Boswellic Acids and Their Role in Chronic Inflammatory Diseases

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016;928:291-327. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-41334-1_13.


Boswellic acids, which are pentacyclic triterpenes belong to the active pharmacological compounds of the oleogum resin of different Boswellia species. In the resin, more than 12 different boswellic acids have been identified but only KBA and AKBA received significant pharmacological interest. Biological Activity: In an extract of the resin of Boswellia species multiple factors are responsible for the final outcome of a therapeutic effect, be it synergistic or antagonistic. Moreover, the anti-inflammatory actions of BAs are caused by different mechanisms of action. They include inhibition of leukotriene synthesis and to a less extend prostaglandin synthesis. Furthermore inhibition of the complement system at the level of conversion of C3 into C3a and C3b. A major target of BAs is the immune system. Here, BEs as well as BAs including KBA and AKBA, have been shown to decrease production of proinflammatory cytokines including IL-1, IL-2, IL-6, IFN-γ and TNF-α which finally are directed to destroy tissues such as cartilage, insulin producing cells, bronchial, intestinal and other tissues. NFĸB is considered to be the target of AKBA. The complex actions of BEs and BAs in inflamed areas may be completed by some effects that are localized behind the inflammatory process as such tissue destruction. In this case, in vitro- and animal studies have shown that BAs and BEs suppress proteolytic activity of cathepsin G, human leucocyte elastase, formation of oxygen radicals and lysosomal enzymes.

Pharmacokinetics: Whereas KBA is absorbed reaching blood levels being close to in vitro IC50, AKBA which is more active in in vitro studies than KBA, but undergoes much less absorption than KBA. However, absorption of both is increased more than twice when taken together with a high-fat meal.Clinical Studies There are a variety of chronic inflammatory diseases which respond to treatment with extracts from the resin of Boswellia species. Though, the number of cases is small in related clinical studies, their results are convincing and supported by the preclinical data. These studies include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, chronic colitis, ulcerative colitis, collagenous colitis, Crohn's disease and bronchial asthma. It can not be expected that there is cure from these diseases but at least improvement of symptoms in about 60-70 % of the cases. Side Effects The number and severity of side effects is extremely low. The most reported complaints are gastrointestinal symptoms. Allergic reactions are rare. And most authors report, that treatment with BEs is well tolerated and the registered side effects in BE- and placebo groups are similar.

Keywords: Boswellic acids; Boswellic extracts; Bronchial asthma; Cytokines; Diabetes; Inflammatory bowel diseases; Leukotrienes; Pharmacokinetics; Prostaglandins; Proteolytic enzymes; Rheumatoid arthritis; Side effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy
  • Osteoarthritis / drug therapy
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Triterpenes / adverse effects
  • Triterpenes / pharmacokinetics
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology
  • Triterpenes / therapeutic use*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Plant Extracts
  • Triterpenes
  • boswellic acid