Boswellia Serrata

A plant, extracts of which are sometimes used to treat arthritis symptoms. Boswellia serrata is used in traditional Indian medicine and is available in the United States as a dietary supplement.

In the laboratory, extracts of Boswellia serrata have been shown to block key steps leading to inflammation. There is also some evidence from studies in humans that Boswellia serrata can help relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA). In a 2003 randomized, double-blind study, 30 people with knee OA were given either Boswellia serrata or placebo (an inactive treatment). Those taking Boswellia serrata reported less knee pain, an increased ability to bend the knee, and the ability to walk longer distances. The frequency of swelling in the knee was decreased as well. In another randomized, placebo-controlled study published in 2004, 358 people with knee OA were given either RA-11, a drug with multiple herbs including Boswellia serrata, or placebo. Those taking RA-11 had less pain and improved function. Because these studies were small, and because other studies have reached different conclusions, the evidence for Boswellia serrata’s effectiveness in treating OA is still considered inconclusive and awaits the results of further studies.

Studies on Boswellia serrata in other types of arthritis are less promising. One randomized, double-blind trial of an herbal mixture containing Boswellia serrata enlisted 182 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The mixture showed no benefits compared with placebo, except for some improvement in joint swelling.

Boswellia serrata comes in pill or capsule form. The standard dose is 300–400 milligrams three times a day. As with any drug or supplement, if you decide to try Boswellia serrata, let your doctor know, and never take it in place of your prescribed arthritis medicines.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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