Boswellia for Pain Tolerance in Healthy Adults
A controlled double-blind trial from India shows that Boswellia Serrata can enhance pain tolerance. In Ayurvedic medicine, the herb is also known as Indian Frankincense. The study is published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology:
- A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study to evaluate the analgesic activity of Boswellia serrata in healthy volunteers using mechanical pain model
The findings of the study are particularly interesting because they involve testing pain thresholds in healthy adults. That applies to most readers of this article.
The active compound in Boswellia Serrata is 3-acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA). AKBA binds to 5-LOX receptors, blocking active compounds from binding to it. This reduces the production of inflammatory leukotrienes.
The Mechanics of Pain
In the body, arachidonic acid can follow two main paths that cause inflammation and pain: the COX pathways, and the LOX pathway. The COX pathways produce prostaglandins that cause inflammation, fever, and pain. Aspirin and common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents or drugs (NSAIDS) affect the COX pathways.
Blocking the COX-1 pathway, such as with aspirin, can cause damage to the gastric lining. Blocking the COX-2 pathway, such as with prescription medications, can carry the risk of cardiovascular events and should be monitored. Ibuprofen blocks both the COX-1 and COX-2 pathways.
The LOX pathway increases leukotrienes that cause inflammation, pain, allergy responses, and gastric damage. Blocking the LOX pathway, such as with Boswellia Serrata, reduces leukotrienes. And that may reduce inflammation and pain.
For more details about the effect of Boswellia Serrata on the LOX pathway, see the work of Safayhi H, Mack T and others on "Boswellic acids: Novel, specific, non-redox inhibitors of 5-lipoxygenase."
A New Approach to Pain Reduction
In the Indian clinical trial, researchers noted they were looking for treatments to relieve chronic pain, such as that caused by osteoarthritis or inflammatory bowel diseases. And they hoped to find something with fewer side effects than NSAIDS. GI bleeding, increased blood pressure, and heart and kidney problems are associated with NSAIDS.
But instead of testing a new treatment on persons with disease, they decided to test it on healthy persons. Their reasoning was that this would help the study avoid confounding variables that often arise in tests on persons with disease. And the upshot, for the rest of us, is that their decision makes it easier to apply the results more broadly.
Measuring Pain Threshold and Tolerance
This study involved twelve healthy men, aged 18 to 45. The researchers used a validated mechanical pain model to measure pain threshold and pain tolerance. Pain threshold is the force applied when pain is first identified. And pain tolerance is the force applied when the pain is no longer bearable.
The force was applied to the nail bed of the index finger on the non-dominant hand. Researchers used an instrument that increases force incrementally over time.
Each participant went through a control run and then two trials in random order. One trial was after taking a placebo. The other trial was after taking a dietary supplement containing 250 mg of Boswellia extracts. Each trial included measurements at baseline, one hour, two hours, and three hours after consumption of the supplement.
Pain threshold was improved at two and three hours after supplementation. The improvement was greater at three hours. Pain tolerance improved at one, two, and three hours after supplementation. None of participants reported adverse side effects.
Although healthy adults don’t often get an intentional finger pinch, the test is still a standardized and measurable example of managing pain. In this study, a Boswellia Serrata supplement improved both the pain threshold and pain tolerance in healthy adults within hours of ingestion.
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- Vitamin D3
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