The therapeutic power of Indian frankincense for multiple sclerosis patients

Boswellia serrata, the plant from which Indian frankincense is derived, can improve cognitive performance in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). This finding, from a study published in the Journal of Herbal Medicine, promises a new and natural way of delaying the complications and effects of MS.

Neurons, the special cells that make up the nerves and the different parts of the nervous system, have what is called the myelin sheath. This is a layer that coats and protects the nerve fiber or axon, a long, thin projection that carries electrical impulses from one end of the neuron to the other. The myelin sheath insulates the axon and enhances its function, allowing it to more efficiently deliver messages between the brain and the different parts of the body.

In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the cells that make up the myelin sheath. This causes the nerves to “short circuit” and creates problems in the way that messages are delivered from or to the brain. With time, multiple sclerosis can result in permanent nerve impairment and damage.

Like most autoimmune diseases, MS can only be managed – a permanent cure is not available at the moment. Patients are left with symptoms that depend on the severity of nerve damage. These include tingling, numbness, pain, fatigue, partial or complete vision loss, dizziness, and loss of bladder control. In some cases, patients lose the ability to walk.

Researchers say B. serrata can help remedy certain symptoms and effects of multiple sclerosis, in particular, the cognitive impairment that occurs in 40 to 65 percent of patients. This usually entails problems with complex attention, a slower information processing speed, and episodic lapses in memory and executive functions. MS-related cognitive impairment has been known to affect patients quality of life, personal relationships, and vocational potential.

In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, the researchers selected and divided 60 patients with MS with subjective cognitive complaints into two groups. One group received 450 mg of B. serrata while the other received placebo capsules. Both needed to be taken twice a day.

At the beginning and after two months of the study, the participants were required to go through a series of minimum assessment of cognitive function in multiple sclerosis (MACFIMS) tests. The outcomes from these tests were then analyzed and recorded. (Related: Multiple sclerosis and vitamin D connection makes winter sun essential.)

The researchers saw that those in the B. serrata group performed significantly better than the patients in the placebo group in the brief visuospatial memory test (BVMT) and the California verbal learning test (CVLT). These two tests measured the ability to gather information using the sense of sight and the ability to learn and remember new words respectively.

However, the differences in scores were minimal in the other tests. These included tests that gauged auditory information processing speed and verbal fluency, as well as one used to detect cognitive damage. The researchers thus concluded that while B. serrata may be insufficient for certain effects of multiple sclerosis, it has benefits on the patient’s ability to learn words and use visual information.

Other health benefits of B. serrata

B. serrata, as well as the Indian frankincense derived from it, is used as a treatment for a variety of conditions and is known to offer a number of health benefits:

  • ArthritisB. serrata has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that are believed to disrupt the autoimmune process, a known cause of arthritis. It also has analgesic effects that relieve pain.
  • Viral infections – The plant has been used for years as a treatment for various types of viral infections, including cold, the flu, and even gonorrhea.
  • Cancer – The essential oil derived from frankincense has been shown to be effective against cancer cells. Taking the oil can also reduce one’s risk of developing blood, prostate, and breast cancers.

Discover how the brain works, as well as diseases that may impair the nervous system at

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