Mastic gum is a natural substance extracted from the trunk of the mastic tree (Pistaccia lentiscus var. chia), an evergreen shrub found in the Mediterranean and in North Africa. In some systems of traditional medicine, mastic gum has long been chewed to achieve certain health benefits.
Mastic gum is touted as a natural remedy for the following health conditions:
- bacterial infections
- fungal infections
- high cholesterol
- inflammatory bowel disease
- respiratory problems
In addition, an aromatic oil found in mastic gum is thought to help fight bad breath. Some people also use mastic gum to stimulate circulation.
In laboratory research, scientists have demonstrated that mastic gum possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and liver-protecting properties. Mastic gum contains a number of compounds with health-enhancing effects, including linalool (a substance also found in lavender, orange, rose, and jasmine oils).
Here's a look at several findings from the available research on the health benefits of mastic gum:
Mastic gum may help treat indigestion, suggests a 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. For the study, 148 people with functional dyspepsia (a type of indigestion with no obvious cause) were assigned to receive either a placebo or mastic gum three times daily. After three weeks, indigestion symptoms were significantly lower in the group assigned to mastic gum (compared to those in the placebo group). Those symptoms included stomach pain and heartburn.
In a 2006 study published in Archives of Oral Biology, researchers found that mastic gum may help prevent cavities. The study included 25 people with healthy gums, each of whom chewed either mastic gum or a placebo gum for 15 minutes. After analyzing saliva samples taken from the participants both before and after gum-chewing, the study's authors found that mastic gum was significantly more effective in destroying Streptococcus mutans (a type of bacteria closely linked to the development of cavities).
Preliminary research indicates that mastic gum may offer anti-cancer benefits, according to a 2011 report published in Nutrition and Cancer. Upon review of the available research on mastic gum and cancer, the report's authors found that certain compounds in mastic gum may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells and tumors. These compounds include triterpenoids, a type of substance also available in a number of herbs (such as boswellia).
It should be noted that there currently aren't many clinical trials testing the potentially cancer-fighting effects of mastic gum, so mastic gum cannot be recommended for the prevention or treatment of cancer at this time.
Is It Safe?
Although mastic gum is generally considered safe, some people may experience allergic reactions when using mastic gum. If you experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, hives, or a rash when using mastic gum, it's crucial to discontinue use immediately.
Where to Find It
Widely available for purchase online, mastic gum (and supplements containing mastic gum) can be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.
Aksoy A, Duran N, Koksal F. "In vitro and in vivo antimicrobial effects of mastic chewing gum against Streptococcus mutans and mutans streptococci." Arch Oral Biol. 2006 Jun;51(6):476-81.
Dabos KJ, Sfika E, Vlatta LJ, Frantzi D, Amygdalos GI, Giannikopoulos G. "Is Chios mastic gum effective in the treatment of functional dyspepsia? A prospective randomised double-blind placebo controlled trial." J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Feb 3;127(2):205-9.
Giaginis C, Theocharis S. "Current evidence on the anticancer potential of Chios mastic gum." Nutr Cancer. 2011 Nov;63(8):1174-84.
Koutsoudaki C, Krsek M, Rodger A. "Chemical composition and antibacterial activity of the essential oil and the gum of Pistacia lentiscus Var. chia." J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Oct 5;53(20):7681-5.
Mahmoudi M, Ebrahimzadeh MA, Nabavi SF, Hafezi S, Nabavi SM, Eslami Sh. "Antiinflammatory and antioxidant activities of gum mastic." Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2010 Sep;14(9):765-9.
Paraschos S, Mitakou S, Skaltsounis AL. "Chios gum mastic: a review of its biological activities." Curr Med Chem. 2012;19(14):2292-302.