Mastic gum is a sticky substance collected from a shrub found on the Greek Isle of Chios. Studied since antiquity, the Greek physician Hippocrates first described its use for gut disorders. Many other health benefits have been discovered, including its ability to kill the ulcer-causing H. pylori. Read on to learn more about how it works, with dosage and side effects.
What is Mastic Gum?
Mastic gum is a type of sticky substance called resin. Various plants produce resin, but mastic gum specifically is obtained from the trunk and stems of an evergreen shrub (Pistacia lentiscus var. chia).
This shrub is mostly found on Chios, an island of the Greek archipelago. Mastic gum is also popularly used to flavor liqueurs, which are called “Mastiha”. The liquor is used as a digestive, while this Greek island is the biggest exporter of mastic gum and has earned the nickname “the Mastic Island”.
Traditionally, mastic gum has been used for thousands of years in the Mediterranean as a natural remedy for wound healing, pain relief, and various gut disorders. Its use was described by ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates.
Aside from the Ancient Greeks, Roman emperors allegedly used mastic with honey, pepper, and eggs to make spiced wine.
Snapshot of Mastic Gum
Kills mouth bacteria and improves oral hygiene
May reduce IBD symptoms
Fights many bacteria and microbes, including H. Pylori
Good for ulcers
Most of the studies were small and sponsored by the manufacturers
May trigger allergies in sensitive people
Mastic gum contains many beneficial bioactive compounds. The main ones are triterpenic acids (such as isomasticadienolic acid) and triterpenes. These compounds are natural antibiotics and strong anti-inflammatories [R].
It also contains a large percentage of aromatic terpenoids: alpha-pinene (40%) as well as beta-pinene, beta-myrcene, limonene, and beta-caryophyllene. Alpha-pinene is also found in conifers, pines, and rosemary. It has a strong woody and earthy aroma and is a potent antiseptic [R+, R+]
Mechanisms of Action
The cancer-fighting properties of mastic gum are probably due to its triterpenes. Mastic gum may stop cancer cell growth by blocking the key inflammatory, NF-κB, and further inflammatory signaling.
The triterpenic acids in mastic gum are responsible for its microbe-fighting activity. Their effect is synergistic – it’s stronger when all of them are combined. If any of the compounds are isolated and used separately, the antimicrobial effect weakens [R+, R].
Health Benefits of Mastic Gum
1) Mastic Gum May Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Heart disease refers to many conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels, but the two main risk factors are high cholesterol and high blood pressure [R].
Mastic Gum Lowers Cholesterol
Mastic gum powder (5 g/day) reduced total, LDL cholesterol, the total/HDL cholesterol ratio in a trial of 133 people. Over a year and a half, it also reduced other markers of heart and liver disease (apolipoprotein B, AST, ALT, GGT) [R].
However, in a clinical trial of 179 healthy people, 1 g/day of crude mastic gum lowered total cholesterol levels but did not affect HDL, LDL, or triglyceride levels. This effect was more pronounced in overweight and obese individuals. Two other types of mastic gum (polymer-free mastic and powdered crude mastic) had no effect whatsoever [R].
Mastic Gum Can Lower High Blood Pressure
In a rat study, mastic gum supplementation lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. It also reduced inflammation and the damage to the heart and other organs that can result from high blood pressure [R].
2) Mastic Gum May Help with Diabetes
In a clinical trial of 179 people, 1 g/day of crude mastic gum lowered fasting glucose levels, especially in overweight and obese people. Polymer-free and powdered crude mastic had no effect, though [R].
Mastic gum also reduced high blood sugar levels in mice with diabetes [R].
3) Mastic Gum Boosts Oral Health
Chewing mastic gum for 7 days reduced plaque buildup in a clinical trial of 10 people [R].
4) Mastic Gum Reduces IBD Symptoms
In a clinical trial of 60 IBD patients, 2.8 g/day of mastic gum improved the quality of life and IBD markers (lysozyme, lactoferrin, and calprotectin levels). However, it did not change CRP levels in this study. CRP is one the most commonly used markers of IBD, and mastic gum did influence its levels in people with Crohn’s disease specifically [R+].
Supplementation with mastic gum (2.2 g/day) reduced symptoms of Crohn’s disease and improved general well-being in a clinical trial of 18 people over 4 weeks. Aside from reducing the frequency of liquid stools, stomach pain and cramps, and antidiarrheal drug use, it also significantly decreased key markers that trigger and worsen inflammation (IL-6 and CRP) [R].
5) Mastic Gum Helps with Indigestion
In a clinical trial of 148 people with indigestion, 350 mg of mastic gum, taken 3x/day, reduced symptoms of indigestion such as stomach pain (both in general and from anxiety), heartburn, and dull upper-stomach ache [R].
6) Mastic Gum May Heal Ulcers
In a study with 38 people with small intestine ulcers, mastic gum helped ulcer healing and reduced ulcer symptoms [R].
7) Mastic Gum May Help You Get Rid of H. pylori Infections
Mastic gum is commonly used in people with stubborn H. Pylori infections wishing to go the natural route. Sometimes it’s combined with probiotics, an adequate diet, or other supplements.
Pure mastic gum alone (350mg-1g, 3x/day) was moderately effective at eradicating H. pylori (30%-38% cured) after 14 days. However, it did not work when combined with the conventional anti-ulcer medication, pantoprazole (clinical trial of 52 people) [R].
But in another clinical trial of 8 people, 4 g/day of mastic gum had no effect on H. pylori infection status [R].
In a mouse study, a mastic gum preparation was able to reduce H. pylori numbers, but it did not completely cure the infection [R].
In cell studies, mastic gum was very effective against H. pylori, killing 90% of the bacteria [R].
8) Mastic Gum and Wound Healing
While mastic gum helped heal wounds from childbirth in a clinical trial of 147 women, the effect was very modest. However, mastic gum wasn’t taken orally. It was applied as directed by traditional healers, through burning the mastic gum/resin and smoking the wound with it over 3 days [R].
This was the only study that used mastic gum smoke and the mechanisms and implications remain largely unknown. Smoking and smudging resinous materials is common in some forms of traditional medicine, especially among Native Americans, but the scientific evidence for it is sparse [R, R].
Animal and Cell Studies
The following studies were conducted only on animal models or cell lines.
9) Mastic Gum May Fight Cancer
Mastic gum has a major anti-cancer potential, according to scientific reviews, animal, and cellular studies [R+].
In mice with colon cancer, mastic gum extracts were able to stop cancer growth by 35% without any detrimental effects [R].
In a cellular study, mastic gum reduced the sensitivity of prostate cancer cells to male sex hormones (androgens). It also turned off genes that make receptors for male sex hormones, which stopped cancer development. In fact, most drugs used to treat prostate cancer work by reducing the activity of these receptors (Androgen Receptor, AR) [R+, R].
In a cell study, mastic gum had similar anti-cancer effects to Taxol, a chemotherapy drug commonly used for ovarian and breast cancer [R].
10) Mastic Gum Fights Microbes
11) Mastic Gum May Reduce Inflammation
Mastic gum is an anti-inflammatory that may help with autoimmune diseases or chronic inflammation. It acts to:
- Decrease the levels of various inflammatory substances and markers (cytokines IL-5, IL-6, IL-8, IL-13, TNF-alpha, and CRP) [R, R+]
- Block inflammatory pathways and the activation of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) [R+]
12) Mastic Gum and Gastritis
There are currently very little data on the effects of mastic gum on gastritis — an inflammation or irritation of the stomach lining. But because chronic gastritis can be a result of an H. pylori infection, mastic gum may be helpful in reducing the symptoms.
13) Mastic Gum and Acid Reflux/GERD
Although mastic gum is thought to be effective for acid reflux, there are currently very little data on its effect on acid reflux, also known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
14) Mastic Gum and SIBO
Although some websites suggest consuming mastic gum for SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), there are very little data to support this idea.
Mastic Gum Side Effects
Mastic gum (up to 10 g/day) was generally well-tolerated with no reported side effects. Mastic gum may cause immune reactions or allergies in some individuals. In one case, it caused constipation [R, R, R+].
Limitations and Caveats
Almost all of the human studies had a conflict of interest. For example, the following studies were funded by the Chios Gum Mastic Growers’ Association or Marubeni Company:
- Cholesterol study [R]
- Crohn’s disease study [R]
- H. pylori study [R+]
- Indigestion study [R]
- Anti-plaque and anti-bacterial study [R]
The diabetes study was not funded by but received mastic gum for testing from the Chios Gum Mastic Growers’ Association [R].
Currently, there are a limited number of human trials on the effects of mastic gum, especially those without a conflict of interest. Some of the human trials had a small sample size.
There are currently no data on the long-term effects of mastic gum.
In one study, people who took mastic gum with the conventional anti-ulcer medication, pantoprazole, weren’t cured of H.Pylori infections. Consult your doctor before taking mastic gum if you have been prescribed pantoprazole (Protonix) or any other medication for ulcers [R].
In the above study, some people who took just mastic gum eradicated H.Pylori infections while those who combined it with antibiotics (amoxicillin or clarithromycin) were all cured (clinical trial of 52 people). Based on this single study, mastic gum shouldn’t reduce the effects of antibiotics [R].
Still, these data are limited. Therefore, discuss with your doctor before using mastic gum alongside prescription drugs [R].
Mastic gum is available in a variety of forms:
- Tears (solidified pieces of pure mastic gum)
- Chewing gum
- Coffee with mastic gum
Mastic gum is also added to Mastika, a Mediterranean liquer or Mastiha, liquer made only on the Greek island of Chios.
Matula tea, thought to be helpful in eradicating H. pylori infections, does not contain any mastic gum.
Mastic Gum Dosage
Up to 10 g of mastic gum appears to be well-tolerated and safe. A common dosage of mastic gum is usually lower and about 1 – 2 g/day [R+].
Mastic Gum Reviews
Many reviewers were pleased with the results mastic gum had on their stomach issues.
One reviewer said it completely eliminated their heartburn while another reviewer complained about not feeling any heartburn improvement.
One mentioned that it helped them with various gut issues by increasing appetite and aiding digestion.
A few people explained that it helped them with H. pylori infections.