helps Decrease Inflammation and Pain
Research for Frankincense oil found it significantly reduce levels of serious and painful inflammation, making it a natural treatment option for pain-related conditions that affect the muscles, joints and tendons.
Osteoarthritis, for example, Frankincense appears to have anti-inflammatory properties and several studies have examined its use for osteoarthritis and knee pain.
Researchers believe that frankincense can prevent the release of leukotrienes, which are compounds that can cause inflammation. Terpenes and boswellic acids appear to be the most potent anti-inflammatory compounds in frankincense. Test-tube and animal studies note that boswellic acids may be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — with fewer adverse side effects.
In humans, frankincense extracts may help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In one recent review, frankincense was consistently more effective than a placebo at reducing pain and improving mobility.
During the study, participants were given 1 gram per day of frankincense extract for eight weeks and reported less joint swelling and pain than those given a placebo. They also had a better range of movement and were able to walk further than those in the placebo group.
In another study, boswellia helped reduce morning stiffness and the amount of NSAID medication needed in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
2 - May Improve Gut Function
Frankincense’s anti-inflammatory properties may also help your gut function properly.
Frankincense helps the digestive system to properly detox and produce bowel movements. It may also help to reduce pain and cramping in the stomach, relieve nausea, flush out excess water from the abdomen that can cause bloating and even relieve PMS-related stomach pains.
It does this by speeding up the secretion of digestive enzymes, increasing urination production, relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract and also helps improve circulation, which is needed for proper digestive health. It’s been shown to be beneficial in reducing symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, chronic colitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and IBS.
In one small study in people with Crohn's disease, frankincense extract was as effective as the pharmaceutical drug mesalazine at reducing symptoms.
Another study gave people with chronic diarrhoea 1,200 mg of boswellia — the tree resin frankincense is made from — or a placebo each day. After six weeks, more participants in the boswellia group had cured their diarrhoea compared to those given the placebo.
3 - Improves Asthma
Traditional medicine has used frankincense to treat bronchitis and asthma for centuries.
Research suggests that its compounds may prevent the production of leukotrienes, which cause your bronchial muscles to constrict in asthma.
In one small study in people with asthma, 70% of participants reported improvements in symptoms, such as shortness of breath and wheezing, after receiving 300 mg of frankincense three times daily for six weeks.
Similarly, a daily frankincense dose of 1.4 mg per pound of body weight (3 mg per kg) improved lung capacity and helped reduce asthma attacks in people with chronic asthma.
Lastly, when researchers gave people 200 mg of a supplement made from frankincense and the South Asian fruit bael (Aegle marmelos), they found that the supplement was more effective than a placebo at reducing asthma symptoms.
4 - Maintains Oral Health
The same antiseptic qualities also make frankincense oil a useful preventive measure against oral health issues, like bad breath, toothaches, cavities, mouth sores, and other infections. The boswellic acids appear to have strong antibacterial properties, which may help prevent and treat oral diseases.
In one test-tube study, frankincense extract was effective against Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, a bacterium which causes aggressive gum disease.
In another study, high school students with gingivitis chewed a gum containing either 100 mg of frankincense extract or 200 mg of frankincense powder for two weeks. Both gums were more effective than a placebo at reducing gingivitis.
Look for natural oral care products that include frankincense oil if you enjoy the flavour or aroma, and want to add a strong antiseptic into your health regime. You can even create your own all-natural toothpaste with frankincense oil and baking soda or mouthwash with water and peppermint oil.
5 - May Fight Certain Cancers
Several research groups have found that frankincense has promising anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour effects when tested in lab studies and on animals. Frankincense oil has been shown to help fight cells of specific types of cancer. Researchers in China investigated the anticancer effects of frankincense and myrrh oils on five tumour cells lines in a lab study. The results showed that human breast and skin cancer cell lines showed increased sensitivity to the combination of myrrh and frankincense essential oils.
A review of test-tube studies notes that boswellic acids may also prevent the formation of DNA in cancerous cells, which could help limit cancer growth. Moreover, some test-tube research shows that frankincense oil may be able to distinguish cancer cells from normal ones, killing only the cancerous ones. So far, test-tube studies suggest that frankincense may fight breast, prostate, pancreatic, skin and colon cancer cells.
One small study in 2012 indicates that it may also help reduce side effects of cancer, which means it has great potential in offering a natural cancer treatment.
When people getting treated for brain tumours took 4.2 grams of frankincense or a placebo each day, 60% of the frankincense group experienced reduced brain oedema — an accumulation of fluid in the brain — compared to 26% of those given the placebo.
Another 2015 study showed that use of frankincense oil may be effective against breast cancer.
However, more research and clinical trials in humans are required to find if this oil is effective and consistent in treating different types of cancer.
Other health benefits
Although frankincense is praised for its multiple health benefits, not all of them are backed by science. While the 5 following claims have very little evidence behind them so far, very little exists to deny them either.
1. Reduces stress, anxiety and depression: Studies on humans for its effect on stress or anxiety are lacking.
When inhaled, frankincense oil has been shown to reduce heart rate and high blood pressure, giving it potential for anti-anxiety abilities, but unlike prescription medications, it does not have negative side effects or cause unwanted drowsiness.
Frankincense oil is very effective as a sedative because it induces a feeling of mental peace, relaxation, satisfaction, and spirituality. It also awakens insight, makes you more introspective and lowers anxiety, anger, and stress.
When you are feeling anxious or if you anticipate some sort of stressful situation, add some frankincense oil to a diffuser or a tissue to inhale. It promotes deep breathing and relaxation, which can open your breathing passages and reduce blood pressure, moving your mental state back to calmness.
2. Prevents heart disease: Frankincense has anti-inflammatory effects which may help reduce the type of inflammation common in heart disease. However, no direct studies in humans exist.
3. Promotes smooth skin: Frankincense oil is widely promoted as an effective natural anti-acne and anti-wrinkle remedy. However, no studies exist to support these claims.
Frankincense benefits include the ability to strengthen skin and improve its tone, elasticity, defence mechanisms against bacteria or blemishes, and appearance as someone ages. It may help tone and lift skin, reduce the appearance of scars and acne, and heals wounds.
It may also be beneficial for fading of stretch marks, surgery scars or marks associated with pregnancy, and for healing dry or cracked skin.
4. Improves memory: Studies show that large doses of frankincense may help boost memory in rats. However, no studies have been done in humans.
Some animal studies show that using frankincense during pregnancy may increase the memory of a mother’s offspring.
In one such study, when pregnant rats received frankincense orally during their gestation period, there was a significant increase in the power of learning, short-term memory and long-term memory of their offspring.
5. Enhances fertility: Frankincense supplements increased fertility in rats, but no human research is available.
Frankincense oil benefits may include reducing symptoms associated with menstruation and menopause by balancing hormone levels, although the research on this topic is limited. It has been used to help relieve pain, cramps, constipation, headaches, anxiety, nausea, fatigue and mood swings. Frankincense oil may also help with regulating oestrogen production and may reduce the risk of tumour or cyst development in premenopausal women.
Animal studies have shown that frankincense oil can be used as a fertility-promoting agent, which may be due to the oil’s chemical structure acting similarly to that of steroids. When frankincense was used on rats internally, it increased fertility, and the number of implantations and viable foetuses, which suggests that the oil may possibly increase sperm motility and density.
Possible Side Effects
While it has few side effects, pregnant women and people taking prescription medications may want to talk to their doctor before taking frankincense.
Also, some individuals may experience irritation or an allergic reaction when applying frankincense essential oil to the skin. A skin patch test should be done before using any new essential oil. Additionally, essential oils shouldn't be applied to the skin undiluted.
It's also important to note that self-treating a condition with frankincense essential oil and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.
Energising Diffuser Blend
2 Drops of Frankincense
2 Drops of Peppermint
2 Drops of Lemon