Oliba-what? Scientists decipher how olibanum works

Olibanum oder auch Weihrauch ist ein würzig-bitteres, balsamisches Harz, das aus Boswellia-Bäumen gewonnen wird.

NUTRITIONAL NEWS Frankincense has been used in Indian natural medicine (Ayurveda) for thousands of years. The Western pharmaceutical industry has also long been interested in the anti-inflammatory properties of olibanum. A German research team is now providing new findings.

“Oliba-what?” The reaction to the term olibanum often sounds similar. The added explanation “incense” probably causes more confusion in the context of nutritional supplements: “The church scent?” Not quite.

Olibanum is a spicy, bitter, balsamic resin obtained from Boswellia trees. Over 20 species of this genus grow in Africa, Arabia and India. In Yemen and Oman, for example, Boswellia sacra, the Arabian frankincense tree, thrives. The resin of this tree is considered to be the most fragrant and produces the smoky scent that one is familiar with, for example, from visits to Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Olibanum indicum (resin), obtained from the Indian frankincense tree (Boswellia serrata), has been used in Ayurvedic natural medicine for 5,000 years to treat a range of health problems due to the anti-inflammatory (anti-inflammatory) effect of certain boswellic acids (see box).

How Olibanum works decoded

Western medicine has been researching frankincense and its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune system-modulating effects for over 50 years.

Now a research team at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Jena has decoded the molecular mode of action of a specific boswellic acid. The tests showed that the frankincense ingredient reprograms a central, normally pro-inflammatory enzyme so that it has an anti-inflammatory effect, as the German Medical Journal also reports.

The findings on the effect represent a possible new therapeutic approach for autoimmune diseases, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or neurodermatitis to resolve inflammation and promote tissue regeneration - without the side effects of previous inflammatory blockers, according to the scientists. They hope to be able to develop new active pharmaceutical ingredients based on the way boswellic acid works.

Use and effects of olibanum
Olibanum has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and is very effective in treating arthritic and rheumatic pain. It can also be used as a tonic for flu symptoms such as fever, cough and cold and as a digestive tonic for stomach problems.
In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, olibanum is used to treat wounds, arthritis, female hormonal imbalance and for cleansing. This application is known as "dhoopan".


Börner F. et al. Allosteric activation of 15-lipoxygenase-1 by boswellic acid induces the lipid mediator class switch to promote resolution of inflammation, “Advanced Science” 2022. DOI: 10.1002/advs.202205604
Gilbert NC, Gerstmeier J, Schexnaydre EE et al. Structural and mechanistic insights into 5-lipoxygenase inhibition by natural products. Nat Chem Biol 16, 783–790 (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41589-020-0544-7

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