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The Magic of an Ancient Gum: Mastic Gum for Ulcers, Oral Health, and More

The things we know now about this gum that the Greeks have seen in practice for over 2,500 years

Ancient lore and cutting-edge science often converge in the arena of natural plant-based medicine. There is perhaps no better example of this than mastic gum, an aromatic, white resin derived from the Pistacia lentiscus tree. The gum was first noted by Greeks 2,500 years ago for culinary as well as medicinal applications, and praised by Pedanios Dioscorides, a physician and botanist who wrote the world’s first systematic pharmacopoeia, De Materia Medica, around 70 AD. [1],[2] The tree is actually an evergreen relative of the pistachio family native to the Greek Island of Chios in the wind-swept Aegean Sea, where the gum is referred to as “Chios tears.”

Mastic gum is a truly diverse botanical. Studies have shown mastic gum has antifungal and antibacterial activities, promotes wound healing, cholesterol reduction, and cardiovascular health.[3],[4],[5]

Mastic gum’s reputation in peptic ulcer disease

Peptic ulcers were long thought to be induced solely due to stress, and the typical treatment included the use of antacids.[6],[7] In 1983, however, Australian physician Barry Marshall and his colleague Robin Warren discovered that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori was the cause of many cases of chronic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), peptic ulcer disease, and certain gastric cancers.[8] Marshall and Warren received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this remarkable discovery.[9],[10]

“Even low doses of mastic gum — 1 mg per day for two weeks — can cure peptic ulcers very rapidly,” they noted.

Though multi-pronged antibiotics are effective in eradicating H. pylori, antibiotics aren’t always well-tolerated and can cause significant alterations to the gut microbiome.[11],[12],[13],[14] In the late 1990’s, scientists reported in the New England Journal of Medicine on the benefits of mastic gum for six different strains of H. pylori infection: “Even low doses of mastic gum — 1 mg per day for two weeks — can cure peptic ulcers very rapidly,” they noted.[15] Another study found activity against nine strains of H. pylori along with other gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria.[16] And research continues, as in 2010, mastic gum was shown to eradicate H. pylori and alleviate symptoms of chronic gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.[17],[18]

Mastic gum for oral health

Mastic gum contains a surprising range of diverse and active plant compounds, many of which kill bacteria.[19],[20] Certain acidic fractions from mastic gum mimic antibacterial steroidal compounds.[21] The gum also has potent antiviral activity, including inhibition of herpes simplex virus (HSV).[22]

It is effective against Streptococcus mutans, the oral pathogen responsible for most tooth decay, as well as many other oral bacterial pathogens.

It’s interesting to note that the word “masticate” – meaning “to chew”-  is actually derived from the term “mastic”. Natural mastic gum was used among ancient Greeks much in the same way as we use modern chewing gum, with the added advantage of beneficial health properties. It is effective against Streptococcus mutans, the oral pathogen responsible for most tooth decay, as well as many other oral bacterial pathogens.[23],[24] Studies show it can inhibit plaque formation and gingival inflammation.[25],[26],[27] The extract may thus be an effective and safe antibacterial agent in the prevention of periodontal disease.[28],[29]

Cardiovascular benefits of mastic gum

Mastic gum extract also can improve cardiovascular health by protecting low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or so-called “bad cholesterol”) from oxidation. LDL oxidation has been linked to kidney disease and diabetes, as well as atherosclerosis and many other cardiovascular conditions.[30],[31],[32],[33] In counteracting LDL oxidation, mastic gum has superior activity over other natural gums and resins.[34] Other studies have found that mastic gum can lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar, with no reported side effects.[35],[36]

Mastic gum extract also can improve cardiovascular health by protecting low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or so-called “bad cholesterol”) from oxidation.

Flavonoids and other compounds in mastic extract may also reduce the detrimental effects of smoking on the walls of arteries and linings of veins.[37] Pistacia lentiscus also has antioxidant properties, with the most effective compounds being extracted from the plant’s leaves.

A unique approach to wound healing

The sticky and pliable consistency of mastic gum has led to its use as a dressing for wounds, to help control heavy bleeding, and to accelerate healing.[38],[39] A skin adhesive has even been developed from mastic gum for use following surgical procedures. This adhesive is associated with fewer adverse reactions than other liquid adhesives used in surgery or wound management.[40],[41]

Summary

The astonishing diversity of medicinal and healing phenolic compounds, flavonoids, alkaloids, saponins, fatty acids, and sterols present in mastic gum show that this botanical’s long reputation as a natural healing agent is well deserved.  Studies have shown that mastic gum may help eradicate H. pylori (linked to stomach ulcers) and Streptococcus mutans (linked to tooth decay). In addition, mastic gum extracts have been shown to diminish gingival and gut inflammation, reduce oxidation of LDL cholesterol, protect arteries and veins from smoking-related damage, and facilitate wound healing.

 

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