Boswellia vs. Turmeric: Which is better for managing inflammation?

February 11, 2021

Boswellia vs. Turmeric: Which is better for managing inflammation?

In this article:

  • What is Boswellia Serrata?
  • What is Turmeric (AKA Curcuma Longa?)
  • What health benefits do you get from taking them?
  • Can you combine them?

Boswellia Serrata Extract 

Boswellia serrata, otherwise known as Indian frankincense, is a gum resin taken from the Boswellia serrata tree which is native to India, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. Boswellia has been used for thousands of years in religious and cultural ceremonies and it is revered for its anti-inflammatory properties. A 2003 placebo-controlled study found that 100% of the people with knee osteoarthritis in their test had decreased knee pain after consuming boswellia. Other studies have found that boswellia may be effective at managing Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, two severe inflammatory bowel conditions. Some research suggests that it may help to manage joint health, especially in those with rheumatoid arthritis. When compared to prescription painkillers, boswellia is an all-natural non-gmo alternative that's safe for long-term use and won't cause ulceration in the stomach (a problem my mom encountered with over the counter painkillers).

Boswellia Serrata’s impressive anti-inflammatory effects are still being researched, but it has been documented that its effectiveness stems from preventing the formation of leukotrienes in the body. Leukotrienes are inflammatory chemicals that the body releases when it comes into contact with an allergen. Boswellic acid is made up of four main anti-inflammatory acids that are inhibitors of 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO), an enzyme that produces leukotriene. Of the four acids within the body, acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA) is thought to have the most health benefits.

According to a placebo-controlled study from 2018, the properties of boswellic acid are "associated with the prevention of collagen degradation and inhibition of pro-inflammatory mediators such as prostaglandins, COX, nitric oxide and NF-kB and down-regulation of the pro-inflammatory cascade." Essentially, boswellia inhibits damaging pro-inflammatory mediators from being created and protects the collagen already in your body to prevent further inflammation and damage.

Turmeric (AKA Curcuma Longa)

Turmeric is a popular spice and dietary supplement that is known to help manage inflammation. The way turmeric works is clearly understood. Turmeric root contains curcumin, a curcuminoid that gives turmeric its bright yellow color. Curcumin naturally has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Unfortunately, drinking a turmeric latte doesn't contain enough curcumin for your diet, because it's often isolated in many dietary supplements.

Curcumin works on a molecular level by blocking NF-kB, a molecule that is believed to play a major role in inflammation and many chronic diseases. It's also noted to contribute to the inhibition of proinflammatory cytokines, or proteins that are responsible for cell signaling. The data from randomized clinical trials revealed that curcumin supplements were more effective than some anti-inflammatory prescription drugs. Additionally, a randomized double-blind placebo clinical trial found that turmeric extract also provided pain relief to people with severe knee osteoarthritis. Clinical studies suggest that it may also be able to help manage depression. Lastly, curcumin can increase the amount of antioxidant enzymes in the body making you better equipped to fight off free radicals. Side effects tend to be very mild (provided they are not interfering with any other medications) and may cause some people to experience stomach aches when taken in large doses.

Real Talk

That probably seemed like a lot, right? Clinical trial this, double-placebo that. It’s simply part of the learning curve when you get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, or so we're learning. To make it simple, we'll provide a quick summary or systematic review of everything we've gathered online and help you find the best supplement(s) to manage inflammation. Essentially, both Boswellia Serrata and curcumin (turmeric) are effective at managing inflammation. Whether you have rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or an undiagnosed condition that is setting off inflammation, both supplements are generally considered to be a safe way to proactively manage inflammation, and can also provide effective relief from chronic pain, if not a pain reliever.

If you're dealing with an inflammation-related illness of any sort, consider asking your doctor if these two will be right for you. It's important to note that before you use either supplement, you need to make sure they won't interfere with existing medications. For instance, Boswellia extract may interact with specific medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Once safely directed by your healthcare professional, you may even benefit from taking them together.

Better Together

Both curcumin and Boswellia Serrata have been thoroughly researched on their own and were found to have similar abilities when it comes to pain management. But what about when used together? One study involving a total of 210 participants with osteoarthritis, ages 40 to 77, revealed that while curcumin provided beneficial effects on joint comfort and physical function, curcumin with Boswellic acid proved to be even more effective. In a review update in Natural Medicine Journal, author Jeremy Appleton stated that the active compounds in both plants “work via multiple mechanisms, rather than targeting a single enzyme or receptor.” They're not really sidekicks, more like a power couple. For this reason, many supplement formulations include equal parts of each ingredient. Similarly, you can purchase isolated supplements of both Boswellia Serrata and curcumin and speak to your doctor about the appropriate dosage of each one.

To ensure better bioavailability of your supplement, consider taking them with black pepper. Just a quarter-teaspoon of black pepper can increase turmeric’s bioavailability by as much as 2,000%! Black pepper extract has also been found to increase the efficacy of Boswellia Serrata by inhibiting metabolizing enzymes and increasing bioavailability. Boswellia also pairs very well with ginger, especially when it comes to managing menstrual pain. Curcumin is fat-soluble, so you may benefit from consuming it with a healthy fat.

If you're struggling with inflammation, develop a game plan. No matter what level of inflammation you're experiencing, it's always significant enough to warrant a doctor's visit. In the case of my mom, she has begun taking both Boswellia Serrata and turmeric as advised by her doctor. It has been about a month now, and although this time of year tends to cause more flare ups, she has noticed improvements with inflammation in her legs at the end of the day. This combination, however, might not be the right choice for everyone. Remember that a dash of turmeric here or a pinch of black pepper there won't be effective enough to decrease inflammation. Visit your doctor's office to create a wellness plan that will leave inflammation out of the picture.

Summary Points

  • When compared to prescription painkillers, Boswellia is an all-natural alternative that's safe for long-term use and won't cause ulceration in the stomach
  • Boswellic acid is made up of four main anti-inflammatory acids that are inhibitors of 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO), an enzyme that produces leukotriene
  • Curcumin naturally has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
  • Curcumin can increase the amount of antioxidant enzymes in the body making you better equipped to fight off free radicals
  • To ensure better bioavailability of these supplements, consider taking them with black pepper

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Article References:
  1. Kimmatkar, N., Thawani, V., Hingorani, L., & Khiyani, R. (2003). Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee – A randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine, 10(1), 3–7. https://doi.org/10.1078/094471103321648593
  2. Gerhardt, H., Seifert, F., Buvari, P., Vogelsang, H., & Repges, R. (2001). Therapie des aktiven Morbus Crohn mit dem Boswellia-serrata-Extrakt H 15. Zeitschrift Für Gastroenterologie, 39(1), 11–17. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2001-10708
  3. Chopra, Arvind & Lavin, P & Patwardhan, Bhushan & Chitre, Deepa. (2000). Randomized double blind trial of an Ayurvedic plant derived formulation for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The Journal of rheumatology. 27. 1365-72.
  4. Haroyan, A., Mukuchyan, V., Mkrtchyan, N., Minasyan, N., Gasparyan, S., Sargsyan, A., Narimanyan, M., & Hovhannisyan, A. (2018). Efficacy and safety of curcumin and its combination with boswellic acid in osteoarthritis: a comparative, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 18(1), 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-017-2062-z
  5. Singh, S., & Aggarwal, B. B. (1995). Activation of Transcription Factor NF-κB Is Suppressed by Curcumin (Diferuloylmethane). Journal of Biological Chemistry, 270(42), 24995–25000. https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.270.42.24995
  6. Chandran, B., & Goel, A. (2012). A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 26(11), 1719–1725. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.4639
  7. Sanmukhani, J., Satodia, V., Trivedi, J., Patel, T., Tiwari, D., Panchal, B., Goel, A., & Tripathi, C. B. (2014). Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 28(4), 579–585. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.5025
  8. Haroyan, A., Mukuchyan, V., Mkrtchyan, N., Minasyan, N., Gasparyan, S., Sargsyan, A., Narimanyan, M., & Hovhannisyan, A. (2018). Efficacy and safety of curcumin and its combination with boswellic acid in osteoarthritis: a comparative, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 18(1), 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-017-2062-z
  9. Turmeric and Frankincense in Inflammation: An Update. (2011). Retrieved December 26, 2019, from Natural Medicine Journal website: https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2011-09/turmeric-and-frankincense-inflammation-update
  10. Shoba, G., Joy, D., Joseph, T., Majeed, M., Rajendran, R., & Srinivas, P. S. (1998). Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta medica, 64(4), 353–356. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2006-957450




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