The term 'myrrh' stems from the Aramaic word 'murr' meaning bitter; but, despite is off-putting flavour, this precious resin has been used for centuries as a perfume, incense and medicine, says Silvia Di Tommaso
Myrrh was very popular in the ancient world; it was used by the Chinese in traditional medicines, by the ancient Egyptians — as part of their sun-worshipping rituals and to embalm mummies — and by Greek and Roman soldiers who would carry a phial of myrrh oil to stop their wounds bleeding.
Myrrh is also mentioned in the Old Testament (Genesis 37:25 and Exodus 30:23) as a rare perfume with intoxicating qualities, and is also — perhaps most famously — mentioned in the Christian Bible as one of the three gifts that the wise men presented to the Christ Child, according to the gospel of Matthew. And, according to the gospel of Mark, Jesus was offered wine and myrrh before the crucifixion.
From a botanical point of view, myrrh is the resin-gum secreted from the trunk and branches of Commiphora myrrha and hardened in air. Commiphora myrrha (Nees) Engl., also known as Commiphora molmol, belongs to the Burseraceae family. The plant is native to Southwest Asia, Eastern North Africa (Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia) and the Arabic Peninsula. Products derived from C. myrrha and other species of Commiphora are known to possess significant analgesic, antiseptic, anaesthetic and antitumoural properties.
Myrrh’s principal constituents are essential oil, sesquiterpenes, ketones, sterols and polysaccharides. In particular, the extract contains unique components such as furanodienes (furanoelemanes, furanoeudesmanes and furanogermacranes), myrrhterpenoid A, B and F, chlorantene C, furanodien-6-one, metoxy- and acetoxy-furanoelemenes.
The furanodienes in myrrh are extracted using a proprietary ethanol-based process by Biosfered Srl, a spin-off company from the University of Turin. Biosfered produces liquid or powder extracts derived from plant matrices using patented solvent-free techniques and technologies based on green chemistry. The products are chemically characterised and titrated using the most advanced analytical and spectrometric techniques. In the case of myrrh, Biosfered produces MirLiq, an extract that offers both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, and has a high concentration of furanodienes.
Myrrh boasts several important properties that can be successfully used in medical and nutraceutical applications.
Analgesic: Myrrh has a long history as an analgesic and has been used to clean wounds and sores for more than 2000 years. Several studies on plant sesquiterpenes have shown that furaneudesma-1,3-diene and curzerene have analgesic activity as a result of their interaction with opioid receptors in the central nervous system.
Anaesthetic: Owing to the selective and reversible blocking of sodium channels, myrhh can act as a local anaesthetic.
Antimicrobial: Furanodiene-6-one and metoxyfuranoguaia-9-ene-8-one at concentrations of 0.18–2.8mg/mL exert biocidal activity towards pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomas aeruginosa and Candida albicans.
Anti-inflammatory: Myrrh extract inhibits the production of IL-6 and IL-8 in human gingival fibroblast cells; it blocks the proteins involved in the inflammatory process, such as Cox, and also inhibits the formation of NO, ROS, TNF-alpha, PGE2, NF-Kb and MAPK. Clinical studies indicate how myrrh extract induces significant improvements in osteoarthritis (500mg, 3 times/day for 1 month).
Current studies (experimental and clinical trials) have focused on validating its use in the treatment of injury, pain, arthritis, fractures, obesity, infections, parasitic and gastrointestinal diseases. In modern medicine, myrrh is used in pharmaceutical and dental formulations such as toothpastes, and is particularly efficacious against ulcers and gingival problems.
Myrrh is also claimed to have disinfectant, anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic properties, which are often exploited to counteract mouth and inflammatory throat conditions such as stomatitis, ulcers, gingivitis, periodontal disease, tonsillitis (as an orodispersible [ODT] herbal preparation), dyes, hydro-alcoholic extracts, mouthwashes and toothpastes. Myrrh is still frequently used in cosmetics, because of its pleasant and distinct oriental fragrance, to formulate perfumes, shower gels and body creams.
Biosfered’s Myrliq product is a Commiphora myrrha resin-gum extract with a high furanodiene content (≥10–40g/kg) that boasts analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. The brand name comprises the prefix 'Myr,' which is a clear reference to the source plant, and the suffix 'Liq,' which refers to the liquid form of the resin-gum extract that is then converted into a powder.
Resin-gums derived from Commiphora myrrha often possess extremely variable levels of furanodienes. Biosfered’s extraction process enables the maximum amount to be obtained (more than 70% by GC-FID in the ethanolic fraction). Extracts obtained by this process undergo a cycle of analyses that provide the qualitative and quantitative chemical characterisation of the individual furanodienes. Only myrrh resin-gums with a high furanodiene content pass the quality control tests and are then approved for extraction. The production process involves three phases:
Raw materials, intermediate products and final products are analysed by Biosfered analysts using the latest technologies available: gas chromatography combined with mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and gas chromatography combined with flame ionisation detection (GC-FID). Accurate, quantitative analysis of the bioactive compounds is a fundamental part of the production process.
MyrLiq is available in two different forms: liquid (MirLiq-FL) and powder (MyrLiq-PWD). MyrLiq FL boasts a total furanodiene content of more than 40% (≥10g/kg), comprising curzene (≥20%), furaneudesma-1,3-diene (≥30%), lindestrene (≥8%) and other furanodienes (≥20%). It is the only liquid, alcohol-free Commiphora myrrha extract on the market that is directly available for liquid preparations (both nutraceutical and cosmetic), offers improved cutaneous absorption and enhanced bioavailability, and has the highest concentration of bioactive furanodienes available.
Thanks to these properties, MyrLiq-FL can be successfully used in the formulation of gels and pastes, gel drops, dyes, ointments, dermatological preparations, topical oral solutions, cough preparations and mouthwashes for applications including joint pain, skin problems, microbial infections, ulcers and headaches. Recommended dosages (based on a furanodiene content of 10g/kg) are 200mg/day for analgesic applications (headache), 0.2–3mg/kg as an antimicrobial, 200mg/day as an anti-ulcer treatment and 0.5% for skin problems.
MirLiq PWD, the powdered Commiphora myrrha extract, has a total furanodiene content of ≥10g/kg. The pulverisation process is done at room temperature (20–30 °C), which better preserves the extract’s bioactive compounds; furanodienes tend to deteriorate at high temperatures, during spray drying, for example. Moreover, quantification based on weight (not percentage) enables a more accurate assessment of the furanodiene content in the formulation of finished products.
The addition of rice proteins as natural additives during the pulverisation process improves the properties of MyrLiq. In particular, it provides a better structure for any type of solid preparation and improves the interaction between the bioactive compounds (furanodienes) and the additives (rice proteins). In addition, it’s non-allergenic and improves the overall bioavailability.
MyrLiq PWD helps to counteract and treat inflammatory diseases, arthrosis, hyperglycaemia, headache and oxidative stress. It can be successfully used to formulate pills, capsules, tablets, emulsions and suspensions. Recommended dosages (based on a furanodiene content of 10g/kg) are 150–200mg/day for anti-hyperglycaemic and anti-oxidant applications, 200–400mg/day as anti-inflammatory and 200mg/day as an anti-osteoarthritic.