Boswellia – an herbal remedy for headaches

Boswellia extract may relieve migraine, cluster and indomethacin-responsive headaches. Boswellia serrata (Indian frankincense) has been long reported to relieve migraines, although I could not find any scientific articles. A study recently published in journal Cephalalgia by Christian Lampl and his colleagues describes 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 standard preventive medications for cluster headaches, such as verapamil (Calan), topiramate (Topamax), and lithium. It is very surprising that an herbal remedy helps what many consider to be the most painful type of headaches.
Dr. Eric Eross reported that Boswellia extract was also reported to help another very severe headache type – indomethacin responsive headache syndrome. Of the 27 patients with this type of headaches who were given Boswellia, 21 responded. The starting dose was 250 mg three times a day and then the dose was increased as needed, although it is not clear what the highest dose was. Indomethacin is a very strong non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, but it also tends to have strong gastro-intestinal side effects.
Finding a safe natural alternative is a very important discovery. Unlike butterbur, Boswellia has no toxic ingredients and is safe to consume in any form. The mechanism of action of Boswellia is not entirely clear, but it seems to have anti-inflammatory properties similar to aspirin. Obviously, it does more than that since aspirin is usually ineffective for cluster or indomethacin-responsive headaches.
Boswellia
Photo credit: wikipedia

22 comments
  1. Dr. Mauskop says: 11/21/201711:27 pm

    I would suggest Boswellia by Nature’s Way, which is inexpensive and of good quality. A more expensive, but sometimes more effective option is a product called Gliacin. Essential oils are usually more expensive and I do not have any experience with them, except for peppermint oil used topically or as aromatherapy.

  2. Harrison says: 11/21/20177:02 pm

    You mention taking Boswellia in all forms, but I’d like to clarify that. I have essential oils and do have Frankincense EO. I have vegetable capsules I can use to put drops of oil in and take as a supplement. Would this be something you recommend. The only issue may be the cost of the EO in comparison to the cost of other boswellia supplements. I could also use the EO topically to help relieve the pain. Just wondering what your thoughts are about essential oils as supplements. And speaking of Essential oils, Copaiba and Palo Santo are two EOs that have anti-inflammatory properties and are starting to get noticed for their health benefits. And for some history, I have chronic daily migraine along with Fibromyalgia, possible RA (right now blood work is normal, but joints tell a different story), and IBS. I’m always in some form of pain and have accepted that to be my “normal”, but whenever the pain goes beyond my “normal”, is when I start reaching for relief. I take magnesium supplements daily and probiotics. I’ve tried hemp CBD, but the results were minimal and did not justify the cost. I currently don’t have insurance, so I can’t do botox, which did help some in the past. Thank you for any insight you can provide!

  3. Dr. Mauskop says: 08/22/20178:23 am

    Thank you, Robert for sharing your experience with Boswellia. I just wanted to mention that one-sided headache is most likely a migraine, even if the pain is not severe. However, sometimes headaches do not fit into one of the well-defined categories and they fall somewhere in between migraine and tension-type headaches. This is most likely due to the fact that these categories were defined by committees of doctors rather than by an objective test. Fortunately, the science is moving in the direction of defining most conditions on the basis of genetics and that might lead to very specific therapies that are based on genetics and biochemistry rather than symptom description.

  4. Robert says: 08/22/201712:59 am

    I’ve had right-sided tension headaches for 30 years. They were diagnosed at one point as migraines, but I don’t believe they are. In the last 5 years they have increased from once every 7-10 days to once every other day. I’ve been switching between aspirin and ibuprofen to the limits of tolerance. I had exhausted what I thought was every herb, vitamin and form of diet modification and alternative treatment imaginable. About two months ago I learned about Boswellia. Since taking it regularly my headaches have reduced 75% in frequency and about 50% in severity. It is quite remarkable. I offer this comment as possible hope for others.

  5. tired63 says: 11/03/201610:14 am

    I have been taking Boswellia, as Gliacin (Dr. Eross), for the past 6 weeks for Hemicrania Continua. I was recommended by my Neurologist in SF. I think I am actually seeing improvement. I am allergic to indomethacin, so I take lots of ibuprofen for pain relief. In the past 2 weeks I notice I do not need to take pain meds until much later in the day and I would typically need at least 2 doses of pain meds, I now find I usually don’t need the 2nd.

  6. Rod says: 01/14/201611:01 am

    Has anyone else tried “Boswellia” and it’s worked?

    Mariana – how’s your son doing (if you see this message).

    This thread could really help a lot of people, so please post your findings – Cluster headache sufferers really need as much feedback as possible from those who’ve managed to get better, so please post your results as there’s nothing more valuable than learning from those who’ve got better.

    Many thanks to all the posters, and specifically to Dr. Mauskop –

  7. Mike says: 10/28/20157:31 pm

    I’m getting some very positive early results with Boswellia for tension headaches and neck pain. I’m considering adding Turmeric. Would you suggest I do so, or would another better complement?

    Thx, Mike

  8. Morgane says: 01/04/20136:14 am

    Hi. I would like to share my (little) experience with boswellia.
    I always had headaches (migraines), sometimes with aura, sometimes not, but for one year I have headaches almost everyday. You can imagine how tired and depressed I’ve felt lately.
    The only medication that helps are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pills, but it tend not to be enough and, most important, I have Crohn’s disease so these pills make me very, very sick.

    I tried boswellia because the only thing that helped with my Crohn’s was an(other) herb, so I thought I’d give it a try. I took 2 pills of 280mg boswellia a day at first, then 4 a day. 5 weeks later, I had the very first entire week without a single headache (for about one year).

    For now, I didn’t notice any side effect, and I can’t say it works without testing it longer, but it seems to help for sure… I hope it’ll help other people like me !

  9. Hope | A Migraine Saga says: 10/17/20121:14 pm

    […] days then did my inner dialoguing again and got an affirmative to start right away. I also started Boswellia, which has had some success in cluster headaches. Finally got Lupron going and found a study from […]

  10. Mariana says: 09/13/20129:02 am

    Thank you! I started him on Boswellia and slow breathing twice a day, and it seems to be working! His headaches have decreased in duration and intensity and he hasn’t reported side effects, so we’ll continue. 🙂

  11. Dr. Mauskop says: 09/11/20122:47 pm

    Unfortunately, I cannot give specific advice to anyone because I need to have a detailed history and a discussion with each patient, but as a general rule Boswellia, magnesium and CoQ10 can be combined for the prevention of migraine headaches. I usually recommend starting one supplement at a time (usually magnesium, then CoQ10 and then Boswellia) because any of them can cause upset stomach, allergic reaction (mostly herbals) or another side effect.

  12. Mariana says: 09/11/20121:15 pm

    OK, i’m starting him with 450mg twice a day. I’ll let you know how it goes. Is it okay to also give him the magnesium and CoQ10 supplements you recommend? What would the doses be for those? Is it better to introduce one thing at a time for a few weeks? If so, what would you recommend we try first? We’re also getting the mouth guard this week , since he seems to be accumulating a lot of tension in his jaw, especially at night. Thanks for your time!

  13. Dr. Mauskop says: 09/10/20125:37 pm

    Unfortunately, nobody knows the proper dose of herbal products, including Boswellia. The proper dose of prescription drugs is established by extensive testing in thousands of patients, which is very expensive. Since Boswellia (and feverfew, but not butterbur) are very safe the dose can be discovered by trial and error, starting with a small amount and gradually increasing it. You need to ask your son’s pediatrician or a local herbalist for guidance. Combining herbal products such as Boswellia and valerian with drugs is generally safe, but I cannot give specific advice to anyone who is not my patient, so check with the doctor.

  14. Mariana says: 09/10/20125:13 pm

    Dear Dr. Mauskop,
    Thank you for helping so many people through your website.
    What would be the recommended dose based on weight? My son is 50 pounds.
    Is it safe to take Boswellia in conjunction with Topamax (25 mg in the am). He also takes Valerian at nights, sometimes.
    Thanks again,
    Mariana DW

  15. Dr. Mauskop says: 09/03/20126:31 pm

    Unfortunately, I cannot make any specific recommendations to anyone without seeing them first. But I can say that Boswellia is usually taken daily as a preventive treatment for headaches and other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  16. Mekhala Rao says: 09/02/20121:35 am

    Dear Dr. Mauskop,
    I am searching for a remedy for my 15 year old son who gets migraine headaches accompanied by acute gastric symptoms – an inflamed painful tummy and a tummy upset which can last for days. I’ve been reading about Boswellia – it has also been tried with some success in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, apart from the recent findings in migraine. Do you think it is a good idea to try it with the general idea of reducing the inflammation? Do I give it only during acute attacks or as a preventive?
    I’d value your opinion, since all routine investigations have been normal. Thank you for taking the time,
    Mekhala Rao

  17. Dr. Mauskop says: 08/23/20129:50 am

    Boswellia is not known to cause any side effects, but people with any medical problem should always check with their doctor before starting any supplements or herbal products.

  18. Martin Gonzales says: 08/22/201210:36 pm

    Will an individual who has to be careful with anti-inflammatories due to having one kidney, have a problem? Kidney removed due to rcc. I have a NDPH.

  19. Dr. Mauskop says: 08/16/201212:48 pm

    Yes, boswellia is widely available

  20. Ernest says: 08/16/201212:06 pm

    Where can I find such a herbal extact? At a local herbalist store?

  21. Dr. Mauskop says: 08/09/20122:43 pm

    Unfortunately, we don’t really know what kind of migraines or headaches Boswellia is good for.

  22. Nick says: 08/09/20122:37 pm

    I get hemiplegic and silent migraines. The silent migraines consist of visual aura, strange sensations on my skin, mental fogginess, confusion, word finding issues, etc. Flying tends to make my condition worse. Do you think taking the Boswellia daily may be beneficial as preventive measure for the silent migraine?

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