Overview of Boswellia extract side effects and interactions

Overview of Boswellia extract side effects and interactions
February 20, 2014 8:55 AM

Boswellia serrata is the botanical name for boswellia. It is also known as Indian frankincense. It is a plant endogenous to India. The extracts of boswellia are known because of their medicinal uses. It is believed that these extracts can cure a number of inflammatory diseases including asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and cerebral edema.

Although the extracts of Boswellia are very safe and it is very rare that someone shows serious side effects. But still you need to observe caution while using this supplement as improper use can trigger some side effects. Moreover, use of Boswellia can cause significant drug interactions. All these aspects related to the use of Boswellia extracts are given as follows.

Side effects of Boswellia extracts

It is seen that using low doses of Boswellia rarely triggers any side effects. Side effects appear only when this supplement is used in high doses. So, try to use this extract in as low dose as possible. Possible side effects of Boswellia extracts are as follows:


Some people might show some unusual allergies with the use of Boswellia. It is seen that use of this extract in high dose can trigger life threatening allergy. This allergy manifests itself in the form of chest pain, difficulty in breathing, swelling in different areas of the body and hives. If any of these symptoms appear after taking Boswellia extract, you should stop the use of supplement and immediately contact your doctor.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation seen when the skin is exposed to certain allergen. In 2004, researchers at Spain’s Hospital de Cruces Department of Dermatology reported a case in which a patient showed side effects to the derivatives of Boswellia. That patient was applied with a naturopathic cream that contained plant resins derived from Boswellia serrata. That patient subsequently developed contact dermatitis. Similar thing was reported by researchers at India’s University of Poona. It was found that patients treated with a drug Articulin-F developed dermatitis. Further investigations showed that the product used on patients had several resins derived from plant sources including Boswellia extract. The Botanical Dermatology Database showed that Boswellia extracts used in plasters and perfumes developed contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. Laboratory experimentation on rabbits showed that application of Boswellia extracts on rabbit’s skin can lead to skin irritation and inflammation.

Gastrointestinal side effects

A study was conducted on patients suffering from ulcerative colitis. Those individuals were given Boswellia extracts for 18 days in the form of 350 milligram tablets, 3 times a day. Results showed that at least 18% of those individuals reported gastrointestinal symptoms. Gastrointestinal side effects associated with Boswellia extracts include:

  • It can give you a feeling of fullness. o Sometimes you might want to throw out (nausea). Other times you might actually vomit.
  • Boswellia extracts can trigger heartburn.
  • Sometimes, individuals using these supplements might come with a complaint of abdominal pain.
  • Use of Boswellia extracts in patients with gastric ulcers or GERD can further complicate the symptoms.

Side effects associated with pregnancy & breastfeeding

A review in 2004 in the “Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy” showed that Boswellia extracts can have follow side effects during pregnancy:

  • Use of Boswellia extracts during pregnancy can lead to bleeding.
  • Boswellia extracts can cross placenta and can induce birth defects in the fetus.
  • Use of these supplements during pregnancy significantly increases the chances of abortion. So, due to its side effects during pregnancy, pregnant females should never use it without consulting with their physician first. The safety of Boswellia extract for nursing females and children is not yet developed. So, do consult a doctor before consuming these supplements if you’re a breastfeeding female.

Side effects in patients with liver failure

Liver is the major site where any foreign substance is converted into less toxic substances. Boswellia extracts are also metabolized inside the liver. People suffering from liver failure are particularly at risk for developing the side effects of Boswellia extracts. The reasons being, failure of liver to process Boswellia can lead to enhanced plasma levels of Boswellia and amplification of side effects.

Side effects in patients with lung disease

The patients of degenerative disease of lungs should use Boswellia extracts with caution as the use of these supplements can speed up the destruction of lung tissues. However, this fact needs further investigation and verification.

Might trigger immunity

As explained earlier, Boswellia can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive patients. Similarly, use of these supplements can trigger auto-immunity in susceptible patients. Auto immunity is a condition in which the body’s own immune system back fires and result is destruction of body tissues. However, the validity of this fact yet remains largely untested.

Drug interactions of Boswellia extracts

Interaction of Boswellia extracts with other drugs can lead to serious side effects. Boswellia can decrease the clearance of these drugs through liver, enhancing their toxicities and side effects.

Drugs that interact with Boswellia extracts include:

  • Drugs used in asthma might interact with Boswellia. Such drugs include Singulair.
  • The side effects of certain anti cancer drugs can enhance by the concurrent use of Boswellia extracts.
  • Concurrent use of herbal supplements containing garlic and red yeast can trigger several allergic reactions.
  • Boswellia extracts might increase the side effects of herbal antifungal agents like tea tree oil.
  • Supplements used in joint diseases, such as chondroitin, can also show enhanced side effects when used with Boswellia.
  • Boswellia can decrease the efficacy of certain drugs as well. For instance the therapeutic efficacy of pain relieving anti-inflammatory drugs reduce significantly when used in combination with Boswellia extracts.
  • Other drugs whose efficacy decreases with use with Boswellia include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, immune-modulators and sedatives.

Boswellia is a natural substance with minimal chances of any side effects and drug interactions. But as they say excess of anything is bad. Similar is true for Boswellia extracts. So, before you could decide to use this herbal ingredient, you should consult your doctor.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Published: February 20, 2014 8:55 AM
Next scheduled update: February 20, 2016 8:55 AM
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