Frankincense: the King of Essential Oils: Boswellic Acids and Cancer

Frankincense oil has been used for thousands of years as a “feel-good” oil. But is has only been since the early 20th century that frankincense and other essential oils have been scientifically examined and used for specific medical targets (Source). In this post, we will first examine what frankincense oil is (Section A), thereafter, we will look at some of its many uses in health-care (Section B). From these generalities, frankincense’s usefulness for cancer will be established. (Section C) Lastly, we will conclude with solid science that supports the claim that essential oils benefits are much more than placebo feel-good sensations. (Section D).



Frankincense resin is obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia (family Burseraceae). Incisions are made in the trunks of the trees to produce exuded gum, which appears as milk like resin. The resin hardens into orange-brown gum resin known as frankincense.

There are numerous species and varieties of frankincense trees, including Boswellia serrata in India, Boswellia carteri in East Africa and China, Boswellia frereana in Somalia, and Boswellia sacra in Arabia, each producing a slightly different type of resin.

Differences in soil and climate create more diversity in the resins, even within the same species. The aroma from these resins is valued for its presumed healing properties and superior qualities for religious rituals since the time of the ancient Egyptians (1), and has been used in incense, fumigants and as a fixative in perfumes.



Frankincense resin has been considered throughout the ages to have a wealth of health supporting properties. The resins of Boswellia carteri and Boswellia serrata have been used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases (2) such as Crohn’s disease (3) in traditional medicine of many countries.

Its anti-inflammatory activity has been attribute to the resin’s ability in regulating immune cytokines production (4) and leukocyte infiltration (5,6). Boswellia serrata extract also exhibits anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activities (8). As shown elsewhere, given cancer’s fungus-like behavior, anti-fugal substances are generally useful in the treatment of cancer.



As we saw, frankincense oil is prepared from aromatic hardened gum resins obtained by tapping Boswellia trees. One of the main components of frankincense oil is boswellic acid, a component known to have anti-neoplastic properties. In this perspective, it has been shown that these acids possess anti-cancer activities, based on their anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic activities in rat astrocytoma cell lines (8) and in human leukemia cell lines (9) as well as their anti-carcinogenic activity in chemically induced mouse skin cancer models (10).

In yet another study, extracts from the resin reduced the peritumoral edema in glioblastoma patients (8) and reverses multiple brain metastases in a breast cancer patient (11). These results suggest that frankincense resin contains active ingredients that modulate important biological activities.



In search of the active medicinal ingredients of frankincense resins, Chevrier et al. reported that ethanol extract of Boswellia carteri resin comprises 7 boswellic acids (4). Akihisa et al. reported that methanol extract of Boswellia carteri resin consists of 15 triterpene acids, including boswellic acids, and 2 cembrane-type diterpenes (12). 11-keto-β-boswellic acid, the most potent anti-inflammatory component of the resin, selectively blocks leukotriene biosynthesis through inhibiting 5-lipoxygenase activity in rat neutrophilic granulocytes (13) and provides protective effects in a chemically induced mouse ulcerative colitis model (14).

Boswellic acids also prevented endotoxin/galactosamine-induced hepatitis in mice (15). In addition, boswellic acids have been shown to possess anti-cancer activities through their cytostatic and apoptotic effects in multiple human cancer cell lines including meningioma cells (16) leukemia cells (17) hepatoma cells (18) melanoma cells, fibrosarcoma cells (19), and colon cancer cells (20).

In yet another study, it was demonstrated that frankincense oil can discriminate bladder cancer cells from normal bladder urothelial UROtsa cells and suppress cancer cell viability. Based on gene expression analysis, frankincense oil activated several anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic pathways that might be responsible for frankincense oil-induced cancer cell death. This study’s conclusion is as follows:

“Frankincense oil appears to distinguish cancerous from normal bladder cells and suppress cancer cell viability. Microarray and bioinformatics analysis proposed multiple pathways that can be activated by frankincense oil to induce bladder cancer cell death. Frankincense oil might represent an alternative intravesical agent for bladder cancer treatment.” (21)


Most of these studies including the last one where not performed on human beings. More confirmation via clinical trials are therefore indicated. However, we have enough anecdotal and pre-clinical evidence to support the claim that frankincense is safe and useful for cancer patients as an adjunctive therapy.

Pr. Joubert (ACR Institute director)

Founder and director of the French Pyrénean Holistic Medicine Retreat Center, and the American Advanced Cancer Research Institute, Pr. Joubert is a former professor of public int’l law, litigator, a holistic oncologist, longevity expert, holistic medicine professor, aromatherapist, organic berries  farmer and naturopath from France.

Evidence that Frankensen essential oil has anti-inflammatory and pro apoptotic properties against cancer

Frankincense resin  has anti-inflammatory and pro apoptotic properties


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12 Akihisa T, Tabata K, Banno N, Tokuda H, Nishimura R, Nakamura Y, Kimura Y, Yasukawa K, Suzuki T. Cancer chemopreventive effects and cytotoxic activities of the triterpene acids from the resin of Boswellia carteri. Biol Pharm Bull. 2006;29:1976–1979.
13 Safayhi H, Sailer ER, Ammon HP. Mechanism of 5-lipoxygenase inhibition by acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid. Mol Pharmacol. 1995;47:1212–1216.
14 Anthoni C, Laukoetter MG, Rijcken E, Vowinkel T, Mennigen R, Muller S, Senninger N, Russell J, Jauch J, Bergmann J, et al. Mechanisms underlying the anti-inflammatory actions of boswellic acid derivatives in experimental colitis. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2006;290:G1131–1137.
15 Safayhi H, Mack T, Ammon HP. Protection by boswellic acids against galactosamine/endotoxin-induced hepatitis in mice. Biochem Pharmacol. 1991;41:1536–1537.
16 Park YS, Lee JH, Bondar J, Harwalkar JA, Safayhi H, Golubic M. Cytotoxic action of acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA) on meningioma cells. Planta Medica. 2002;68:397–401.
17 Shao Y, Ho CT, Chin CK, Badmaev V, Ma W, Huang MT. Inhibitory activity of boswellic acids from Boswellia serrata against human leukemia HL-60 cells in culture. Planta Medica. 1998;64:328–331.
18 Liu JJ, Nilsson A, Oredsson S, Badmaev V, Duan RD. Keto- and acetyl-keto-boswellic acids inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis in Hep G2 cells via a caspase-8 dependent pathway. Int J Mol Med. 2002;10:501–505.
19 Zhao W, Entschladen F, Liu H, Niggemann B, Fang Q, Zaenker KS, Han R. Boswellic acid acetate induces differentiation and apoptosis in highly metastatic melanoma and fibrosarcoma cells. Cancer Detec Prev. 2003;27:67–75.
20 Liu JJ, Nilsson A, Oredsson S, Badmaev V, Zhao WZ, Duan RD. Boswellic acids trigger apoptosis via a pathway dependent on caspase-8 activation but independent on Fas/Fas ligand interaction in colon cancer HT-29 cells. Carcinogenesis. 2002;23:2087–2093.
21 BMC Complement Altern Med. 2009; 9: 6. This study is an in vitro one involving J82 cells. Within a range of concentration, frankincense oil suppressed cell viability in bladder transitional carcinoma J82 cells but not in UROtsa cells. Comprehensive gene expression analysis confirmed that frankincense oil activates genes that are responsible for cell cycle arrest, cell growth suppression, and apoptosis in J82 cells. However, frankincense oil-induced cell death in J82 cells did not result in DNA fragmentation, a hallmark of apoptosis. Animal and clinical trials need to confirm these findings.
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Disclaimer: Nothing in this educational blog should be construed as medical advise.
2016 (c) Advanced Cancer Research Institute and agents. All Right Reserved

Professor Joubert teaches how to extend a healthy cancer-free Lifespan to 122 years thanks to safe, efficient and cost friendly breakthrough protocols. Working on a documentary and book that redefines Medicine in light of ancient wisdoms, innovative research, holistic science and new discoveries with regard to quantic, microbiota et epigenetic findings, he can be available to coach patients back to homeostasis, wellbeing, Joie de vivre and healthy supercentenarian aging.

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