Mastic gum

What are the powerful healing properties of Mastic gum

The mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) is a dense perennial growing to about five metres over 40 to 50 years, with a lifecycle of about 100 years. The resin is secreted in droplets or “tears”, being also called the “tears of Chios”. When secreted it dries into a brittle, translucent resin that on being chewed softens and becomes a white gum. Initially the flavour is bitter, but on chewing it becomes refreshing and tastes like pine or cedar. The resin production begins in the tree’s fifth year, reaching a maximum yield of one kilogram after 12 years. The name mastic is derived from the Greek word “to gnash the teeth”, and is the root of the English word “masticate”.

Mastic gum has been harvested for at least 2500 years, and the first recorded history of it was by Hippocrates, who used mastic gum as a digestive, for colds and as a breath freshener. The Romans mixed it with honey, pepper and egg to eat, and during the Byzantine Empire the mastic trade was so valuable that it became the monopoly of the emperor. During the Ottoman Empire, mastic gum was worth its weight in gold, and the penalty for stealing it was execution.

From Byzantine times, the ancient villages in the mastic-producing areas on Chios were built like fortresses, out of sight of the sea and surrounded by high walls with no doors at street level and only a single entrance to each settlement, mainly to protect the sap from invaders. The villagers would enter their buildings from the roof by ladders. Today the production of mastic is highly regulated, and there are 22 villages on Chios that have government licences to produce the resin.

Active ingredients

The parts of the mastic tree that are used are the resin or gum, and essential oil extracted from the resin, leaves and fruit. More than 120 chemical compounds have been identified in the resin, including natural polymers, acidic and neutral triterpenes, volatile compounds, quercetin and phenolic compounds, arabinogalactans, proteins and phytosterols.

Therapeutic uses

While there is strong traditional evidence of mastic gum’s use in humans, most of the current research is on animals and in vitro. Many more clinical trials need to be conducted.

Anti-inflammatory

Mastic regulates multiple anti-inflammatory pathways, inhibiting the COX-2 and LOX pathways and iNOS, TNFα and IL-6, thus reducing the risk of a range of chronic inflammatory illnesses.

Autoimmune disease

Mastic gum improves symptoms of autoimmune disease by inhibiting production of these pro-inflammatory cytokines. Studies conducted on Crohn’s disease and asthma in mice have shown positive outcomes.

Digestion

Mastic gum has significant antibacterial activity, including the eradication of H. pylori, thus reducing the risk of gastric and duodenal ulceration. Human trials have been conducted with positive results. Mastic was shown to kill 90 per cent of H. pylori, possibly due to the arabinogalactan content. Given to patients for 14 days, the mastic eradicated H. pylori in vivo. As antibiotics are only 85 per cent effective, this was an excellent result. However it was not as effective in patients taking anti-reflux medication such as proton-pump inhibitors, as it is more effective in an acid environment.

Mastic gum has also demonstrated beneficial results in patients with Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

Cardiovascular

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of mastic gum prevents the oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol, reducing the formation of the foam cells that contribute to atherosclerosis. In a study on 133 patients with atherosclerosis, high doses of mastic gum over 18 months showed a significant decrease in total cholesterol levels and LDS, as well as a significant decrease in abnormal liver enzyme levels.

It also improves fatty liver.

Regulates insulin and blood glucose

Studies have been conducted on participants with high cholesterol and high glucose levels. Taking mastic gum for eight weeks reduced cholesterol by 13.5mg/dL and fasting blood glucose by 5.1mg/dL, with better results in those who were overweight or obese.

Dental

The antibacterial activity of mastic gum eradicates pathogenic dental bacteria. It effectively inhibits numerous periodontal pathogens without any negative effects on the gums or mucosa, making it an ideal remedy for oral inflammatory conditions. Using mastic gum as a chewing gum cleans the mouth and freshens the breath.

Wound healing

The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of mastic gum are very effective in reducing skin inflammation and in wound healing. As a topical application, mastic’s anti-inflammatory properties are used to relieve allergic dermatitis.

Using mastic gum

Mastic gum is a favourite food spice in the eastern Mediterranean where it is mainly added to desserts such as ice cream, cakes, sweets and pastries. However, it can be used in savoury dishes with chicken, duck, fish or rabbit and often paired with cardamom.

A cookbook of Arabian food was compiled in 1226 by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi where it is used in over half the recipes.

While there are few studies on its safety, mastic gum has had a long history of use with no recorded side effects, therefore it is considered to be at low risk of toxicity or side effects.

References are available on request.

Dr Karen Bridgman

Dr Karen Bridgman

Karen Bridgman is a holistic practitioner at Lotus Health and Lotus Dental in Neutral Bay.

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