Boswellia serrata, a desert native of the Middle East and northern Africa, exudes the resinous sap used to make frankincense. The dried sap contains boswellic acids, a group of phytochemicals that appear to have anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic and diuretic properties, according to James Duke, author of "The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook." They may also interact with medications, supplements or herbs that you take, or mask symptoms of an underlying disorder. Always consult your doctor before taking boswellia serrata to treat any condition.
Boswellia serrata extract contains natural chemicals that may change the way that other drugs and supplements affect your body. In some cases, it may increase or decrease the absorption of medications. It may also combine with other medications to increase beneficial effects or side effects, including toxicity. If you take boswellia serrata with medications for asthma, anticoagulants, sedatives, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- NSAIDs -- or drugs to lower your cholesterol, your doctor should monitor your condition carefully and make adjustments to your prescription dosages if needed.
A systematic review of studies on boswellia extract by E. Ernst, published in the December 2008 issue of "BMJ," found that the evidence for boswellia is "encouraging but not convincing" in treating conditions that are caused or maintained by inflammation. Those conditions include asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, knee osteoarthritis, Crohn's disease and collagenous colitis. The studies reviewed found no serious side effects or interactions.
Boswellia extract may increase the effects of drugs, such as zafrilukast and montelukast -- leukotreine inhibitors that doctors prescribe to treat asthma, according to Natural Standard, an international organization that collects and evaluates research on alternative and complementary treatments. It may also lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and increase the effects of anti-cholesterol medications and antifungals.
Conversely, NSAIDs may decrease the beneficial effects of boswellia extract for arthritis, and anti-proliferative drugs used to fight cancer may increase the effects or the toxicity of boswellia.
Boswellia may also thin the blood and interfere with anti-coagulant medications, such as warfarin, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Boswellia may add to the effects of supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, used to treat osteoarthritis. It may increase the effects of foods, supplements and herbs, such as garlic, that lower cholesterol, and of antifungal supplements, such as grape seed extract and olive leaf extract. Boswellia extract may also interact with anti-proliferative agents -- chemicals that prevent cancer cells from reproducing -- as well as with herbs and supplements that affect the immune system, antibiotics, fat soluble drugs and sedatives, according to Natural Standard.
Boswellia serrata may cause allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upsets and acid reflux. Traditional uses of boswellia include promoting menstruation, according to Natural Standard. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using it.