The answer to treating painful arthritis could lie in an age old herbal remedy -- frankincense, according to Cardiff University scientists. Cardiff scientists have been examining the potential benefits of frankincense to help relieve and alleviate the symptoms of the condition.
"The search for new ways of relieving the symptoms of inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis is a long and difficult one," according to Dr Emma Blain, who leads the research with her co-investigators Professor Vic Duance from Cardiff University's School of Biosciences and Dr Ahmed Ali of the Compton Group.
"The South West of England and Wales has a long standing connection with the Somali community who have used extracts of frankincense as a traditional herbal remedy for arthritic conditions.
"What our research has focused on is whether and how these extracts can help relieve the inflammation that causes the pain," she added.
The Cardiff scientists believe they have been able to demonstrate that treatment with an extract of Boswellia frereana -- a rare frankincense species -- inhibits the production of key inflammatory molecules which helps prevent the breakdown of the cartilage tissue which causes the condition.
Frankincense is tapped from the very scraggly but hardy Boswellia tree by slashing the bark and allowing the exuded resins to bleed out and harden. These hardened resins are called tears. There are numerous species and varieties of frankincense trees, each producing a slightly different type of resin. Differences in soil and climate create even more diversity of the resin, even within the same species.
Frankincense trees are also considered unusual for their ability to grow in environments so unforgiving that they sometimes grow directly out of solid rock. The means of initial attachment to the stone is not known but is accomplished by a bulbous disk-like swelling of the trunk. This disk-like growth at the base of the tree prevents it from being torn away from the rock during the violent storms that frequent the region they grow in. This feature is slight or absent in trees grown in rocky soil or gravel. The tears from these hardy survivors are considered superior for their more fragrant aroma.
Frankincense oil has a sweet, warm, balsamic aroma that is stimulating and elevating to the mind. Not only is it useful for visualizing and improving one's spiritual connection, but it also hass comforting properties that help focus the mind and overcome stress and despair.
Dr Ali adds: "What our research has managed to achieve is to use innovative chemical extraction techniques to determine the active ingredient in frankincense."
"Having done this we are now able to further characterise the chemical entity and compare its success against other anti-inflammatory drugs used for treating the condition."
The research comes as a result of a seedcorn project, funded by the Severnside Alliance for Translational Research (SARTRE), through the MRC Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme devolved portfolio.