Surely multiple sclerosis is a devastating disease. A new study by scientists at Kerman University of Medical Sciences and the Pharmaceutics Research Center in Kerman, Iran, found a most unique research topic: the use of a frankincense species, B. papyrifera, to improve the condition of multiple sclerosis patients.
“Cognitive impairment is one of the most crucial disorders among multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Since MS is an inflammatory disease and Boswellia papyrifera has anti-inflammatory effects, the influence of B. papyrifera on cognitive impairment in MS patients has been investigated in the present study.”1
While this study is an important step forward as a clinical trial, it has some serious drawbacks. The form of papyrifera is not listed. Was it 300 mg of papyrifera essential oil? Or was it a powdered form of the frankincense resin? A placebo was created to match the papyrifera capsule “size, color, shape, and dose, but without Boswellia active ingredient.”2 The study does not tell us what that active ingredient is.
We suspect the active ingredient is incensole acetate because the researchers state: “Recent studies have shown that Boswellia has neuroprotective properties” and they list two Boswellia studies, one3 of which is on carterii’s incensole acetate. (The other study has complications as it is on “one optimal dose of DHEA, Astragalus, Boswellia serrate,” which does not state which ingredient has a measurable effect on either or both of two conditions studied.4)
We did a little checking of our own and found a 2012 study that reports: “a reversed-phase, diode-array-detection, high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-DAD-HPLC) method for the quantification of incensole and incensole acetate is reported, indicating that these two compounds are typical biomarkers for B. papyrifera.”5 So now we know for sure that the powerful constituents of incensole and incensole acetate are present in papyrifera, and the acetate is probably the active ingredient.
The Iranian clinical trial was done on MS patients testing Boswellia papyrifera and a placebo. A baseline was created using the Brief International Cognitive Assessment of MS (BICAMS), which is a battery of tests that includes testing mental processing speed and memory. Following two months of treatment, the BICAMS was redone.
We must explain that the BICAMS test “encompasses the symbol digit modality test (SDMT), [the] first five recall learning trial[s] of the California verbal learning test (CVLT-II) and the first three recall trials of the brief visual-spatial memory test revised (BVMTR).”6
The results of the study showed that the BVMT-R scores “improved significantly in 13 patients (32.2%) who took BP [Boswellia papyrifera] compared to the placebo group which had no improvement at all.”7
The researchers also noted that “it seemed that sex might be influential. All patients whose SDMT improved were female in contrary to males. The male patients did not improve in that test.”8
Statistically, the study reports that “patients who used Boswellia showed a significant improvement in the visual-spatial memory as measured by BVMTR.”9 And as above, females improved in the symbol digit modality test (SDMT). The researchers noted that the longer Boswellia papyrifera is used, the more effective it may be on cognitive improvement.”10
We are pleased to see yet another study on frankincense. In October of 1958, the cover story of National Geographic was on this precious resin. The writer, Thomas J. Abercrombie, penned a sentence that has been spread far and wide on the Internet but sadly, without proper attribution. An Egyptian legend? No, the words of a man who traveled to Oman to see Boswellia sacra. Here are Abercrombie’s words:
“At the time of Christ—celebrated at birth with frankincense—more than 3,000 tons may have been exported annually to consecrate temples, mask the odor of cremations, make cosmetics, and treat every conceivable ill from gout to a ‘broken head.’”11
As we head into the Christmas holidays, may we be ever grateful for this magnificent tree.
- Sedighi B, et al. Effects of Boswellia papyrifera on cognitive impairment in multiple sclerosis. Iran J Neurol. 2014 Jul 4;13(3):149-153.
- Moussaieff A, et al. Incensole acetate: a novel neuroprotective agent isolated from Boswellia carterii. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2008 Jul;28(7):1341-52.
- Omura Y, et al. Temporary anti-cancer & anti-pain effects of mechanical stimulation of any one of 3 front teeth (1st incisor, 2nd incisor, & canine) of right & left side of upper & lower jaws and their possible mechanism, & relatively long term disappearance of pain & cancer parameters by one optimal dose of DHEA, Astragalus, Boswellia serrata, often with press needle stimulation of True ST. 36. Acupunct Electrother Res. 2009; 34(3-4):175-203.
- Paul M, Jauch J. Efficient preparation of incensole and incensole acetate, and quantification of these bioactive diterpenes in Boswellia papyrifera by a RP-DAD-HPLC method. Nat Prod Commun. 2012 Mar;7(3):283-8.
- Sedighi, op cit.
- Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic, Vol. 168, No. 4, October 1985, p. 484.