If you’ve been reading Nutrition & Healing newsletter for a while now, you’ll know I travel all over the world looking for natural alternatives that can reduce our reliance on synthetic pharmaceutical drugs.
And, as exciting and fascinating as those trips to exotic places are, sometimes I need to go somewhere for no other purpose than just to take a vacation.
So, my wife and I recently went to Greece, where we spent a good portion of our time hiking around the various islands.
At the end of the day, we would retire to one of the many outdoor restaurants in the area to watch the beautiful sunset from the island of Naxos and eat and drink some of the local delights.
As you might expect, on the tables in many restaurants we found the ubiquitous small glasses of Greece’s national drink, ouzo. Ouzo has the same properties as other aperitifs – that is, you drink it before a meal to stimulate your digestive juices.
I could say A LOT about the aperitifs of different countries… and how they are ALL used to aid digestion… but during this trip in particular, I was pleasantly surprised to try something different.
The locals know it as Mastiha (or Mastika).
Although the liqueur was new to me, it was made from an ancient substance that was entirely familiar to me, mastica – or, as I know it, mastic gum.
Mastic gum isn’t like any chewing gum you’d find at the supermarket checkout… and it doesn’t just aid in digestion. It’s an incredibly potent antimicrobial that can kill infections other meds can’t touch, but its powers don’t stop there.
Research has suggested using mastic gum to fight both bacterial and fungal infections… heal stomach ulcers… act as an oral antiseptic… and even lower cholesterol and blood sugar.
Its antioxidant activity also seems to make it a tool in fighting cancer!
Fortunately, you don’t have to time-travel back to ancient times to take advantage of the wonderful healing properties of mastic. In fact, you don’t have to go any farther than your local health food store.
But before I get into how you can get – and use – mastic yourself, here’s a little background on what we know about this time-tested remedy from antiquity.
A Mediterranean medicinal wonder
Mastic is a resin that comes from the sap of the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus. Traditionally, it’s sun-dried and then chewed, which softens it up (both in terms of texture and flavour).
Much of the mastic that we use comes from one particular area of Greece, called Chios (or Xios).
In fact, in Greece, the mastic is known as the ‘tears of Chios’, because it looks like those gum trees are ‘crying’ tears of the resin.
The legendary Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about the use of mastic to prevent both digestive problems and even colds. And Roman, Arabic, Byzantine, and European authors have also written extensively about its properties.
But these aren’t the only evidence that this herb has potent digestive properties!
In one study, published in 2010 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, patients given 350mg of Chios mastic three times daily for three weeks reported significant (p<0.05) improvement in the four symptoms studied: general stomach pains, stomach pains when anxious, heartburn, and dull aching in the upper abdomen – as compared to a placebo.1
Mastic has been studied extensively for its effects on stomach and duodenal ulcers, including in the treatment of a bacterium commonly associated with those ulcers, known as Helicobacter pylori.
Decades ago, The New England Journal of Medicine proclaimed that mastic gum actually kills H. pylori2 – which is especially incredible when you consider that this is one of the bacteria that’s developed a resistance to antibiotics and is widely considered incurable.
Since then, there have been multiple in vivo and in vitro studies supporting the use of mastic in the treatment as well as the prevention of gastric illnesses, particularly those associated with H. pylori.
In 2010, a randomized controlled study published in the journal Phytomedicine, mastic significantly eradicated H. pylori (the presence of which was measured using a carbon urea breath test). Although an antibiotic regimen actually did better than the mastic, the authors nevertheless concluded: ‘Mastic gum has antibacterial activity on H. pylori in vivo’.3
Protect your gums… with gum!
Mastic also has some other interesting uses – one being in the treatment of gingivitis and the prevention of tooth decay. As long ago as the first century AD, Dioscorides recommended chewing mastic to strengthen the gums and to improve bad breath.
In one double-blind, randomized control study from 2010, several oral factors – including swelling and bleeding of gums, plaque formation, and redness of the gingiva – were all significantly better after patients used a mastic dental paste for just 12 weeks.4
Furthermore, the bacterial counts were statistically much better in the mastic group, supporting the fact that mastic is antibacterial – and not just in the gut, but in the mouth as well.
Multiple studies have now demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of mastic gum in treating and preventing both tooth decay and gum inflammation.
Just a couple of months ago, the Journal of Periodontology published an article online that concluded: ‘mastic extract led to significantly (P ≤0.016) increased inhibition of the tested periodontal pathogens [gum bacteria] compared with hydrogen peroxide’.5
The literature also suggests that mastic has a role in controlling and treating cancers of the head and neck, as it’s been shown in animal studies to increase cancer cell apoptosis (programmed cell death, which doesn’t happen enough with cancer cells and tumours that just keep growing and spreading).
How to get this timeless trick of the ancients
Most studies have been performed on Chios mastic – and that’s the form (placed in capsules) that I’m most familiar with.
Fortunately, you don’t have to hop on a plane to the Greek Isles to benefit from this ancient, natural remedy!
In our office, we use capsules of Chios mastic gum for a variety of issues, but mostly digestive. As I shared with you in the May 2017 issue of Nutrition & Healing, mastic can kill off a bacterial infection that’s causing abnormally high stomach acid secretion in a patient’s stomach or upper gut.
A dosage of 500mg three times daily for four to six weeks should be enough to clear up an infection of H. pylori, which is a common cause of duodenal ulcers.
You can find mastic capsules pretty easily at your local health food store or online.
You can also find mastic included as an ingredient in some natural, herbal toothpastes and chewing gums.
Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.