Research & Education

Curcumin and Boswellia Synergistically Support Athletic Performance

It is well known that physical exercise can help support overall health. Yet too much vigorous exercise may do the opposite. Physically active individuals may be more prone to oxidative stress due to the high energy and oxygen demands of exercise (particularly high-intensity endurance training). Elevated oxidative stress may negatively impact athletic performance and potentially promote muscle damage. The Ayurvedic herbs of Boswellia serrata and Curcuma longa may help to attenuate the effects of exercise-induced oxidative stress. 

Curcumin (Curcuma longa) is a constituent of turmeric that has demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In vitro and animal models suggest that curcumin may reduce the accumulation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) — compounds formed endogenously within the conditions of dysregulated blood sugar or oxidative stress. AGEs can also be obtained exogenously through certain foods. Elevated AGEs in the body may negatively affect immune health and disrupt antioxidant homeostasis.

Boswellia is derived from the gum resin extracts of the Boswellia serrata olibanum tree. Human clinical trials have concluded that Boswellia serrata contains potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

In addition to their individual clinical benefits, in vivo and in vitro studies propose the synergy between Boswellia serrata and Curcuma longa. Research on nutritional support for individuals with osteoarthritis (OA) suggests that when combined, Boswellia serrata and Curcuma longa promote healthy responses to musculoskeletal and joint pain and help mitigate the effects of inflammation. These benefits may be clinically relevant to athletes in the general population. 

A small randomized controlled trial assigned 47 healthy male athletes (average age: 46 years) to consume a Mediterranean diet (MD) alone or the MD diet with curcumin and Boswellia supplements for 3 months. In addition, they engaged in regular high-intensity endurance training with short sessions of anaerobic resistance training. The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of these interventions on the athletes’ oxidative stress and inflammatory markers. 

Both groups exhibited decreased inflammatory markers, and the curcumin/Boswellia group had a significant reduction in total AGEs. Furthermore, this was the first study to confirm that athletes chronically performing intense exercise receiving curcumin/Boswellia supplements displayed reduced lipid peroxidation (oxidative stress to lipid-containing molecules, such as the cellular membrane). Further studies are needed to assess the effects of curcumin/Boswellia on AGEs in muscle tissue, which may improve muscle performance in the long term. 

Oxidative stress may play a role in the beneficial “physiological adaptations after exercise training,” however, too much may be associated with muscle damage and disruptions to antioxidant homeostasis and immune balance. Although further research is warranted, the synergy of Boswellia serrata and Curcuma longa may support overall athletic performance by potentially mitigating the effects of exercise-induced oxidative stress.

By Danielle Moyer, MS, CNS, LDN