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I’ve mentioned in many of my posts (like this one or this one) the importance of proper stomach pH for healing the gut and for general wellness. However, there is another aspect to the gut-healing journey, for some patients. If the stomach lining is damaged significantly, the acidity of the stomach, (what’s required for good digestive function), can damage fragile tissue. In these cases, the patient can use an additional supplement, such as mastic gum, between meals to heal this partially destroyed mucosal layer.
This supplement can be used alongside a healing diet, such as the GAPS Introduction diet.
Mastic gum, also referred to as mastica, is the resin obtained from the Pistacia lentiscus tree, commonly sourced from the island of Chios in Greece. We also see this plant used historically throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Mastic gum’s medicinal properties have been utilized for thousands of years for gastrointestinal ailments and related health concerns. These include the prevention of ulcers, ease of stomach discomfort, the killing off of bacteria, stubborn coughs, and teeth cleaning. Mastic gum is both antibacterial and antiviral. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
Mastic gum enjoyed a revival in the 1980s and 1990s when scientists discovered that it kills Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori). This infection affects the mouth, stomach, and intestines. Although this bacteria is present in billions of guts worldwide, when it becomes invasive it exacerbates or causes conditions like gastritis, peptic ulcers, stomach cancer, glaucoma, and Hashimoto’s.
Mastic gum has been used historically to treat cancers of breast, liver, spleen, and uterus. Modern science has shown the validity of its use in such cases, and added to this list its benefit to the colon and heart.
Mastic gum is also used to treat heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Crohn’s disease, chronic sore throat, herpes simplex, and to improve cholesterol levels.
Tangentially, mastic gum is used in traditional Greek, Turkish, and Arabic cooking.
How Mastica Works
Mastic is rich in terpenes. Terpenes are found in a variety of plants, giving them their unique scent and sometimes flavor. In this case, terpenes are the major organic compounds present in mastic gum’s resin that help to fight bacteria. The constituents are also believed to regulate and improve signaling between cells.
Many scientific papers state the effectiveness of mastic for various health conditions, yet state that the exact mechanism of action is still unknown.
When to Use Mastica
As aforementioned, the stomach’s pH, especially during digestion, is highly acidic. In a healthy stomach epithelial cells produce and secrete a thick layer of mucous to protect themselves from the acid and enzymes.
We require an acidic stomach not only to digest protein and other foods, but also to stimulate multiple digestive mechanisms, including the sphincter valve (lower esophageal sphincter [LES]) that connects the stomach to the esophagus (thus preventing heartburn and acid reflux), the liver that produces bile (which breaks down fat), the gall bladder that releases bile, and the ileocecal valve (between the large and small intestine) that when properly closed helps to prevent SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
The proper stomach pH also helps to prevent the overgrowth of microorganisms and undigested food in the intestines (which leads to a systemic immune response, food sensitivities, inflammation, and autoimmune disease).
So while the stomach must be acidic during meals for digestion to work properly, we can work between meal times to rebuild the mucosal lining.
The burning feeling some patients feel in their stomachs during or after a meal, occurs when the acidic environment of the stomach comes into contact with damaged tissue. This burning feeling can become an ulcer, if not addressed.
Mastic gum can be taken in quantities between 1000 and 5000 mg. daily for many months, or longer, safely. In addition to killing harmful bacteria, it is speculated that it promotes new cell growth, thus rebuilding the epithelial cells that produce the mucosal lining.
One study recommends using mastica for many months to see a reduction in H. Pylori colonization levels. Due to emerging antibiotic resistance as well as the costliness of antibiotics, it’s considered an excellent alternative treatment. (I would add that antibiotics destroy the patient’s beneficial gut flora, largely foundational to good health.) Your doctor can determine if you have an overgrowth of H. Pylori through a blood test or with a urea breath test.
You can find mastic gum capsules here.
If it appeals to you to actually chew the resin’s “tears”, this is the gum that can be chewed! I believe there may be an additional benefit to choosing the gum option, as it kills bacteria in the mouth, stimulates the salivary glands (the first step in digestion), and acts much like oil pulling: our mouths help our bodies to detoxify! The gum is not sweet and has a mild pine flavor.
Ideally, patients can choose both options, as the capsules are easy to take between meals to help rebuild the mucosal lining and/or to kill bacterial overgrowth. And the gum, again between meals, is stimulating the entire alimentary canal and detoxifying the body.
A Healing Blend
If you’re someone who prefers fewer supplements but a multi-pronged approach, you might like this blend of mastic gum and deglycerized licorice, by Designs for Health. It also contains a few other excellent ingredients, necessary for gut healing, including Vitamin C to help rebuild tissue, vitamin U (also known as the enzyme S methylmethionine, found in gentle, healing cabbage juice), and zinc for reducing inflammation.
Deglycyrrhized (DGL) Licorice
Many patients use deglycyrrhized licorice in conjunction with mastic gum. Licorice root has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Its many healing compounds have shown it to be anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and rich in antioxidants.
When licorice root is sold as deglycyrrhized it’s been standardized to remove components that can cause side effects, making it safer universally. DGL should be used short term, or intermittently.
DGL can be used to help heal leaky gut. It soothes (increasing mucous production in the stomach), helps to prevent ulcers, works against nausea, stomach pain, and even helps to regulate cortisol levels, sometimes providing relief for adrenal fatigue. Licorice root is also anti-viral, great for the immune system.
This DGL comes in chewable form, first stimulating the salivary glands, and should be taken 20 minutes before meals.
Have you used mastic gum? What about DGL? I’d love to hear your experience.
Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the Middle-East http://bit.ly/2qbkX0g