Mastic gum is a resin used by ancient cultures for everything from embalming fluid and alcoholic beverages to preventing tooth decay. Mastic gum has also been a traditional gastrointestinal aid, leading modern researchers to investigate its ability to fight diseases like ulcers. Although some studies indicate mastic gum is effective as a treatment for ulcers, others haven’t been as promising.
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Peptic ulcers are open sores that can form in your esophagus, stomach and the top part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. They’re caused primarily by a type of bacteria known as H. pylori, although certain medications used for pain, like aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as prescription drugs for osteoporosis, can also lead to ulcers. You may not have any symptoms at all, or you may experience pain, burning, nausea or vomiting. Treatment involves antibiotics and acid-reducing drugs.
Mastic gum, also called mastic, is a yellowish-green resin from an evergreen shrub grown largely on the Greek island of Chios. Mastic contains essential oils that can be further broken down into more than 70 compounds, including antioxidants such as anthocyanins, tannins and tocopherol. Antioxidants are thought to be important because they can fight cell damage caused by harmful compounds in your body that lead to chronic diseases.
It’s thought that chemicals called triterpenic acids found in mastic may be responsible for the ability of mastic to prevent H. pylori colonization and resulting ulcers. One study from 1984 published in “Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology” showed that mastic provided relief of ulcer symptoms in 80 percent of patients; only 50 percent of those taking a placebo reported relief. Endoscopy proved that healing occurred in 70 percent of patients on mastic and only 22 percent of patients on placebo. A report in 1998 in the “New England Journal of Medicine” noted that even low doses of mastic gum, approximately 1 mg daily for two weeks, can cure peptic ulcers very rapidly by eradicating H. pylori.
However, two studies at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., published in the “Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy” in 2003, seem to contradict the positive results. The researchers noted that despite previously reported beneficial effects of mastic against H. pylori, mastic did not eradicate H. pylori infection from mice in their study. When they used doses of 1 g of mastic four times daily for 14 days in human patients, they again found that mastic had no effect on H. pylori colonies.
If you have an active ulcer, check with your doctor before taking mastic. Most studies on humans have used a dose of 1 g daily and found it to be generally safe, with few side effects. There were a few reports of allergic reactions to mastic due to plant pollen, and some children using mastic have developed diarrhea. Evidence is mixed regarding mastic’s effects on the liver, so if you have liver disease, you may need to avoid consuming mastic.