Expert Answer: Boswellia – A Potential Herbal Remedy

Question: My doctor suggested Gliacin/Boswellia as natural alternative to prevent migraine. Is there any data available on this?

A number of herbal remedies have been reported to help relieve migraine and other headaches. The best known are two common plants, feverfew and butterbur. Both of these herbs have the best scientific evidence for their efficacy (I participated in testing butterbur). While feverfew is safe to consume in any form (tea, raw leaves, extracts, etc.), butterbur has toxic ingredients which can cause liver problems, fetal malformations, and cancer. Highly purified forms of butterbur appear to be safe, but countries like the UK and Germany ban sales of all butterbur products.

Boswellia (Indian frankincense) is another common plant which is safe to consume in any form and which may help relieve headaches. There have been no rigorous trials of Boswellia conducted to date, but two anecdotal reports suggest that it may be worth a try for cluster and indomethacin-responsive headaches. The latter include chronic paroxysmal hemicranias, hemicranias continua, primary stabbing, and some cases of exercise-induced headaches.

An Austrian neurologist, Dr. Christian Lampl and his colleagues reported on four patients with chronic cluster headaches whose headaches improved after taking Boswellia extract. The dose of Boswellia was 350 to 700 mg three times a day. All four patients failed at least three preventive medications for cluster headaches, such as verapamil (Calan), topiramate (Topamax), and lithium. Dr. Eric Eross, a headache specialist from Arizona, reported that gliacin, a Boswellia extract relieved indomethacin-responsive headaches in 21 of 27 patients. Indomethacin is a very strong non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, but it also tends to have strong gastro-intestinal side effects. This makes Boswellia much preferred since it does not cause serious side effects, although it is important to know that any herbal product can cause an allergic reaction. Another caveat with all herbal products is that herbal products are poorly regulated and you may not always be getting Boswellia or not getting the amount that is stated on the label. The way to avoid this problem is to stick to major brands, that is products made by large well-known companies. I usually recommend Boswellia made by Nature’s Way.

We do not know how Boswellia works, but it has been known for many years to have anti-inflammatory properties and it has been widely used for joint pains, asthma, and other problems. Because of similarities between migraines and cluster headaches, I’ve given Boswellia to my patients with migraine headaches and several had a significant improvement. One patient had complete relief, while prescription drugs were ineffective. I also had a woman tell me that her headaches did not improve, but her joint pains were much relieved.

In conclusion, because of its safety and some anecdotal experience Boswellia should be added to the potential herbal products to try for a variety of headache types despite the lack of strong scientific evidence.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (9)
  • Luna
    4 years ago

    Have been taking one 307mg Boswellia per day for over 2 months. Since recommended dose is 3 x per day started taking 2 per day. The 1st day I tried 3 had just taken the 3rd when I realized my head didn’t feel right so took my blood pressure 161/81. Normal for me 125/65. Less than 3 hrs later my b/p was 196/96, temple veins were dilated and head felt scary. Nothing but the Boswellia had changed so think it was a bad reaction. Late morning b/p stayed around 150/85 but have b/p around 170/85 now (7pm). If it is still doing this tomorrow then will ask to be checked. But they didn’t think it necessary today.

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    I take 3 to 5 generic extra strength excedrin prn daily. Would Boswellia be safe with that. I try to take care and not take herbs if they talk about possible bleeding, kidney and liver problems but sometimes wonder if I am too cautious. It is sometimes hard to tell if information is tainted by someone who would rather push drugs than herbs.

  • travelape54
    5 years ago

    I am wondering if you can overdose on Boswellia, and does it have any other drug interactions? How long does it normally take for a person to know if the supplement is working?

  • Dr. Alex Mauskop author
    5 years ago

    Boswellia is a relatively safe herb and there are no known cases of overdose or drug interactions. One category of drugs that can be affected by herbal products, as well as some foods, is blood thinners. If you are taking Coumadin, you may need to have an additional blood test after starting any herbal product.
    While Boswellia is very saafe, any herbal product can cause an allergic reaction or upset stomach even at a recommended dose. The recommended dose of Boswellia for arthritis and headaches is 300 to 600 mg up to three times a day. It usually takes several weeks to see if a supplement helps, although some of my patients reported improvement after a few days.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    5 years ago

    Thank you so much Dr Mauskop for adding this important information and supporting curious patients!

    ~Ellen

  • Debbie Kvietkus
    5 years ago

    Is it safe to take Boswellia with Verapamil 120mg 3X/day with Maxalt 30mg 1-2/day for rescue symptoms, during an acute phase of cluster headaches?

  • Dr. Alex Mauskop author
    5 years ago

    There are no known interactions between Boswellia and drugs. I’ve had many patients taking Boswellia with triptans, such as Maxalt and a few patients taking Boswellia with verapamil without any problems.

  • Susan K.
    6 years ago

    What is the recommended dosage for Boswellia, and is it taken regularly as a preventative or as a rescue medication?

  • Dr. Alex Mauskop author
    6 years ago

    Boswellia is usually taken daily as a preventive remedy. The dose depends on the manufacturer. Some, like Nature’s Way, make a product that contains an extract of Boswellia with a specific amount of the active ingredient, boswelic acid. Their dose is 1 capsule three times a day and up to 2 capsules three times a day. Another manufacturer, Swanson, makes a product that contains the whole herb and they recommend 2 capsules daily, although you can try taking 4 a day if taking 2 doesn’t help. Again, when buying herbal products it is important to stick with the largest and the best known brands.

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