The Health Benefits of Mastic Gum

This natural resin is used to treat stomach and dental problems

Chios mastic tears in a mortar

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Mastic gum is a resin sourced from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) that has been harvested since the time of ancient Greece to freshen breath and aid in digestion. It remains a major cash crop for the Greek Island of Chios, where the tree is traditionally grown. During harvest season, which runs from July to October, incisions are made in the bark to sap the prized resin. Because the extracted sap has a teardrop-like shape, mastic gum is often referred to as the "teardrops of Chios."

Mastic gum is traditionally used as chewing gum. When chewed, the bitter taste will gradually soften as the resin becomes more pliable and turns from a translucent yellow to an opaque white. The aromatic flavor is best described as a mix between pine and eucalyptus.

In the United States, mastic gum is commonly sold as a dietary supplement in capsule or tablet form. It is also possible to buy raw mastic gum or mastic gum oil.

Also Known As

  • Arabic gum
  • Lentisco
  • Lentisk
  • Mastiha
  • Mastixa
  • Yemen gum

Health Benefits

Practitioners of alternative medicine have long touted mastic gum as a natural remedy for indigestion, acid reflux, peptic ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), respiratory problems, gum disease, and various bacterial or fungal infections. The aromatic oils in mastic gum can also help fight bad breath.

Mastic gum contains a number of compounds thought to have medicinal effects, including linalool (also found in orange, rose, and jasmine oils) which alternative practitioners say can treat stress, inflammation, muscle pain, and insomnia.

Some of these health claims are better supported by research than others. Here are several studies that hint at the potential benefits of mastic gum:

Dyspepsia

Mastic gum may help treat dyspepsia (indigestion), suggests a 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. For this study, 148 people with functional dyspepsia took a thrice-daily oral dose of either 350 milligrams (mg) of mastic gum or 350 mg of a placebo.

After three weeks of treatment, there was a marked improvement of symptoms in 77% of people provided mastic gum compared to 40% in the placebo group. Among the specific symptoms relieved were general stomach pain, stomach pain when anxious, heartburn, and a dull ache in the upper abdomen.

Gastric Ulcers

Preliminary studies suggest that mastic gum has activity against Helicobacter pylori, a hard-to-treat bacteria considered the predominant cause for gastric ulcers.

A 2010 study published in Phytomedicine explored the effectiveness of mastic gum compared to the different types of antibiotics commonly used to treat H. pylori. The 52 study participants were divided into four groups and were given one of four treatment regimens:

  • Group A: 350 mg mastic gum three times daily for 14 days
  • Group B: 1,050 mg mastic gum three times daily for 14 days
  • Group C: 20 mg pantoprazole twice daily plus 350 mg mastic gum three times daily for 14 days
  • Group D: 20 mg pantoprazole twice daily plus 1,000 mg amoxicillin twice daily plus 500 mg clarithromycin twice daily for 10 days

Five weeks after the completion of therapy, four of 13 people in Group A and five of 13 people in Group B achieved the eradication of H. pylori. By contrast, no one in Group C achieved eradication. Group D was by far the most effective, with 10 of 13 people achieving complete eradication.

Although this shows that mastic gum is not a viable replacement for standard H. pylori treatments, it may help potentially boost the effectiveness of treatment in people with antibiotic resistance. Further research is needed.

Periodontitis

Mastic gum has long been touted as a natural cavity fighter, exerting potent antimicrobial effects when chewed or applied topically.

A 2017 study in the Journal for Periodontology aimed to determine whether mastic gum was able to kill oral bacteria commonly associated with periodontitis (advanced gum disease). For this study, the investigators exposed eight pathogenic (disease-causing) oral bacteria to one of three agents: mastic gum extract, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorhexidine digluconate.

What they found was mastic gum extract was as effective as chlorhexidine digluconate and far better at killing the oral pathogens than hydrogen peroxide. More impressively, mastic gum was less harmful to cells and tissues of the mouth than either of the two antiseptic agents.

It can be reasonably assumed that, by inhibiting the bacteria associated with periodontitis, mastic gum can help prevent gum disease and even cavities.

Possible Side Effects

Although mastic gum is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, it is unknown at what point a dose may become excessive or what the consequences of long-term treatment may be. Despite centuries of use, there has been little research about mastic gum's long-term safety.

Mastic gum may cause allergy in some. The mastic tree belongs to the Pistacia family of plants, which also includes the pistachio tree (Pistacia vera). People allergic to pistachio nuts (or its close cousin cashew nuts) may also be allergic to mastic gum.

Some allergies will be mild and only manifest with nasal symptoms, mouth itchiness, or swollen lips. Other may be serious and require treatment. In rare cases, a potentially life-threatening, whole-body allergy known as anaphylaxis may occur.

Call 911 or seek emergency care if you develop rash, hives, shortness of breath, wheezing, rapid or irregular heartbeats, dizziness or fainting, or the swelling of the face, throat, or tongue after using mastic gum.

If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to shock, coma, respiratory or heart failure, and death.

Mastic gum has not been tested in children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers. Speak with your doctor to fully understand the benefits and risks. Mastic gum should also not be used as a substitute for proper oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing.

It is unknown if mastic gum can interact with other drugs. To avoid interactions, let your doctor know about any and all drugs, supplements, or herbal remedies you are taking.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

There are no guidelines to the appropriate use of mastic gum. However, there are some guidelines that may help.

Whole raw mastic gum is typically chewed to freshen breath or help relieve occasional nausea or heartburn. Similarly, one or two drops of mastic gum oil in a quarter cup of water can be used as an antiseptic mouthwash. Neither of these is swallowed.

By contrast, mastic gum supplements are taken like any other dietary supplement. They typically come in 500-mg tablets or capsules, taken either once or twice daily. For safety sake, it is best to start at lower doses and gradually increase if the drug is well tolerated. Never exceed the manufacturer's recommended dose.

Dietary supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States. To ensure safety and quality, opt for brands that have undergone testing by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.

Raw mastic gum poses a risk simply because there is no way to tell whether the product is contaminated or what type of processing it may have undergone (including hydrogen peroxide decolorization).

If you decide to use raw mastic gum, choose products that have been certified organic or, at the very least, are marked "100% natural" or "pure." In the end, do not assume that "natural" means "safe." If unsure about a supplement or ingredient, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

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Article Sources

  1. Dimas KS, Pantazis P, Ramanujam R. Chios Mastic Gum: A Plant-produced Resin Exhibiting Numerous Diverse Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Properties. In Vivo. 2012;26(5):777-85.

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