Mastic gum is harvested from the bark of Pistacia lentiscus var. Chi (aka mastic tree) and has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years.
Use of mastic gum dates back to the bronze age Egyptians that apparently used it for medicinal purposes. The Egyptians were not the only civilisation to take advantage of the small evergreen tree. Ancient Greek physicians as well as Persian and Arabic physicians prescribed the resin for health issues including abdominal pain, heartburn, gastric and intestinal ulcers (1).
Since a publication in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1998 mastic gum has been sought after for it’s herbal antimicrobial actions against Helicobacter pylori. Helicobacter pylori is an extremely common gut bug that causes many health issues ranging from gastric and peptic ulcers to gastric cancer. I have written about this bacterium before including symptoms of infection, testing and possible treatment options. Unfortunately the study was only looking at in vitro aspects of mastic gums effect on Helicobacter pylori. At the time it seemed promising but a follow up study done in 2003 found that in vitro mastic gum had “no effect on Helicobacter pylori” (3).
Since then many papers have been published looking at the effect of mastic gum and its constituent properties on eliminating Helicobacter pylori infections with varying results.
Mastic Gum For H. Pylori Infections
The most promising paper I have come across, published in 2007, looked into the mastic gum resin that all of the previous studies had used. It found mastic gum, as a whole unrefined substance, “contained a high percentage (30%) of an insoluble and sticky polymer that obviously hinders its oral administration and reduces the bioavailability of the contained active compounds.”
Many renowned herbalists advocate using the whole plant. A different approach is to use the medicine that does the greatest good while creating the least amount of harm. If an active constituent in mastic gum resin proves to be useful in eradicating chronic Helicobacter pylori infections then I would like to explore it. Especially considering that many Helicobacter pylori strains are becoming antibiotic resistant (5, 6, 7, 8).
After proposing that the insoluble polymer within mastic gum could be the issue the same research scientists began testing mastic extract (without the polymer) on Helicobacter pylori infected mice. The results showed the polymer-less mastic gum, called TMEWP for short (total mastic extract without polymer) to have moderate anti H. pylori action. Nothing to get too excited about yet (4).
Here’s where it gets interesting. The researchers then took the TMEWP and ran it through the chemical process to obtain both acidic and neutral fractions. Both of these fractions, plus the original TMEWP, were tested in vitro (ie: test tube/petri dish). As it turns out the acidic fraction had the highest activity. Taking it a step further they isolated each of the acidic compounds and found them all to be active against Helicobacter pylori, but not as effective as the whole acidic fraction (4).
Studies Supporting Mastic Gum Use For Helicobacter pylori
Quite an interesting study, and one that brings the idea of mastic gum back into the game for Helicobacter pylori treatments. There are a few points that I think it’s important to make.
- None of the studies/trials that I have read to date administered mastic gum for any prolonged period of time. As anyone familiar with herbal/botanical protocols knows, many involve 30, 60 and even 90 day protocols.
- Though they have shown that the acidic fraction of mastic gum was very active against all Helicobacter pylori strains tested it was still only an in vitro study. Many times in vitro studies are used to argue a case for or against a treatment. It is well known that in vitro studies are one of the lowest levels of science. They are important, but only to support the next stages of research (ie: in vivo animal studies then onto in vivo human studies then onto systematic review with a meta analysis)
- In Functional Medicine the ‘killing’ or ‘weeding’ phase often involves a few different botanicals, or even a combination of botanicals and pharmaceuticals. Perhaps mastic gum works synergistically with other plant extracts?
If you’ve had any experience with mastic gum or Helicobacter pylori treatments let me know in the comments below!
References and Resources
- Fractionation of Mastic Gum in Relation to Antimicrobial Activity
- Mastic Gum Kills Helicobacter Pylori
- Mastic gum has no effect on Helicobacter pylori load in vivo
- In Vitro and In Vivo Activities of Chios Mastic Gum Extracts and Constituents against Helicobacter pylori
- The challenge of Helicobacter pylori resistance to antibiotics: the comeback of bismuth-based quadruple therapy
- Antibiotic-resistant H. pylori infection and its treatment.
- H pylori antibiotic resistance: prevalence, importance, and advances in testing
- Prevalence of antibiotic resistance in Helicobacter pylori: A recent literature review