New study suggests a component of incense may ameliorate anxiety and depression
From ancient times frankincense has been highly valued for what was believed to be its distinctive calming properties. Essentially a resin tapped from trees of the Boswellia species, frankincense bleeds from cuts in the bark and dries in the form of small pellets called "tears."
Ironically, scientists now have reason to believe that the tears of Boswellia may be a balm for the tears of humans.
In a May 20 article published by The FASEB Journal, researchers reported their finding that the major component of frankincense (incensole acetate) could represent a new family of antidepressive and anti-anxiety drugs originating from an ancient remedy that has been hiding "right under their noses" all along.
"In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Boswellia had not been investigated for psychoactivity," said one of the study's co-authors, Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University. "We found that incensole acetate, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes anti-depressive-like behavior."
Anxiety and depression frequently co-exist and are among the most common forms of psychiatric disorders. Both are risk factors for a variety of other diseases as well, and are often clinically treated with drugs. Unfortunately, many currently available treatments carry adverse side effects, so scientists are eager to find new psychoactive substances that might be preferable substitutes.
According to the FASEB report, incensole acetate (IA) showed a significant behavioral effect on each of the different strains of mice in the study and promoted changes in neuronal activity in the areas of the brain involved in anxiety and depression. Instead of binding to the usual related receptors, however, the researchers found IA was a potent activator of a specific ion channel previously unknown to be involved in emotional and behavioral processes.
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) is comprised of 21 nonprofit organizations and the federation's journal is ranked among the world's top biology publications. Scientists from several universities and medical centers in the United States and Israel participated in the incense study, which concluded that IA may be able to provide new natural sources of therapeutic agents for the treatment of anxiety and depression.