Frankincense: Anti-inflammatory and helps against diseases such as asthma and neurodermatitis

Frankincense: Anti-inflammatory and helps against diseases such as asthma and neurodermatitis

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Frankincense: anti-inflammatory substances for the therapy of diseases

Frankincense has been used for cult purposes for several thousand years. The resin of the frankincense tree also helps against various diseases and is suitable for the treatment of diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or neurodermatitis.

According to a recent report, a research team from the University of Jena and Louisiana State University (USA) has elucidated the molecular mechanism of the anti-inflammatory effect of a natural product made from frankincense resin.

For the therapy of various diseases

According to tradition, the three wise men brought gold and myrrh as well as incense to Bethlehem as a gift for the newborn baby Jesus.

The aromatic scent of frankincense resin has been part of many religious ceremonies for thousands of years and still gives special expression to many celebrations in the church today.

"Frankincense is still a valuable gift today," says Prof. Dr. Oliver Werz from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena - but has less of an eye on the biblical meaning of frankincense.

"The resin obtained from the trunk of the frankincense tree contains anti-inflammatory substances that it u. a. make it suitable for the treatment of diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or neurodermatitis, ”explains the pharmacist.

Anti-inflammatory effects of frankincense resin

Werz and his team have been investigating the anti-inflammatory effects of frankincense resin and its ingredients for several years.

The researchers at the University of Jena, together with their American colleagues, have now succeeded in elucidating the molecular mode of action of boswellic acid, a substance that is responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of frankincense.

Their results were published in the current issue of the "Nature Chemical Biology" magazine.

For the first time, researchers were able to clarify and map the crystal structure

The enzyme 5-lipoxygenase plays a key role in the effects of frankincense. "It has been known for more than 40 years that this enzyme promotes the formation of leukotrienes, an important group of inflammatory messengers in the human body," said Werz.

In the work presented, however, the scientists were able for the first time to elucidate and map the crystal structure of this central inflammatory enzyme with bound inhibitors.

As explained in the communication, the crystal structure images allow, in addition to detailed studies of the enzyme and its interaction with active substances, the development of new anti-inflammatory agents.

And that's exactly what the research team did. In addition to an anti-inflammatory drug already on the market, zileuton - a synthetic preparation used in asthma - the researchers have linked various natural products to the enzyme and analyzed the crystal structures of the resulting molecular complexes.

The result initially surprised the experts: While other natural products, similar to zileuton, dock directly in the so-called active center of the enzyme and thus inhibit its function, the boswellic acid binds to another - far from the active center - location of the enzyme molecule.

"However, this binding leads to structural changes in the active center, which also inhibits enzyme activity," said Werz.

Domino effect in the enzyme structure

These structural changes triggered by the incense ingredient therefore already have an anti-inflammatory effect.

"But the influence of boswellic acid goes far beyond that," explains Dr. Jana Gerstmeier from the research team. "The binding creates a domino effect, which also changes the specificity of the enzyme," says the pharmacist.

Instead of catalyzing the synthesis of inflammatory leukotrienes, 5-lipoxygenase produces inflammation-dissolving substances under the influence of boswellic acid. "In simple terms, this means that the incense ingredient re-programs the inflammatory enzyme into an inflammation-resolving enzyme."

According to the authors of the study, these findings can now be used, on the one hand, to test the boswellic acids from frankincense in appropriate disease models and perhaps later to develop them as a medication for inflammatory diseases.

On the other hand, thanks to the newly discovered binding site on the 5-lipoxygenase, other potential drugs can be found and their effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory tested. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena: Frankincense re-programs inflammation enzyme, (accessed: May 12, 2020), Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
  • Gilbert NC et al .: Structural and mechanistic insights into 5-lipoxygenase inhibition by natural products; in: Nature Chemical Biology, (published: May 11, 2020), Nature Chemical Biology

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