Why does frankincense cause cancer

Can walk again with incense?

What's behind the frankincense extract advertisement?

Frankincense extracts are traditionally used as incense resins for religious ceremonies. The boswellic acids contained in it should also have a variety of health effects, for example relieve joint inflammation and pain, strengthen the immune system or help against stress and anxiety - at least according to advertising. They are also being promoted as "anti-cancer agents".

The anti-inflammatory effects of frankincense extracts have so far been tested mainly in animal experiments; there are only a few studies on humans. According to the Medicines Commission of the German Medical Association, the use of frankincense cannot be recommended due to the inadequate clinical data situation.

Frankincense preparations are not approved as medicaments in Germany (only as homeopathic medicaments).

Four studies with osteoarthritis patients from India, with a small number of participants, gave indications of a moderate improvement in pain in worn joints - but so far these results are not even sufficient to conclude that a certain extract with a corresponding dosage has a safe effect on joint diseases. Proof of effectiveness is, however, a prerequisite for obtaining approval as a medicinal product at all.

Many studies have shortcomings so that their informative value is limited. There is still some research to be done - including the question of whether frankincense extract is superior to conventional pain relievers such as ibuprofen for osteoarthritis.

A health claim on "joint health" has been requested from the EU, but this has not yet been decided. This is not about healing or alleviating joint problems, but about a possible positive influence of incense on the joints (“Helps keep joints cool and comfortable”).

What should I look out for when using frankincense products?

Frankincense is only available as a dietary supplement in this country. The gum resin from African (Boswellia carterii) or Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata) is used in tablet or capsule form.

Neither the type of extract nor the ingredients or dosage are standardized, so that the products of the different suppliers can hardly be compared with one another.

Nor is it known what side effects and interactions with drugs, including long-term ones, can be expected.

  • The composition of the various products varies considerably. According to the Medicines Commission of the German Medical Association, the special frankincense extracts examined in the few clinical studies differ from the incense-containing food supplements available in Germany. It is therefore not possible to transfer the statements on the dosage and effect of these extracts to local food supplements.
     
  • Statements such as "contains 85% boswellic acids" or "400 mg frankincense extract" do not help when comparing products. Beware of alleged product tests in Internet portals, many of which are primarily intended to increase sales. The same goes for star ratings from alleged buyers.
     
  • Some studies provide evidence of undesirable effects (side effects) such as nausea, gastric acid reflux (backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus) and allergic reactions when taking frankincense extract.
     
  • Frankincense extracts can interact with a variety of drugs (especially those that are transported by P-glycoprotein). In addition, you should not use frankincense products if you are taking anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin®). So make sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using it if you take medication regularly.
     
  • No reimbursement of costs: Statutory health insurance companies usually do not cover the cost of taking food supplements with incense.
     

The type and amount of frankincense extracts used in food supplements must not have any drug-like (pharmacological) effect, otherwise the products will be classified as unapproved medicinal products.

In recent years, the food inspection authorities have repeatedly classified capsules with frankincense extracts as (non-approved) medicinal products, since they are obviously intended for therapeutic use according to their "objective purpose", partly also through the advertising of the sales companies.

However, disease-related advertising (e.g. helps with arthritis) is generally not allowed for food supplements. Health-related statements have not yet been approved by the EU. Providers like to bypass this legal regulation by only referring indirectly (e.g. by means of a book tip or reference to appropriate Internet forums) to alleged healing or alleviating effects.

What is frankincense extract?

The various types of frankincense are mostly small, squat trees with a bush-like habit. The African frankincense (Boswellia carterii) comes from southern Arabia or Africa, the Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata) comes mainly from the East Indies. If the trunk of the tree is wounded, a sticky liquid escapes which, after a few days, dries into solid gum resin. This is scraped off, collected and used as a dry extract.

What ingredients does frankincense extract contain?

The gum resin is characterized by a high proportion of essential oil (up to 10%). Its main active ingredients are various boswellic acids such as alpha and beta boswellic acid, which, depending on the extract and dosage, can influence the development of inflammatory reactions in the body.

Can frankincense products contain harmful substances?

During controls by the official food control authorities, food supplements from Asia that are excessively contaminated are found again and again.

As far as Ayurvedic food supplements are concerned, they can contain heavy metals, in particular parts of toxic lead, mercury and arsenic - partly intentionally from traditional manufacturing practice.

 

Swell:

Cancer Information Service (2016): Incense in cancer therapy - unproven or tried and tested ?, Boswellic acids for complementary treatment, as of: January 26, 2016 (accessed on December 11, 2020)

Heissmann N: Dietary Supplements (2014): Incense against inflammation - useful or just expensive ?, Stern.de, as of January 25, 2014 (accessed on December 11, 2020)

German Society for Orthopedics and Orthopedic Surgery (DGOOC): S2k guidelines for gonarthrosis. Page 48, 5.5.5 Oral phytotherapy. As of January 18, 2018 (accessed on December 11, 2020)

Frankincense for the joints: Pain-relieving effect possible. Medicine-transparent, as of December 22, 2018, accessed on December 11, 2020

Medicines Commission of the German Medical Association

Scientific Committee of the German Medical Association / Steinmeyer, J: Incense for the treatment of osteoarthritis? Medication prescription in practice. Volume 44, Issue 3, 7/2017

Consolidated list of Article 13 health claims. List of references received by EFSA. Part 4IDs 3001-4705, status: 05.04.2011 (accessed on 11.12.2020)

EFSA Register of Questions, Question No. EFSA-Q-2008-4714 (accessed December 11, 2020)

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Boswellia. Status: April 23, 2020 (accessed on December 11, 2020)

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