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February 1, 2010 at 5:42 PMComments: 10 Faves: 0

Study: Burn Frankincense to Lift Depression

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This Author

Frankincense, which has burned since ancient times during religious ceremonies, may be good for more than the soul. It appears that a new path to depression relief may have been right under our noses this whole time!

New research by John Hopkins University and by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem suggests that burning frankincense, a resin derivative of the Boswellia tree, activates certain mood-enhancing ion channels in the brain. Ion channels, found inside brain cells called microglia, play an important role in transmitting nerve impulses. Ion channels also help in regulating cells, transporting nutrients and ions, activating T-cells, and releasing beta-cell insulin. In fact, poisons from venomous spiders, scorpions, snakes, and bees work by shutting down these very channels. Studies show that by modifying the activity of ion channels, a reduction in depressive symptoms can take place.

Frankincense for Depression

Says Raphael Mechoulam, a co-author of the frankincense study, "We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice, lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. "

Specifically they found that frankincense activated TRPV3 proteins (located mainly in the skin, but also in the brain, and serve to help with skin sensitivity and the ability to sense warmth. TRPV3 has also been linked to hair growth.) in areas in the mice brains associated with emotions and nerve circuits that are commonly affected by anxiety and depression.

Gerald Weissmann, M.D. elaborates, "The discovery of how incensole acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system. This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion -- burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over!"

More Frankincense Health Benefits

Studies have also been done to determine the effect of frankincense on inflammatory disease, and positive effects have been shown when used for arthritis and cancer. Pure frankincense (translucent, with no black or brown impurities) is actually edible and chewed like gum. It has long been used in traditional Asian medicine for digestive and skin health, and in Ayurvedic medicine for arthritis, wounds, and promoting female reproductive health. In India, frankincense is called dhoop, and many people burn frankincense everyday in order to ensure good health. This may be because burning frankincense also happens to repel mosquitoes, known for carrying diseases.

Do you burn incense?

Share your favorite scents and stories with us below!


"Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain". The FASEB Journal. August 2008. pp. 3024-3034

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  • I love this incense called "fizzy pop", but generally if they are hand dipped, i like the smell :)

  • oh, one more,
    Nag Champa
    other favorite

  • [...] *Study of Frankincense & Depression [...]

  • This is fascinating...I'd love to learn more about this! What's the difference between incense and frankincense? We burn quite a lot of incense at my church and at home.

  • Real frankincense comes from the boswellia tree. Glad you liked the blog, Laura! :)

  • Great blog Erin, where do you find incense these days? Seems like now all that is available is candles, potpourri, or reed diffusers. I would also like to try the gum, great idea.

  • I know what you mean, Nancy! They used to sell it at the grocery store, but not anymore.....wonder why. I get our incense at "Sleeping Tiger" in the Woodland mall for 10 cents a stick. Definitely not as convenient as it was at our grocery stores, but I just feel more comfortable scenting our home with something natural. So, I stock up and buy a hundred sticks in a couple different scents at a time. My favorite right now is a pumpkin spice one they have. Makes the whole house smell yummy. :)

  • Yes, the real frankincense is a actual resin which comes from the tree, this website is a useful resource

  • Would this help with anxiety and ADD? Aren't these cousins to depression?rnThanks,

  • I'm not sure if it helps me focus, but I also struggle with anxiety and I do think it helps me relax and feel more comfortable. Since feeling stressed makes it difficult to focus, it stands to reason that it might help there too. Of course, this is purely anecdotal.

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