Mastiha: Tears That Cure
Mastiha—What is it exactly–a gum? a resin? magic crystals? Honestly, not even the experts know exactly. Consisting of more than 80 ingredients, among them natural polymer, mastic oil, terpenic acids, phytosterols, polyphenolic molecules and a large number of other “found-in-nature-for-the-first-time” type of ingredients, the resin is versatile enough for use in multiple industries. It passes as artist’s varnish, adhesive, food flavoring, breath freshener, skin astringent, burn compress, dental floss, essential oil, and cosmetic. It is harvested as “tears” that fall from the trunk of the mastiha tree or schinos (a relative of the pistachio) – scientific name Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia – an evergreen shrub, 2-3 meters tall, which grows slowly only in specific sections on the southern region of the island of Chios in Greece. Chios Mastiha is the natural resin that is excreted from the trunk and branches of the mastic tree (which is really a bush). In all, mastic is a tree’s tear that gladdens, scents, comforts, and cures.
Designated with the label “Protected Designation of Origin – PDO” by the EU to signify specific agricultural products that are exclusive to a geographic environment, Chios mastic is peculiar even in the way it is harvested. Starting in June, the ground around the shrub is prepared by mixing in a white chalky powdered stone called agril. Then in the height of the summer starting in July, the tree trunks and main branches are incised with a sharp pointed tool, which leads to the exuding of mastiha. The mastiha literally drips to the ground in the form of tears that, after remaining for 15-20 days, harden into crystalline granules and are ready for collection. The granules are then cleaned by hand using natural spring water and classified into different categories based on size and color. Although mastic trees grow everywhere, they only exude resin along a strip of 24 villages in the southern end of the island. Local legend has it that the reason for this is because they witnessed the martyrdom of St. Isidore, an early Christian saint tortured by the Romans and left to die in a mastic grove, and reacted with sympathy.
Mastic has been used since ancient times for its nutritional and therapeutic properties. It’s on record for the earliest recorded chewing gum in the ancient world. (Our English word, “masticate” derives from the Greek form of “masticha.”) Hippocrates praised its success at alleviating bad breath, heartburn, digestive disorders, and peptic ulcers, his medicinal use for the resin. Even Christopher Columbus brought a satchel on board the Nina because he believed it could cure cholera. In fact, some locals claim Christopher Columbus who lived in Chios from 1473-1474 wanted to uproot the tree and take it to Italy to break the monopoly the island had over the crop. He wound up “discovering” a similar tree, the fake mastic, in the jungles of South America.
Perhaps the ancients were not far off in their drive to make use of it as a flavoring and a medicine. Modern scientific reports have confirmed the same. It has now been scientifically proven that Chios Mastiha displays beneficial action against digestive disorders, contributes to oral hygiene, displays significant antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory action, is a natural antioxidant, and also aids in trauma healing and skin regeneration. Regular consumption has been proven to absorb cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart attacks and easing high blood pressure. It also helps reduce triglycerides and total lipid levels. Mastic oil has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and as such is widely used in the preparation of ointments for skin disorders and afflictions, including eczema, burns, frostbite and cancers, and is also used in the manufacture of plasters.
It’s good for the skin and hair too. The new darling of the cosmetics world, Korres Natural Products, has developed a special line of hair, skin and beauty care products based on mastiha.
As mentioned before, it is excellent for oral hygiene, and has been proven to reduce bacterial plaque in the mouth by 41.5%. This explains why many toothpastes and mouthwashes have mastiha as their main ingredient.
The medical findings are clear: masticate on Chios masticha and you will have fresh breath, no ulcers, lower blood pressure, and great skin and hair. While anyone can pick it up on a visit to Greece, a quick search on Amazon can have a vial of the “tears of God” shipped to your door. Alternately, you can buy it directly from www.mastihashopny.com, which carries the bona-fide EU “PDO” stamped product directly from Chios.
Here’s a summary of some of the major research on medicinal qualities of masticha:
Antimicrobial Action of Chios Masticha Essential Oil
*Studies confirmed the by the Pharmaceutical Faculty of the University of Athens reveal the anti-bacterial action of the essential oil of Chios Mastiha against Gram positive (+) and Gram negative (-) bacteria, such as: Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis Eecherichia coli etc, as well as against pathogenic fungi. The antimicrobial action of mastiha oil is related to the high concentration in alpha-pinene, which has been found to have a strong antimicrobial action (1995)
*A recent study conducted by the Faculty of Food Science & Agricultural Chemistry in Quebec, Canada concluded that masticha oil can effectively be used as factors against the appearance of botox in nutrition substrates (2004)
*A study conducted in 2005 by the University of Warwick in Coventry, England confirms the important antimicrobial action of the Chios Mastiha oil in pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus subtilis.
Chios Mastiha as protection factor against atherosclerosis
*as a natural antioxidant masticha plays a protective role against the formulation of atheromatic plates and protects against atherosclerosis disorders and heart diseases as evidenced by a study published in 2004 in Atherosclerosis magazine
*in a 2003 study in Phytotherapy Research magazine concluded that Chios Masticha was the most effective natural product of all those that have been examined (P. terebinthus resin, dammar resin, acacia gum, tragacanth gum, storax gum) in theprotection against the oxidation of human LDL. Comparatively, the protective action of ChiosMastiha has reached the percentage of 99.9%, which means overall suppression of the 16 oxidation of LDL, while for the remaining products the protective action has been between 27.0% and 78.8%.
* Italian Journal of Food Science magazine (2002) examined the biological action of the saliva coming from the chewing of natural Chios Mastiha, but also the chewing of commercial gums (with synthetic perfumes and artificial antioxidant ΒΗΤ) in the suspension of oxidation procedure of low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL). The results have led to the conclusion that the best protective action against in vitro oxidation of LDL, are produced by the saliva that comes from the natural Chios Mastiha. Its protective action was slightly higher even than the respective action of vitamine Ε, that was used as a basis for comparative reasons.
Chios mastiha in oral hygiene and dental research
Because as a natural resin, mastiha is hard to chew and never breaks up like synthetic gums, Relevant studies have shown that the chewing of Chios Mastiha, effectively contributes to massaging and exercising the gums, with all the beneficial results for the health of the teeth and the gums in general. At the same time, it has been established that Chios Mastiha as opposed to common chewing gums, due to its distinguishable taste and its relevant hardness, results in producing larger amounts of saliva, leading to the enhancement of the feeling of freshness and cleanness of the mouth, while at the same time it contributes to the treatment of xerostomia, a frequent phenomenon especially in elderly people.
* the dental faculty of the University of Thessaloniki in 1985 has demonstrated that if Chios Mastiha is used systematically, it may result in important decrease in the amount of formatting or already formatted dental plaque.
*Another similar clinical study published in 2003 in Journal of Periodontology magazine, conducted by Dental Faculty of the University of Meikai in Japan, has examined theaction of chewing gum with natural Chios Mastiha against the bacteria of saliva and thebuccal cavity in general. The results led to the conclusion that Chios Mastiha leads to suspension of bacterial development in the buccal cavity, responsible for causing peridental diseases as well as the formation of dental plaque. At the same time, Chios Mastiha has led to a significantly lower degree of gum irritation, in comparison with placebo gum, confirming that it constitutes a drastic and safe means for improving oral hygiene
*Very recently (2005), researchers from three universities of Turkey have published in Archiveof Oral Biology magazine arrived at the curious conclusion that the action of mastiha limits the frequent and dangerous bacteria of the mouth: streptococcus mutans as well as the antibiotic (vancomycin). Streptococcus mutans is responsible for the decalcification of the enamel of the teeth and a number of surface diseases of the denture.
The action of Mastiha in the preventionand treatment of digestive system disorders
*The first clinical study into the digestive action of masticha, published in 1984 in Clinical & Experimental Pharmacology &Physiology magazine, involved two groups of patients suffering from duodenal ulcers. One group was given the placebo for two weeks, while the other was given 1 gram of masticha. The results were stunning: in the group that consumed mastiha there was an alleviation of the symptoms in 80% of the cases, while the endoscopic examination has confirmed that duodenal ulcer was cured in 70% of the cases. Furthermore, taking the masticha showed no side effects.
*similar results were received in trails using gunea pigs and human subjects (1986 in the Gastroenterologia Japonica magazine and 1986 Journal of Ethnopharmacology)
* A more recent study conducted by Medical School of Dan-kook University in South Korea and published in South Korea Society of Gastroenterology magazine replicated the results of previous studies around the world verifying Chios masticha’s action in curbing against gastritis caused by the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori (HP) which is the culprit behind the majority of digestive ulcers.
The use of Mastiha as an ingredient in wound healing plasters and as anaplastic factor of the skin
*Several studies in the past twenty years have confirmed that mastiha substantially increases the adhesive action of the self-adhesive bandages, when these are uses as the only means for covering wounds and incisions. Additionally, Chios mastiha presents notable healing properties that contribute to the regeneration of the skin and the composition of collagen. So it not only sticks to you, but comforts and aids the skin in therapy., sort of like a Band-Aid with benefits. (The American Journal of Surgery (2002); The Journal of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology (1992).