Integrative Pet Vet column: Boswellia has many health benefits
Integrative Pet Vet
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is an herb that has been used in humans for centuries and is gaining recognition for its health benefits in dogs and cats. Historically it has been used for inflammatory conditions including arthritis, intestinal problems, fevers, bronchitis, cancer and liver disorders. Modern research methods are further defining its anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer role in diabetes management, action as an analgesic and liver protective properties. The boswellia resin contains numerous compounds including boswellic acids. Boswellic acids, also found in frankincense, are considered the active factors that are responsible for its health effects. One effect that underlies its many benefits is its ability to reduce inflammation.
It is important to remember that inflammation is a beneficial response to infection or injury when it is short-lived. It is classically seen as redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of function. These changes are caused by a well-orchestrated series of cell reactions and responses that rapidly mobilize the appropriate cells and attract them to the problem area. The size of the response is intended to be roughly proportional to the severity of the infection or injury. This means the body has methods for limiting the size of the response and shutting off the inflammatory response once the infection or injury is resolved. Typically, inflammation is stopped within hours to a few days when the control mechanisms are working properly.
When inflammation is allowed to continue and become chronic, it can be damaging and contribute to other health problems. Problems associated with chronic inflammation include osteoarthritis, cancer, heart disease, digestive problems and liver issues.
Chronic inflammation occurs because the immune system is unable to eliminate the problem or when the body is unable to effectively stop the inflammatory process. There are many reasons why inflammation is not effectively controlled or stopped when it is no longer needed. In these situations, supportive care directed at reducing the inflammation is important. Specific steps for supportive care depend on the location in the body and potential triggers for the inflammation. In other words, managing inflammation in the intestine will be different from managing osteoarthritis inflammation. However, there are general supportive steps that are valuable.
A common way to control inflammation is the use of medications with anti-inflammatory effects like the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They can be beneficial for managing pain and degeneration associated with inflammation such as that seen with osteoarthritis. These drugs are clearly helpful, but for some individuals the side-effects can be problematic. For example, in some sensitive individuals certain NSAIDs cause liver and kidney problems and have to be discontinued. In addition, some NSAIDs disrupt synthesis of glycosaminoglycans. GAGs are important for joint health, so inhibited GAG synthesis can accelerate cartilage damage in arthritic joints.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce or eliminate inflammation that do not rely on NSAIDs. These options include herbs like boswellia, nutrients like vitamin D, support of the adrenal glands and liver, use of probiotics to restore optimum balance in the digestive tract and nutriceuticals like glucosamine. Additional supportive options may be used depending on the health problem being addressed.
Importantly, boswellia is an herb with a wide range of beneficial uses, and it is safe for dogs in reasonable doses. In one study of dogs with pain associated with osteoarthritis or spinal disease, 71% of the dogs had reductions in pain, stiffness and lameness within two weeks and significant reductions within six weeks. In addition to boswellia’s anti-inflammatory effects, it also helps to slow degradation of GAGs, which is helpful for joints. Boswellia has also been shown to be of benefit, in conjunction with insulin, for regulating diabetic patients that are difficult to manage with insulin alone. Benefits have also been shown for protecting the liver through its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. Its anti-cancer effects have been a valuable part of support for cancer patients.
If you have questions about the use of boswellia for your pet, contact a veterinary herbalist.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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