Does it work? Can chios mastic gum help stomach ailments?

 

BACKGROUNDChios mastic gum is a resin that has become popular in some food supplements and chewing gums said to help with various stomach ailments. The gum comes from the mastic shrub, which is a member of the pistachio family. While the shrub grows throughout the Mediterranean region, when grown on the Greek island of Chios it has a unique feature. For some unknown reason, when the bark of shrubs grown there is cut, small “tears” of resin flow. The resin is collected, washed and dried in the sun to give an ivory-coloured product.

Mastic gum has been chewed for millennia around the Mediterranean, as reflected in the English verb “mastication”, meaning to chew. Mastic chewing gum was popular in ancient Roman and Jewish times as a breath freshener. The gum is used as a spice in many traditional Greek foods and drinks. However, its medicinal properties have been attracting more attention in recent years.

Pain and discomfort in the stomach and upper gastrointestinal tract are being recognised as significant problems in many parts of the world. Functional dyspepsia is the medical term used when the pain is of unknown origin. Other conditions like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome are increasingly being recognised. Although conventional medications are available to relieve symptoms, many are limited in effectiveness or have side effects. Interest has thus been growing in herbal remedies to relieve stomach ailments.

EVIDENCE FROM STUDIES

Chios mastic gum was first examined in modern medical trials as a treatment for stomach ulcers. A double-blind clinical trial in the 1980s found that mastic gum brought more relief to people with stomach ulcers than placebo. This study was conducted before the discovery of the role of H. pyloribacteria in the development of ulcers and other stomach problems. During the 1990s and 2000s, Chios mastic gum was shown to kill H. pylori in laboratory experiments. This led to many food supplements promoting the gum for stomach health. However, studies in mice and a small pilot study in patients found no reduction in H. pylorilevels after taking Chios mastic gum. Another study just published found that some people with H. pylorihad their infection eradicated with Chios mastic gum. However, those receiving conventional antibiotics were more than twice as likely to have their infection eradicated.

In other research, almost 150 participants enrolled in a high-quality, double-blind study conducted on patients with functional dyspepsia. People were randomly assigned to take capsules of Chios mastic gum or placebo for three weeks. Three-quarters of the patients taking the gum reported marked improvement in symptoms, which was almost double the number of patients reporting improvements with placebo. Stomach pain was the symptom showing the most improvement, with little impact on reflux or feelings of fullness.

PROBLEMATIC ASPECTS

In the clinical trials, no serious adverse effects were reported. Nausea and diarrhoea have occurred, but infrequently. Since the mastic shrub is from the pistachio family, anyone with pistachio allergies should be extremely cautious using the gum.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Although few clinical trials have been reported, Chios mastic gum does appear to help with general stomach pain. Some people with stomach ulcers may experience relief from Chios mastic gum, but the studies have conflicting results and conventional antibiotics are more effective. The most common protocol used in studies was for people to take a 350mg capsule daily for three weeks. The studies examined people with chronic stomach pain, not acute heartburn. For those with ongoing stomach pain, Chios mastic gum appears to be a safe option worth trying.


Dónal O’Mathúna has a PhD in pharmacy, researching herbal remedies, and an MA in bioethics, and is a senior lecturer in the School of Nursing, Dublin City University