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Monday, November 03, 2014

A gift more precious than gold...?

I was saddened to read the story of Brittany Maynard, a lovely young woman who decided to end her life rather than face the end stages of malignant brain cancer.
"My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that's out of my control," she told PEOPLE last month. "I've discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it's a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying."
"Really, from the beginning, all the doctors said when you have a glioma you're going to die," she told PEOPLE. "You can just Google it. People don't survive this disease. Not yet."
We have no right to gainsay her decision. However, there is an unusual but promising treatment option which I would have considered, were I in her position.

For some time now, I've researched Frankincense, best-known as one of the gifts of the Magi. At first, I was interested in the use of Frankincense in oil painting mediums, as detailed in some early 19th century books that have come to my attention. (Longtime readers know of my fascination with the history of art materials.) Top museum conservators have told me that painters did indeed use frankincense before the 18th century. They don't know why the ingredient was dropped, and no-one knows if this resin had a deleterious effect on any specific painting. 

While researching the use of frankincense in oil painting, I encountered many references to the medical benefits of this gum resin. To be blunt: There are people who say that frankincense can cure cancer, or at least make tumors shrink.

Normally, I am very skeptical of the claims made by the advocates of non-traditional therapies. But, as we shall see, frankincense is different.

Frankincense is a resin produced by several trees of the Boswellia family. A frankincense "farmer" cuts into the bark of the tree and waits for white "tears" to form a kind of scab over the wound. The frankincense considered best is Boswellia sacra, produced only in the country of Oman, of which the very best variety -- Royal Hojari -- is a transparent white with a subtle green tint. Bosellia carteri and Boswellia frereana come from Africa, while Boswellia serrata is produced in India.

Some studies -- not enough, I confess -- have shown that B. carteri, serrata and sacra have demonstrated remarkable medical benefits. Boswellia has been used to treat a number of illnesses, including arthritis and cancer.

I'm not talking about pseudo-studies conducted by shamanistic hucksters running encounter sessions in Sedona, Arizona. I'm talking about real studies.

Here's one available on the National Institute of Health website.

Here's another.

And another.

And another.

One of the leading researchers is an Iraqi doctor named Suhail, featured in the BBC news segment embedded above. (You can also see him in other YouTube videos on Frankincense -- this one, for example.)

So let's take up Ms. Maynard's challenge. Let's google "glioblastoma" -- but let's also pair it with the search term "Boswellia."

The National Institute of Health website gives us this result: "Boswellic acids inhibit glioma growth: a new treatment option?" According to the abstract, rat studies have shown enormous promise -- animals receiving Boswellia lived twice as long as those in the control group, and their tumors decreased significantly.
These data demonstrate an influence of EGR in rat glioma growth and might represent a new therapeutic option on glioma treatment in man in future. Further experimental work on human gliomas is needed to definitively answer this question.
"EGR" refers to extract from gum resin. You may also want to look at this page on the Sloan-Kettering website.

Also see here:
Boswellia may be doubly useful for primary brain tumors. Studies published in 2000 (Winking M et al 2000) and 2002 (Park YS et al 2002) tell us that in addition to helping reduce cerebral swelling around the tumor, boswellia also kills glioblastoma cells in a dose-dependent manner.

Boswellia is also useful for treating secondary brain tumors. In 2007 researchers reported using boswellia to treat a patient with breast cancer metastasis to the brain. Familiar with the German research on using boswellia in the treatment of primary brain tumors, the team tried it with these secondary brain tumors and reported benefit. After ten weeks of boswellia treatment in combination with radiation treatment, all signs of brain metastases on the patient’s CT scans had disappeared (Flavin DF 2007).
Maynard refused to undergo chemotherapy and radiation, a decision I find quite understandable. My mother developed lung cancer and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Those months were an extremely difficult time, for her and for her entire family, and I will always remember the dignity and courage she showed under the most trying of circumstances.

If and when I face a similar battle, I intend to try frankincense in large doses. It can be used as an essential oil, in pill form, and as an edible oil made from raw gum resin -- perhaps carried by flax seed oil, the oil traditionally favored by painters, who call it linseed oil. (You can eat it or paint with it, as long as you don't let it go rancid. The same can be said for walnut oil, the medium favored by Leonardo.)

Someone fighting cancer may even want to chew Boswellia sacra as a gum, just as the Omanis do. Frankincense is everywhere in Oman, and according to the National Institute of Health website: "Incidence of cancer in Oman is lower than in some Gulf countries and many developed countries."

(Obviously, I can't prove that frankincense use has resulted in fewer cancers in Oman -- correlation is not causation, and all that -- but the correlation is still suggestive and encouraging.)

In a very broad sense, I'm already conducting studies.

Readers know about my beloved dog Bella. She is nearly 15, and has had serious health issues. There have been a few times when we felt we might lose her. Last year, generous donations from my readers paid for an operation to remove two growths from her stomach, one of which had a carcinoma.

Not long ago, we discovered another small growth in her stomach, just beneath the skin. (This is not uncommon with dogs.) Although the growth isn't painful to the touch, I presume that it will grow as the others did -- if it remains untreated.

Frankly, even if money were not an issue, I would be loathe to make Bella undergo another operation. Recovery from the previous surgery was not easy. (That said, I must admit that the scars have healed nicely.)

Right now, Bella's quality of life is still good. She eats excellent food, she receives the pampering she considers her due, and she loves to bark furiously at cats and visitors. On most days, she can complete her usual walk to the park. Yet stairs have become difficult for her, and sometimes she turns back toward home before she has completed her usual route. One should expect an older dog to develop joint pains.

I am attempting frankincense therapy. You might say that my dog has become a guinea pig.

Research indicates that Boswellia does dogs no harm and may have extremely beneficial effects. Veterinarians have started to recommend its use.
Clinical studies have also shown boswellia to benefit patients with arthritis. An uncontrolled study on dogs with arthritis showed a significant reduction in the severity of clinical signs.
This company sells Boswellia serrata in capsule form for an extremely reasonable price. Bella receives 200 mg of Boswellia (half a capsule) each day, mixed with a tablespoon or two of tuna in oil. This dosage should be safe for most dogs.

As an experiment, I'm also applying frankincense to her belly topically, using Boswellia carteri essential oil mixed with Buckthorn seed oil. (Why that oil? Because I just happened to have some. It's pretty good for rosacea.)

Ever since I put Bella on Boswellia, going downstairs has been easier for her -- and I'm not imagining the improvement. A couple of weeks ago, she was in the habit of silently "asking" me to carry her down the more difficult part of the stairway. Now she usually bounds down the way she used to.

I'll let you know how the experiment goes.

Let me stress again: Nothing written here should be construed as a criticism of Ms. Maynard. She made the decision that she made, and we should not question her. My purpose in writing this piece is simply to argue that another option does exist -- an option still unfamiliar to many, but very deserving of future study.

Gold may have been the least important of the gifts of the Magi.
I've heard encouraging things about the use of Artemesinin on cancer, too, and especially on leukeamia. I don't know what effect it has on dogs.

I shall add Frankincence to the list of things I would try if I contracted a fatal illness.
I agree the patient is not to blame, but she did have some type of medical supervision, no? Why didn't the medical supervisor at least make the information available to the suicide patient?

What if someone else with a similar condition survives, won't that torment the relatives of the right to die person perhaps more so simply because the person they loved gave up without trying a relatively safe and sane option?
Are you giving Bella frankincense for the growth or for joint pains caused by arthritis? My four-legged companion, who is 10, suffers from arthritis in her front legs, I think.

(Originally, I was going to ask whether you knew what kind of frankincense gets offered to the British 'queen' every Epiphany in the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace, along with gold and myrrh, but canine wellbeing is a topic of far more concern and interest!)
b: Ask the Queen if you can have some of her frankincense. I mean, what could she possibly do with it? Do you think she burns it as incense?

As for Bella: Both. So far, and rather rapidly, I've noted greater mobility.
I don't know what she does with the offering, but getting presented with it isn't the only way she plays at being Jesus or at least Christ. What happened to the gifts the Magi gave him?

She may possibly burn it. She is very 'high church'.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh have all been used in the treatment of arthritis. Got to wonder whether there is any synergy or alchemy here.

The three substances are also said to have been used in the embalming of Adam.
b, I don't know what happened to the gifts of the Magi. I mean, who knows if there really were Magi? The nativity stories are the iffiest parts of the Gospel accounts. I suppose gold would have been useful in terms of funding the alleged trip to Egypt.

By the way, some have noted that copal (another resin) was nicknamed "gold" in times past. Thus, it is possible that the magi story references three resins which have all been used in medicine.

And in art...! (I love painting with copal. It makes paint nice and shiny.)

Seriously, the Queen has to SOMETHING with all of that frankincense and myrrh.
Whether the magi really came or not, I'm still interested in what is supposed to have happened with their gifts.

Gold has been ingested medicinally for a long time. The only reason we don't hear much about such use today is that it can't be patented.

So g f & m may form a mystical triple even if the g is literal gold and not copal.

Whereas INRI spells out the four elements, with gold, frankincense and myrrh we get:

gold frankincense myrrh

kethem lebonah mor

carved whitened distilled

k l m

klm can mean "king"
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